How much can high-quality Universal Pre-K reduce achievement gaps?

March 31, 2016

In a report published by the Center for American Progress, NIEER researchers find that providing high-quality prekindergarten to all children nationally would dramatically reduce inequality in academic preparedness at kindergarten entry. Here we provide highlights from that report.

Many ethnic/racial minority children and children from low-income families enter kindergarten without all the skills they need to succeed in school. Compared to their white and higher-income peers, these children begin kindergarten months behind in reading (its precursors) and math. (See Figure 1.) The larger problem is that these measures of children’s academic abilities at kindergarten entry are strong predictors of later school success—these “achievement” gaps begin early and are only modestly closed after kindergarten entry. They remain large as children progress through school, and are difficult to close.

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Early childhood education (ECE) programs show promise in reducing achievement gaps, particularly at kindergarten entry. Research suggests that attending high-quality ECE can enhance children’s development, reduce achievement gaps, and have longer-term benefits for children’s development. This research includes meta-analyses of ECE programs; evaluations of landmark ECE programs including the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, the Abecedarian Project, and the Chicago Child-Parent Centers; and evaluations of larger scale publicly funded programs including Head Start (a federal program for at-risk children) and universally available preschool programs in Boston, New Jersey’s Abbott school districts, and Oklahoma.

Despite the known benefits of high-quality ECE, access to such programs remains remarkably low and highly unequal. Although rates of preschool attendance have increased in the last several decades, access varies widely by children’s backgrounds, with African American, Hispanic, and low-income children having lower rates of attendance. We estimated that rates of enrollment in high-quality ECE ranged from under 15 percent of black children to almost 30 percent of non-low-income children. (See Figure 2). And, importantly, the quality of the vast majority of ECE programs is low, particularly for low-income children and children of color. Yet research suggests that high-quality ECE produces the largest positive effects on children’s development. Further benefits may result when children have access to high quality ECE for a full-day, five days per week. Yet access to full-day, high-quality ECE is even more limited.

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Despite a general consensus that high-quality ECE can improve children’s learning and reduce kindergarten entry gaps, policy makers and researchers have disagreed about the relative advantages and disadvantages of targeted and universal ECE programs. On one hand, a means-tested targeted program would (in theory) benefit only those children who are at-risk to begin kindergarten without the necessary school readiness skills, thereby narrowing the gap. On the other hand, a universal program would benefit all children and would improve the school readiness of all children, without actually narrowing the gap. However, there is evidence that universal programs do not affect all children similarly, but have larger effects on ethnic/racial minority children and children from low-income families, compared to white and more affluent children. Therefore, a universal program that increased enrollment of children from low-income and ethnic/racial minority families could have powerful effects in reducing the kindergarten entry achievement gaps.

As we describe below, we simulated the effects of nationally scaled universal publicly funded high-quality prekindergarten (UPK) on math and reading achievement gaps at kindergarten entry. Our results suggest that the achievement gaps could be reduced between 27% and 106%, or between 3 and 12 months of learning. We found that a high-quality UPK program could completely close the Black-White and Hispanic-White kindergarten entry gaps in reading. Other gaps prove to be more difficult to close completely. The Black-White gap in math could be reduced by 45% and the Hispanic-White gap in math by 78%. The income-related achievement gaps may be the most challenging to erase. Our results suggest that a high-quality UPK program could reduce the income-related achievement gap in reading by 41% and math by 27%. (See Figure 3.)

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In order to estimate the extent to which high-quality UPK could reduce achievement gaps at kindergarten entry if every child attended a high quality program we used multiple sources of data. (See the CAP report for more information on our methods.) For measures of the impact we relied on the results from evaluations of Oklahoma’s Four-Year-Old Program in Tulsa and Boston Public Schools’ Public Prekindergarten Programs. We used the results of these two evaluations in our simulation for several reasons.

  • Both programs are considered high quality and universal.
  • The evaluations used rigorous methods.
  • Impacts were estimated for subgroups by income and ethnicity.
  • They span broad differences in populations and contexts across the country.

In conclusion, although challenging, implementing a high-quality UPK program has the potential to substantially reduce racial/ethnic and income based achievement gaps at kindergarten entry. A national policy to provide high-quality UPK could dramatically reduce ethnic/racial disparities in academic readiness at kindergarten entry. These gaps might even become negligible in both reading and math. Reductions in the gaps between children in low-income families and their more economically advantaged peers would be somewhat smaller but still meaningful. In implementing a national UPK program, it will be important to ensure that all children have access to truly high quality programs.

