Part II: Functions and Capacities of P-3 Governance

September 23, 2015

(Part II of II. For Part I click here.)

Governance change has been a catalyst for broader system development in the states that have chosen to focus on this subsystem (Dichter, 2015; Gomez, 2014), though much more empirical work needs to occur in order to understand how governance affects state system development and, subsequently, services to children and families. More than a simple reorganization of the deck chairs within state government, revamped approaches to P-3 governance have led to states experiencing different outcomes for P-3 system development. Indeed, in her study of governance and RTTT-ELC States, Dichter notes that state leaders who have invested in integrated approaches to P-3 governance believe that it “improves services for children through greater focus, consistency, and inclusion of all developmental domains” (2015, p.2). Leveraging the three types of approaches discussed in the first part of this series, I provide examples of the ways in which consolidated and regionalized approaches to governance have influenced P-3 system development in some states.

14476018886_082318a3f5_oConsolidated approaches to governance create conditions that render a high degree of consistency in implementing programs and services. This is, in part, because policymaking for P-3 is centralized (Gomez, 2014). For instance, PA’s OCDEL, in carrying out its function as a standard-setter for the state, has created sets of standards for children, standards for ECE programs, and standards for teacher qualifications. Using these standards as a baseline for programs, OCDEL has now begun to collect data on each of these three groups (children, programs, and teachers) via its statewide data collection system, PELICAN. The state uses the data collected to hold programs accountable and to divert funding where it is needed (e.g., additional investment in workforce supports to help teachers meet the minimum qualifications). Additional benefits: a centralized locus of authority can be seen with regard to the state-funded preschool programs in MD and PA. In PA, many policy decisions about pre-K are centralized. There is, for example, a 180-day minimum for service provision within the PA Pre-K Counts programs, to align those programs with academic year requirements. Furthermore, PA Pre-K Counts programs are required to adhere to many of the same quality standards set forth for programs participating in other OCDEL programs, like maintaining a STAR 3 or 4 status within the QRIS and adhering to the PA Early Learning Standards. In MD, we see signs of the same centralization with regard to policies governing pre-K programs (Barnett, Carolan, Squires, Clarke Brown, & Horowitz, 2015).

A study (Gomez, Kagan, & Khanna, 2012) of regional approaches to governance in NC, AZ, and IA, revealed that there is a little distance between the governance apparatus and those it purports to serve. This low level of distance or, “proximity,” was important because it enabled the governance functions to be carried out with a great deal of responsiveness and efficiency. Rather than having to navigate a large bureaucratic structure, or determine how to carry out functions for an entire state, the regional approach enables the councils/boards/partnerships to execute governance functions with a great deal of flexibility, responsiveness, and efficiency. Moreover, the regional approach empowers local control and decision-making in terms of fiscal and programmatic management, while freeing up the state-level entities to work on things that do not require a great deal of “proximity,” like monitoring or evaluative activities. Looking specifically at state-funded pre-K, we can see that policy decisions are more decentralized. For example, in Arizona, scholarship decisions for the publicly funded pre-K program are made at the regional council level (Barnett, et al., 2015).

An important facet of any approach to governance is its capacity to adapt to changes in the P-3 field and to make meaningful adjustments in its governance strategies based on these changes to effectively manage the P-3 system. States with consolidated and regionalized approaches to governance have developed formalized authority structures through which they can explore and exploit (Duit & Galaz, 2008) new and existing resources to improve the functionality of the P-3 system.

Exploration is the capacity of a governance approach to be creative, to innovate, and to experiment. In essence, exploration is the ability to be flexible and to explore a variety of strategies for governing complex systems. Exploitation is the capacity of a governance approach to leverage new and existing resources and integrate them into the system with efficiency (Duit & Galaz, 2008). Governance reform in Maryland, for instance altered the way that the state agency used funding, “applying it more strategically to meet specific agency goals” (Graffwallner, 2015, p. 125). The centerpiece of these “specific agency goals” in Maryland has been improving the infrastructure for, access to, and quality of early learning services – including publicly-funded pre-K. .

This notion of adaptive capacity, along with other contemporary governance issues is explored with greater depth in Early childhood governance: Choices and consequences. In it, we explore the status of governance systems for young children in the U.S., retrospectively and prospectively. This volume presents a series of analyses, discussions, and debates about what governance is, why it is important to the early childhood field, and how we could use governance as a lever to advance P-3 system development–ultimately improving services to young children and their families.

Further reading about governance in practice:

Dichter, H. (2015). “State systems-building through governance.” In H. Dichter and S. Hibbard (Eds.) Rising to the challenge: Building effective state systems for young children and families. (pp. 2-14). Boulder, CO: Build Initiative.


P-3 governance–What is it, and why is it important?