–Allison Friedman-Krauss, NIEER Assistant Research Professor


Building the capacity of state early childhood administrators: CEELO FY2015

February 10, 2016

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At CEELO we believe all organizations benefit from a continuous improvement process based on evaluation. That’s why we’re not only engaged in providing Technical Assistance (TA) to states across the country, but we also evaluate our own work and act upon feedback to enhance our services and outreach.

The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) is one of 22 comprehensive centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Programs. CEELO is designed to increase the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to implement comprehensive and aligned early learning systems to increase the number of children from birth through third grade that are prepared to succeed in school. The Annual Report, a requirement of our funding annually, outlines the impact of the technical assistance provided in the third year of the 5 years of the project. Between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015 CEELO provided three types of technical assistance: (1) Responsive TA; (2) Strategic TA; and (3) Information Resources and Technology Supported TA.

I. Responsive Technical Assistance to States: CEELO provides targeted support and consultation to states to address policy issues impacting children birth through third grade.

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The Range of TA Provided by CEELO in Year Three

General: CEELO co-developed a national webinar on NAESP P-3 standards and the role of state education agencies in supporting principal leadership to implement a Birth to Third Grade framework. It was designed as a follow-up to a summer 2014 introduction by NAESP that was requested by NAECS-SDE members. Follow- up evaluations were favorable: one individual reported that it was outstanding in every way! Your experience and expertise in the field comes through loud and clear in the content and delivery of these webinars. Thank you! Another reported that the webinar provided deep and detailed information.”

Targeted. In May and July 2015, CEELO held meetings of early childhood specialists from Northeast state departments of education for two separate in-person meetings in Waltham, MA. The first meeting focused on PDG start-up activities and provided participants with an opportunity to network and learn from one another about promising practices and challenges in early implementation. The second meeting, held in collaboration with the Regional Education Lab- Northeast and Islands (RELNEI), focused on Kindergarten Entry Assessment design and implementation. Participants had opportunities to hear from researchers’ key findings from selected states and engage in conversations about how to address common design and implementation challenges. Participants requested ongoing follow up conversations with one another. As a result, CEELO has facilitated monthly peer exchange calls among state specialists in the Northeast. The meetings were favorably evaluated. One respondent reported, person-to-person consultation has been helpful to a very large degree.” Another stated, I loved meeting all the folks from the New England states.”

Intensive: CEELO supported the development of Nevada’s Office of Early Learning strategic plan. Beginning in Year 2 and continuing in Year 3, through a series of intensive meetings, the CEELO co-director convened key stakeholders who articulated the vision for the new office, developed a strategic plan, and crafted an operational plan that has guided ongoing operations for the new office. Direct results include improved internal and external communications, and staffing plans and professional development plans for new office staff. One key informant noted that the CEELO TA provider was fabulous in helping prepare, organize and facilitate our strategic planning meeting for our new Office of Early Learning and Development in the Nevada Department of Education. It was very helpful to have someone with outside expertise and such great experience working with other states help us think through the planning and organizing of our new office to hopefully help shape and provide guidance to our agency leadership, restructuring and organizing of our office.”

II. Strategic TA: CEELO engages in multiple efforts supporting all 50 states and territories in sustained initiatives addressing CEELO’s five focus areas. All activities are designed to build capacity and promote SEA policy and leadership development.

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Selected Examples of Strategic TA

Building Leadership Skills of Early Childhood Administrators: During Year 3, the first cohort of the Leadership Academy was implemented. The Fellows met 4 times, engaged with their coaches, and completed their Job Embedded Projects.

During the final months of Year 3, CEELO prepared for the second cohort, offering applications and selecting Fellows who will engage in the Leadership Academy during Year 4. For in-depth information on the design and structure, as well as participant feedback, see State Early Education Leadership Academy: Report on Year 1, 2014-2015 as well as the online Leadership Academy Page.

CEELO, in collaboration with the BUILD initiative, conducted the first cohort of the Learning Table in CEELO Year 3. A report documenting state policies to promote effective teaching and learning was produced.

CEELO will continue to support the Think Tank with a second cohort in CEELO Year 4.

Building Capacity of States to Access Research and Best Practice: The 2015 National Roundtable was successfully held, focused on the theme of “Leading for Excellence”. Of the 150 attendees, 41 state agencies were represented by 88 attendees with 25 states bringing a team.

Building Capacity to Access Research and Information to Inform Policy: CEELO sponsored or co-sponsored 13 webinars CEELO TA staff also presented at 18 national and regional meetings sponsored by other organizations on topics of relevance to SEAs and CEELO priorities.

Building Capacity of Preschool Development Grantees-Expansion States to implement a high quality preschool program. CEELO provided TA on 23 requests for support on PDG-related topics. These are described in the responsive technical assistance portion of the full report, with links to relevant resources. CEELO also convened PDG staff from multiple states in 3 peer exchanges in 2015.

III. Information Resources: CEELO produces numerous publications aimed at encouraging best practices and enhancing child outcomes.Northeastern Children's Center-14

CEELO responded to 100% of the 50 information requests made across the range of CEELO priority topics. Requesters were interested in both research around the topic and information on how other states were addressing critical questions related to our core objectives, including assessment, workforce, systems, data, and birth to third grade. CEELO develops different types of resources including Policy Briefs, Fast Facts, Annotated Bibliographies, and Tools. Selected examples are outlined below, along with links to resources developed from those queries:

  • Bachelor’s degree requirements for pre-K lead teachers
  • Funding (e.g., funding formulas for per-student expenditures, funding formulas for pre-K)
  • Child assessment
  • Research on high quality pre-K and child outcomes
  • Retention
  • Teacher evaluation and student growth objectives
  • Quality Rating and Improvement Systems

 

IV. Data on Impact of CEELO TA: Building capacity in SEAs is a primary and important aim of the TA CEELO provides. CEELO surveyed SEA staff and asked about the ways in which the TA has affected SEA capacity. Survey results reveal that respondents were most likely to report using the TA to share ideas and lessons learned with colleagues, provide authoritative support to advance their SEA work, increase an understanding of a topic, and develop relationships. Many used the TA provided in multiple ways.

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CEELO TA to a State in Transition

What CEELO Did: Coordinating closely with the liaison from the Northeast Comprehensive Center, CEELO provided technical assistance to support the development of a strategic plan to implement a system of professional development for early childhood educators in one state. CEELO facilitated a full-day meeting comprising stakeholders from state agencies, regional offices within the state, and professional development providers.

Shortly after the meeting, the newly elected governor placed restrictions on state spending, offered early retirement options for state employees, and changed strategic direction for early education in the state. To respond to these changes, the state education agency asked CEELO to meet with a team of state staff to translate the strategic plan into an operational plan that could provide a useful guide for state work for the upcoming year.

How the Assistance Impacted the State: Independent evaluations reveal that stakeholders reported the assistance helped with longer-term planning and provided state employees with needed support during a time of staffing challenges. One individual who participated in the longer-term strategic planning process, as well as the process of developing an operational plan, reported that CEELO, “Facilitated discussion of relevant issues and resulted in concrete action.” Another comment was, “I really appreciated the paper on research of best practices — this is something I have been wanting since we cannot use our grant funds to travel out of state to conferences. The session seemed responsive to the needs we verbalized at our meetings.”

What Challenges and Issues Exist for the State: As the state seeks to implement the strategic plan to support the creation of a system of tiered professional development supports for early education teachers, the state education agency will continue to work with CEELO to implement the existing plan. The state education agency has asked CEELO to provide TA in Year 4 to ensure courses offered are aligned with the state’s broader education goals. Specifically, the state is seeking to support the effective implementation of formative and summative assessments and is in the process of implementing a B-3rd Grade framework of supports. The SEA is eager to align the professional development strategic plan with ongoing work on assessment and the state’s B-3rd Grade framework so that educators can easily see how these activities are aligned, rather than viewing each separately.

Conclusion and Recommendations

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As designed, the annual evaluation has identified a few areas for improvement and continued focus of TA delivery and relationship building between CEELO TA liaisons, State administrators, and Comprehensive Center staff in Year 4. These are:

  • Expand opportunities for states to learn from one another and tailor experiences to meet participants’ needs.
  • Provide information in formats that can be directly used to inform policy and procedure.
  • Engage state personnel in designing strategic technical assistance.
  • Proactively lead state education agencies in advancing an early learning agenda.

Please see the Annual Report section of our website for the full report from Year 3 and previous years and explore the CEELO website and for more information on our ongoing technical assistance and resources.


Finishing the job we started: the next best step in early childhood education

December 16, 2015

By Valora Washington and Jeffrey Gross. Valora Washington is the Founder and Director of the CAYL Institute (www.cayl.org) and CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition (www.cdacouncil.org). Jeffrey Gross is Director of the New Americans Integration Institute at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition (www.miracoalition.org).