September 16, 2015

No time is more critical than the present to consider governance and how a state’s approach to governance affects the development and implementation of P-3 systems.

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Part I: Defining and Describing Governance

Governance, as a term applied to the field of early learning, is somewhat ambiguous. To whom or what are we referring when we say “governance of P-3 systems?” The State Education Agency? Local Education Agencies? Human Service Agencies? State Early Childhood Advisory Councils? Governance is composed of three principal dimensions: form, function, and durability. Form refers to the structure(s) in which governance functions are carried out. Functions include, for example, policymaking, the authorization and allocation of funds and services, and mechanisms for holding programs accountable for how those services are delivered (Kagan & Kauerz, 2008, 2012; Kagan & Gomez, 2015). Durability refers to the degree to which the governance entity can withstand political, economic, and sociocultural changes.

These three dimensions interact to yield a state’s approach to governance and, perhaps unsurprisingly, no state’s approach is the same–in part because each state bears a different set of cultural, political, and economic conditions.

DSC_0906While every state’s dimensions of governance are different, state approaches to governance typically fall into three categories: consolidated, regionalized, and compartmentalized (Gomez, Kagan, & Khanna, 2012). In consolidated approaches, the majority of programs and services are subsumed under the authority of one agency, meaning that there is one office/department that oversees implementation of the subsystems, programs, and services, and ensures they are coordinated. Pennsylvania’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), Maryland’s Division of Early Childhood in the State Department of Education (DCE MSDE), and Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) are examples of consolidated approaches to governance. Each entity in these three states has a different form–the Departments of Welfare and Education jointly oversee OCDEL, the DCE MSDE is subsumed under the auspices of the State Department of Education, and the EEC is a stand-alone department under the auspices of the Executive Office of Education. Common to consolidated approaches, however, are the governance functions. Each entity carries out, within its consolidated form, several important functions:

  • Allocation
  • Planning
  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Regulation
  • Outreach and engagement
  • Standard-setting
  • Quality improvement

In MA, MD, and PA, the consolidated approaches to governance were derived from these state’s desire to solve particular policy problems plaguing the P-3 field. Each state’s political and cultural context at the time of consolidation influenced the choice of governance form.

In regionalized approaches, authority for some programs resides at the state level, while authority for others is devolved to a regional or local entity. Arizona’s First Things First (FTF) and North Carolina’s Partnership for Children’s Smart Start are examples of approaches that are regionalized. In both AZ and NC, the regionalized form dictates that some of the governance functions will occur at the regional level. In these states, state culture and values emphasize local control, and so devolving governance functions to levels of government that are more proximal to the P-3 workforce, and the children and families being served, matches those values. FTF, for example, is organized into 28 regional councils that make funding and programmatic decisions for their catchment area. Smart Start is similarly organized.

Finally, in compartmentalized approaches, authority for P-3 programs and services is decentralized across many state-level agencies, and regional/local entities. This type of approach is by far the most common among U.S. States, and is the de-facto approach to governance of P-3 programs and services. In these cases, states have to work to ensure that there is formal coordination between and among many entities to ensure smooth system development, service delivery, and accountability.

Stated simply, a state’s approach to governance influences how its P-3 system evolves and, in turn, those systems affect services provided to young children and their families. As such, it is critical to understand how P-3 services are governed. In part II of this (brief) series on governance, next week, we will focus on governance functions and capacities of governance entities to affect system development.

Resources for further reading related to governance dimensions:

Kagan & Gomez (2015) Early childhood governance: Choices and consequences. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Regenstein, E. & Lipper, K. (2013). A framework for choosing a state-level early childhood governance system. Boulder, CO: Build Initiative

–Rebecca E. Gomez, Ed.D. is an Assistant Research Professor at NIEER and studies early childhood systems and governance.


Buried treasure: Discovering gold in the NIEER State of Preschool Yearbook

September 9, 2015

Similar to birds migrating north every year, a wealth of information on early education flies annually into the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), as specialists from state education agencies provide data for the Annual State of Preschool Yearbook.

Entering its 13th year, the Yearbook reports valuable information on access to, quality of, and resources for state pre-K programs, allowing administrators and policymakers to keep pace with current developments and trends over time. The Yearbook has served as a useful, perhaps indispensable, resource as state-supported pre-K has expanded over the decade, rightfully cited as the “go to” resource on state policies and practices. Still, a wealth of information within the Yearbook remains untapped.

While the Yearbook may not rival To Kill a Mockingbird for popularity or reading enjoyment, anyone who has taken time to explore the annual report understands the abundance of practical information contained within its pages. From the Executive Summary highlighting major developments and trends, to individual state profiles with rankings, readers soon realize that the Yearbook, now published online, has “everything you wanted to know about pre-K but didn’t know to ask.”