Massachusetts has often been on the cutting edge of early child care and education reform. Both political parties, a generation of educators, and business leaders across the Commonwealth have affirmed that investing in young children matters a great deal to the state’s economic vitality and social progress.

The progress we have made will be sustained to the extent that we stay abreast of changing economic and demographic realities, even as we continue to push for higher standards and quality improvements. Those new realities include the fact that both our young children and the early childhood workforce that supports them are increasingly English language learners.

Child listening to bookThese two new realities are not changes on the margin. They must be central to our thinking about how we sustain our place as a national leader in early childhood education. One out of four young children in Massachusetts now speaks a language other than English at home. In Massachusetts, and nationally, the immigrant share of early childhood workers has tripled since 1990 and is now 20 percent of the workforce. During this time, the state’s early childhood workforce has also grown by about two-thirds, from 27,000 to 45,000—nearly 40 percent of that growth from immigrant workers. Most of these early educators are women, over age 40 and working in family or home-based child care.

Just 13 percent of all early educators in Massachusetts are considered English language learners. Among immigrants, this figure grows to 55 percent, most of them speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, or Chinese. Immigrant workers are also three times more likely than their native-born peers to lack a high school degree and almost twice as likely to lack a bachelor’s degree—the aspirational standard for early educators in Massachusetts.

What is at stake here? We must recognize that no matter how motivated, English language learners in our child care workforce face steep odds navigating a career pathway to the bachelor’s degree increasingly required for early education teachers. This growing workforce is often segregated in same-language communities and low-skilled positions, robbing young dual language learner children of linguistic and cultural supports that can help them succeed. The potential gains for these children—in terms of improved health, a decreased achievement gap, and stronger long-term outcomes—stand to benefit all of us.

These changing realities represent a challenge and an opportunity for the Commonwealth. We are no strangers to change: we created the Department of Early Education and Care, the first such agency in the nation, and pioneered the roll-out of model language standards for English language learners in early childhood. Looking to the future, both the CAYL Institute and MIRA’s partners at the Migration Policy Institute have independently issued reports that call attention to these new realities—and ways Massachusetts can work to address them. Based on extensive research and lessons learned in other states, we know there are effective ways to create stronger educational and career pathways for these early childhood educators.

Implementing these strategies starts with the commitment of political and higher education leaders. Collaborative work across many Massachusetts agencies is needed to mine local and regional data, target outreach initiatives, offer comprehensive supports, and create flexible higher education teaching and learning options. Regardless of what language these educators speak, we all must realize that they touch the lives of tens of thousands of children growing up here—children whose school readiness we all have a stake in.

Given the complexity and cross-departmental nature of the challenge—and how much is at stake for the future of both our children and the early education workforce—we call on Governor Baker to convene a task force to better realize the aspirations that he and many others have set forth: a highly qualified and competent early care and education workforce that can provide the best possible start in life for all children. Let’s finish the job we started, face current realities, and create the synergy that will keep Massachusetts a leader.

 


School Mobility: Implications for Children’s Development

November 30, 2015

More than one-fifth of children in the United States are living in poverty. Children growing up in poverty face numerous adversities that can negatively affect their learning and development, starting at a very early age. For example, these children are less likely to have access to books and to hear rich vocabulary; and are more likely to be exposed to violence in their neighborhoods, attend low-quality, under-resourced schools, have stressed parents, live in crowded and/or noisy homes, and have unstable home environments. All of these stressful life experiences can compromise children’s learning, as well as their cognitive and social-emotional development.

The article “Does school mobility place elementary school children at risk for lower math achievement? The mediating role of cognitive dysregulation.” focuses on one specific poverty-related risk: school mobility, or changing schools. Approximately 45% of children change schools at least one time prior to the end of third grade, but rates of school mobility are even higher for low-income, ethnic minority students living in urban areas. Further, changing schools has been linked to lower academic achievement, particularly when children experience many school changes over a short period of time.

boy playing with blocks 2Less is known about why changing schools negatively affects children’s academic achievement, or how it affects children’s self-regulation. Of course, it may be that changing schools simply disrupts learning, particularly if children miss school or experience a discontinuity in curricula. However, the mechanism may be more complex. Building on developmental psychology theory and research that poverty-related risks are stressful, and that stress is associated with lower self-regulation, we tested the hypothesis that school mobility, one poverty-related risk, would compromise children’s self-regulation. And, based on prior research demonstrating a strong association between children’s self-regulation and math skills, we hypothesized that lower self-regulation would negatively affect children’s math skills. Here we define self-regulation as higher-order cognitive abilities that involve attention, inhibitory control, and planning. The current paper only focused on math achievement and did not measure reading achievement for several reasons. First, there is an abundance of prior research finding strong associations between children’s self-regulation and math achievement. Second, neuroscience research supports similar underlying brain regions involved self-regulation and solving math problems. And third, learning and doing math requires children to use complex, effortful, higher-order processes that also underlie self-regulation abilities.

We used data from the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSPR) which was an intervention implemented in Head Start classrooms in areas of concentrated poverty in Chicago. The 602 children initially enrolled in CSRP were predominantly Black or Hispanic and living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. Children were followed from ages 3 or 4 years old, through fourth grade. The sample for the current study is limited to 381 students for whom there was available data from Head Start through fourth grade. On average, children moved 1.38 times between Head Start and third grade. Forty children changed schools 3 or 4 times during this time period, which we defined as “frequent mobility”.

We found a linear “dosage” effect of school mobility predicting children’s fourth grade math achievement such that children scored 3.35 points lower on fourth grade math achievement tests for each time they changed schools between Head Start and third grade. This translates into 2.5 months of learning. Children who changed schools frequently, 3 or 4 times over the five years, demonstrated lower math achievement in fourth grade–they scored 10.48 points lower on the state standardized test, an equivalent of 8 months of learning. Children who changed schools frequently were also reported by their teachers to have lower self-regulation skills. These lower levels of self-regulation were found to partially explain why children who changed schools frequently scored lower on math achievement tests. Self-regulation explained about 45% of the association between changing schools frequently and math achievement in fourth grade. It is important to note, however, that we did not find a difference in math achievement or self-regulation between children who never moved and those that moved at least once time.

Taken together, the results of this study suggest that problems with memory, attention, and inhibitory control may result from the stress associated with changing schools frequently during early elementary school, which in turn negatively affects children’s math achievement. The potentially harmful effects of school mobility for young children, especially when it occurs frequently, highlights the need for interventions, policies, and practices to prevent school mobility and/or support children, families, and teachers when it does occur. School-based interventions to increase family engagement and satisfaction with the school by fostering positive relationships between parents and school staff are one promising strategy for preventing school mobility.

–By Allison Friedman-Krauss, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

 

 

 


We are all teachers and learners

April 17, 2015

This response on literacy standards, conversation, and the Common Core State Standards is from Sharon Ritchie, Ed.D., Senior Scientist, FPG Child Development Institute-UNC CH.

I am a strong supporter of the Common Core. From the outset let me qualify that by saying that it is by no means perfect, and that people have perfectly good reasons to question the Standards and to look for revision and improvement. There is no single thing that should not bear up under scrutiny and inquiry.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

The following quote from the Common Core: “Children are deep thinkers and it is the role of the teacher to capably guide and support them,” succinctly summarizes why I support and advocate for the Common Core Standards. The quote demonstrates real respect for both children and teachers, something that has been sadly lacking in an environment that has, for more than a decade, focused on isolated skill building, right answers, and prescribed curriculum. That environment has been even more strongly enforced for children of color and those who come from less advantaged homes, and put vulnerable children at an even greater disadvantage by depriving them of the use of their voice and their minds. Children need to know that what they care about, what they have to say, and how they feel is important. They need to move beyond basic knowledge to the application of their knowledge to problem solving, analysis, and creative development. They need to have multiple opportunities starting at a very young age to not only talk, but to listen, to participate in a community where everyone’s ideas are important and valued.

Two decades of data examining the minute-by-minute experiences of children indicate that on average there is about 28 minutes of meaningful conversation per day between the teacher and all the children in the classroom. There is about 24 minutes of meaningful collaboration between students. That is not enough. If children are getting less than an hour to express themselves, then teachers are using up more than their share of the space. If we are not hearing from children, how do we know what they understand, what confuses them, what they think? Part of children’s success depends upon their ability to engage in collaborative work. Regular opportunities to collaborate help children develop executive functions that support their ability to solve problems in multiple ways and to work with others to plan and organize. Children who are simply sitting and getting are not having adequate opportunities to develop executive functions.

In its best form, the Common Core advocates for classroom environments  where children feel safe to take risks and experiment with their thinking and have opportunities to communicate their ideas frequently and regularly. Specifically, the English Language Arts Standard requires that students have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner and the Standard for Math across K-3rd grade similarly  stipulates that children should be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

A talented kindergarten teacher describes her practice of letting her students know right from the beginning of the year that:

  • There are lots of different points of view and they are all important
  • Right answers are not as important to her as the students being able to figure out how to solve a problem
  • Everyone makes mistakes–they are natural and we can learn from them
  • Doing your best is the most important thing
  • We are all teachers and learners.