The most informative section of the Yearbook is, perhaps, the most underutilized. Appendix A contains more than 60 pages of topical state information organized for at-a-glance review and comparison, supplemented by 27 pages of detailed state program notes, a veritable goldmine. For example, have you ever wondered:

  • How many English language learners are enrolled in state-funded pre-K? (Only 19 of 53 programs in 40 states and DC are able to provide an accurate count)
  • How many children are served in programs operating under the auspices of public schools versus private organizations?

 

Enrollment By Auspice (1)

  • Which states require pre-K programs to operate a full school day throughout the school year? (15 states and DC)?
  • What criteria do states use to determine eligibility, other than income?
  • Is a sliding fee scale based on income permitted? (13 states have some provision)
  • Which state programs require lead teachers to have a BA with specialization?

 

Minimum Lead Teacher Degree Requirement

  • Can faith-based programs receive funding for state pre-K? (17 programs directly, 35 programs indirectly; however, they may stipulate that religious content is not permitted)

 

Faith-Based Funding Eligibility (1)

  • What instruments do states use to monitor program quality?
  • Which states mandate an evaluation of the pre-K program? (21 of 40 states; some states operating multiple programs do not require evaluations for all programs)

States Requiring Formal Program EvaluationThese are but a few examples of data readily available to those wanting to explore policies and practices related to pre-K. While not every question imaginable can be answered using the Yearbook, it remains the best single compendium resource available with the click of a mouse. All you need to do is dig a little to satisfy your pre-K curiosity and discover gold.

–Jim Squires, NIEER Research Fellow

 

 


Back to School: Who is caring for your young children?

September 2, 2015

Valora Washington is the founder and president of the CAYL Institute in Boston (cayl.org), and CEO of the CDA Council for Professional Recognition. She’s the author of hundreds of articles and several books about early education, including a new one: The New Early Childhood Professional.

It’s back to school time! Those words usually invoke thoughts of children who attend kindergarten through 12th grade—but it also applies to many of the 11 million children enrolled in child care or preschool every day.

As families drop off their children for these important early learning experiences, many are unaware that only about 30 percent of children nationwide are enrolled in a high quality program. Well qualified staff is at the top of the list of the specific research-based factors that ensure safe, nurturing, and stimulating environments for young children.

Still, too many people think that working with young children is a job that almost anyone can do. Teaching numbers and letters, or reading storybooks—what could be easier than that?

BLP0022407The truth is that the adults who provide the care and education for young children bear a great responsibility for their health, growth, development, and learning. This is an important, complex, and dynamic job that requires specialized knowledge and skill to be effective. Decades of research have demonstrated the critical importance of the early years on later success in school and life.

Frequently lacking the formality of school systems and policies, programs caring for young children in the United States typically are part of a fragmented hodgepodge of services and expectations. During the important ages when children would benefit most from consistency and stability, too many children experience a discontinuous patchwork of programs and settings (such as family child care homes, centers, preschools, and elementary schools). And, despite the passion or dedication of the people who educate and care for young children, these staff collectively lack the cohesion, shared standards, competencies, or resources required to be the proficient workforce that our children need and deserve. Sub-par early learning experiences are one of many reasons why as many as 40 percent of children start school with a “readiness gap.”

While some would agree that esteem for teachers at all levels is declining, lack of respect for the early educator is particularly striking. Furthermore, the relationship between an early educator’s compensation and educational attainment is weak. While other levels of education have more extensive public financing, families pay, on average, 60 percent of the cost of child care. This is a big bite out of the family budget– about 8 percent on average and up to 40 percent of the budget for low-income families.

Given the high cost, many families who leave their precious children in child care or preschool are completely unaware that the compensation of early educators is one of the lowest in our nation. Because there has been little compensation progress over the past 25 years, many early educators live with economic insecurity and concern over having money for food, transportation, health care, and housing. Do most families know that child care workers earn little more than $10 per hour? That preschool teachers earn about $15 an hour? And do families know that, generally speaking, for programs not affiliated with public schools, there are no formal workforce standards such as appropriate planning time, and dependable schedule, and increased compensation based on education and training?

As we all prepare for the fall ritual of back to school, we call for greater public understanding of the value of early education and the vital role of the people who do that work. Our children’s success is definitely tied to the qualifications, compensation, and working conditions of the early educator.

There are multiple paths forward, but regardless of the path, increased public support and respect for the early educator is essential. The field needs defined and universal practice standards and a focus on competencies, like those identified in the Child Development Associate credential. Early educators ourselves must exercise a stronger voice in speaking on behalf of this profession and the children we serve, using strategies such as those we suggest in my new book, The New Early Childhood Professional (with Brenda Gadson and Kathryn Amel).

It’s back to school–for all children including infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. What do you know about the hands and minds that are caring for your young children?


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