The Common Core supports that teacher. Don’t you wish all children had teachers like that? I do.


What is Developmentally Appropriate Math?

April 15, 2015

Douglas H. Clements, preschool and kindergarten teacher, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning, Executive Director, Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy, and one of the members of the Common Core work groups, responds (with assistance from Bill McCallum) on the issue of Math standards will be too challenging for young children.

Perhaps the most common criticism of the Common Core State Standards-Mathematics (CCSS-M) for young children is that they are not “developmentally appropriate” (e.g., Meisels, 2011). Unfortunately, the phrase “developmentally appropriate” too often functions as a Rorschach test for whatever a person wants to see or argue against.

Often, negative evaluations are based on an implicit acceptance of the view that all “fives” can and especially cannot do certain things. However, much of the mathematical thinking that some people say “cannot be done” until age 7 (or whatever) can be learned by children—most children—in high-quality environments. Further, children learn such thinking with understanding and joy—that’s developmentally appropriate.

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Photo Credit: Casey R. Brown

Let’s consider some concrete examples. One concern is that 5-6-year-olds are not “ready” to learn place value. Perhaps the phrase itself—“place value”—raises the issue. Close inspection, however, reveals little reason for worry. First, note that research has identified at least seven developmental levels of learning place value, from very early concepts of grouping to understand the exponential nature of number systems in multiple bases (Clements & Sarama, 2014; Fuson, Smith, & Lo Cicero, 1997; Fuson, Wearne, et al., 1997; Rogers, 2012). Examination of the CCSS-M shows that kindergarten children only need to “Work with numbers 11–19 to gain foundations for place value” (p. 12, emphasis added) and first graders “Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones” such as knowing that “The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 refer to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine tens (and 0 ones).” Those are challenging but (for vast majority of children) achievable understandings (did you notice how many times the CCSS-M’s goals involve “understanding”)?

Personally, I have many concrete experiences with preschoolers who, given high-quality learning experiences, successfully tackle these ideas and more (Clements & Sarama, 2007, 2008). And love doing it. In Boston, a mother said she wasn’t sure her preschooler could understand mathematical ideas until he told her, “Eleven. That’s just ten and one, isn’t it?”

Talking about the “levels” of place value brings up a two important points. First, when educators use such levels—organized in a learning trajectory—to engage all children in meaningful mathematics at the right level for each—developmental appropriateness is ensured. Second, the Common Core was developed by first writing learning trajectories—at least the developmental progressions of levels of thinking. (Criticisms that the CCSS-M were “top-down,” starting with high school, e.g., Meisels, 2011, are simply incorrect.) Thus, learning trajectories are at the core of the Common Core.

Let’s take another example: arithmetic problems. Missing addend problems are a first grade standard. Some argue that tasks such as “fill in the blank: 3 + _ = 5” are cognitively out of range for children until, say, 2nd or 3rd grade. Some students may stumble if, unprepared, they are given such tasks in that form. However, most 4- to 5-year-olds in high-quality environments, when asked, “Give me 5 cubes. OK, now watch, I’m going to hide some! [Hides 2 in one hand, then shows the 3 in the other hand.] How many am I hiding?” will eagerly answer, “Two!” Format and interaction matter. So does working through research-based learning in counting and especially conceptual subitizing—quickly recognizing parts and wholes of small numbers (Clements, 1999).

The CCSS-M can help teachers with such work. Historically, most word problem types in U.S. textbooks have been simple one-step problem types. Other countries’ children are solving many types, including more complex two-step problems (Stigler, Fuson, Ham, & Kim, 1986). Further, given the opportunity, young U.S. children can solve a wide range of problems, even beyond the CCSS-M, such multiplication and division problems with remainders (Carpenter, Ansell, Franke, Fennema, & Weisbeck, 1993).

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Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

One might still argue that the CCSS-M goals are inappropriate for some group of children. But this will be true of any set of standards that pose a worthwhile challenge to them. And our children deserve that challenge. Based on learning trajectories, teachers should always be working on the challenging-but-achievable levels for their class and for the individuals in it. But that does not mean we allow children starting at lower levels to stay behind others. That would relegate them to a trajectory of failure (see Vincent Costanza’s blog). Instead, we should work together to help them build up their mathematical foundations. And given this support, they do.

So, the concern of “developmental inappropriateness” is a misunderstanding. There are others.

  1. “The Common Core means that other domains, such as social-emotional development, will be de-emphasized.” The good news there is that high-quality implementations of mathematics curricula in preschools have shown not only increase in meaningful mathematics proficiencies, but also transfer to other domains, such as language and self-regulation (Clements, Sarama, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2013; Julie Sarama, Clements, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2012; Julie Sarama, Lange, Clements, & Wolfe, 2012). Further, preschool curricula can successfully combine social-emotional, literacy, language, science and mathematics (e.g., Julie Sarama, Brenneman, Clements, Duke, & Hemmeter, in press)—all the while enhancing, rather than competing with, play-based approaches (Farran, Aydogan, Kang, & Lipsey, 2005). Finally, those who say that “there should be time for both learning literacy, math, and science, and for play and games”—inadvertently show their limited knowledge of early math education by repeating one of the ubiquitous false dichotomies of early education. Two of the ways to guide learning in these subject-matter domains are through games and play.
  2. “The Common Core is a federal curriculum.” Wrong on both counts. First, it was created by the states—the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers—not the U.S. government. Second, the Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum (see Dorothy Strickland’s blog). It guides what goals to aim for but not how or what curriculum to teach.
  3. “Teachers voices were not heard.” Teachers were involved all the way. Many states, such as Arizona, convened meetings of teachers to review the standards at each of three cycles of review. Also, the CCSS-M were supported and validated by such organizations as the NEA, AFT, and NCTM, as well as early childhood organizations such as the NAEYC (see Jere Confrey’s post and this joint statement publicly expressing NAEYC’s and the NAECSS’s support for the Standards,and Clements, Sarama, & DiBiase, 2004, in which leaders of NAEYC contributed to a work that was used heavily in the CCSS-M).
  4. “The Common Core emphasizes rote skills taught by direct instruction.” First, the CCSS-M does not tell how to teach. But its descriptions of goals for children could not be further from this misconception. Consider the introduction to grade 2, which states (in concert with NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points) that children “develop, discuss, and use efficient, accurate, and generalizable methods to compute sums and differences of whole numbers.” Second-graders develop and discuss strategies, then use them in problem solving.
  5. “There were no early childhood teachers or professionals involved.” As one of the contributors to the CCSS-M, I—a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who continuously works in preschools and primary-grade classrooms, with children and teachers—I can only hope these authors simply were sloppy in checking their facts.

Do we think everything is perfect? Of course not. Not even the content of the CCSS-M is (or ever will be) perfect. But only further implementation and study will give us an improved set of standards. Further, we wish that organizations would implement carefully and slowly, building up (from pre-K) and supporting all teachers and other educators in learning about, working on, and evaluating the CCSS-M. Schools that have done that report success, with teachers amazed by what their students can do (Kelleher, 2014). Appreciating what their children are learning means they not only stick with it, but they also improve every year (Clements, Sarama, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2014). We wish curriculum, and especially high-stakes assessments, would be carefully piloted with extensive research on outcomes, including unanticipated outcomes, before they are accepted and more widely disseminated (Julie Sarama & Clements, 2015) (or rejected and not used). We wish more educators would realize what’s truly developmentally inappropriate is present-day kindergarten curricula that “teach” children what they already know (Engel, Claessens, & Finch, 2013).

But we do think that too many find it easier to dramatically warn of all that could go wrong working with the Common Core (“Students will be pressured!” “There are not CC curricula yet!” “The kids will fail!”). Too few take the more difficult road of building positive solutions. Let’s stop biting the finger, and look where it’s pointing.

 

References

 Carpenter, T. P., Ansell, E., Franke, M. L., Fennema, E. H., & Weisbeck, L. (1993). Models of problem solving: A study of kindergarten children’s problem-solving processes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 24, 428-441.

Clements, D. H. (1999). Subitizing: What is it? Why teach it? Teaching Children Mathematics, 5, 400-405.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2007). Effects of a preschool mathematics curriculum: Summative research on the Building Blocks project. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 38, 136-163.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2008). Experimental evaluation of the effects of a research-based preschool mathematics curriculum. American Educational Research Journal, 45, 443-494.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2014). Learning and teaching early math: The learning trajectories approach (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., & DiBiase, A.-M. (2004). Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2013). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies: Persistence of effects in the third year. American Educational Research Journal, 50(4), 812 – 850. doi: 10.3102/0002831212469270

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2014). Sustainability of a scale-up intervention in early mathematics: Longitudinal evaluation of implementation fidelity. Early Education and Development, 26(3), 427-449. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2015.968242

Engel, M., Claessens, A., & Finch, M. A. (2013). Teaching students what they already know? The (mis)alignment between mathematics instructional content and student knowledge in kindergarten. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(2), 157–178. doi: 10.3102/0162373712461850

Farran, D. C., Aydogan, C., Kang, S. J., & Lipsey, M. (2005). Preschool classroom environments and the quantity and quality of children’s literacy and language behaviors. In D. Dickinson & S. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 257-268). New York, NY: Guilford.

Fuson, K. C., Smith, S. T., & Lo Cicero, A. (1997). Supporting Latino first graders’ ten-structured thinking in urban classrooms. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28, 738-760.

Fuson, K. C., Wearne, D., Hiebert, J. C., Murray, H. G., Human, P. G., Olivier, A. I., . . . Fennema, E. H. (1997). Children’s conceptual structures for multidigit numbers and methods of multidigit addition and subtraction. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28, 130-162.

Kelleher, M. (2014). Common Core for Young Learners. Harvard Education Letter, 30 (4).

Meisels, S. J. (2011). Common Core standards pose dilemmas for early childhood. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/common-core-standards-pose-dilemmas-for-early-childhood/2011/11/28/gIQAPs1X6N_blog.html

Rogers, A. (2012). Steps in developing a quality whole number place value assessment for years 3-6: Unmasking the “experts”. Paper presented at the Mathetatics Education Research Group of Australasia, Singapore.

Sarama, J., Brenneman, K., Clements, D. H., Duke, N. K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (in press). Connect4Learning (C4L): The Preschool Curriculum. Lewisville, NC: Gryphon House.

Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2015). Scaling up early mathematics interventions: Transitioning with trajectories and technologies. In B. Perry, A. MacDonald & A. Gervasoni (Eds.), Mathematics and transition to school (pp. 153-169). New York, NY: Springer.

Sarama, J., Clements, D. H., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2012). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 5(2), 105-135.

Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on emerging literacy and language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 489-502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002

Stigler, J. W., Fuson, K. C., Ham, M., & Kim, M. S. (1986). An analysis of addition and subtraction word problems in American and Soviet elementary mathematics textbooks. Cognition and Instruction, 3, 153-171.

 

 

 



The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum

April 10, 2015

Dorothy Strickland, NIEER Distinguished Research Fellow, responds to specific issues raised in various venues by questioners, considering whether literacy standards and related assessments can be developmentally appropriate.

Concern: Kindergarten standards are not appropriate for children that age. Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.

Much of the concern about CCSS relates to two areas–curriculum and assessment–and not to the standards themselves. Please note: The Common Core State Standards are NOT a curriculum. The curriculum must be developed by those responsible for instruction. This might include collaborative efforts by State Departments of Education and school district personnel.

Curriculum

Regarding issues related to the absence of play: Developmental appropriateness has long been a part of our early childhood agenda. Fortunately, there is NOTHING in the CCSS to encourage concerns that there is no room for developmentally appropriate practice. Playful and experiential learning have always been essential elements of an early childhood curriculum and instruction and remain so.

Key Design Considerations are included in the introduction (p.4) of the CCSS: An integrated model of literacy is recommended. That is, the language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) will be integrated with each other and with content of interest and importance to young children. Research and media skills will be blended into the Standards as a whole.

story time 3Educators familiar with EC know that the integration of process (ELA) and content (how plants grow, the weather, etc.) is fundamental to theme-based or project-based curriculum and instruction. This has been a basic tenet of early childhood literacy and it remains alive and well. Children explore/research questions related to topics of importance and interest to them. Books, objects, hands-on activities, and media of various types are used to explore topics/themes with children. Teachers engage children as they read aloud to them and discuss what is read. Children are also involved in shared /interactive reading. They are encouraged to follow-up independently as they explore the topics on their own through reading/pretend reading and drawing/writing about topics under investigation.

None of this is new to the field. However, the CCSS promote attention to specific goals, such as: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. At the kindergarten level, the text is likely read/shared with the children by the teacher. This Standard encourages listening, responding, sharing ideas. Equally important, children are learning about a topic of interest to them. This will include new information and concepts and often includes new vocabulary or “known” vocabulary used in a new way.

A focus on thinking with text, and problem solving is encouraged. Again, this is meant to be done in a developmentally appropriate way with an emphasis on gradually increasing expectations throughout the grades. The CCSS are intended to promote skills/strategies that go beyond memorization and foster the application of what is learned in new situations.

The use of technology to support curriculum and instruction is encouraged. Indeed, texts may be traditional print or digital. And, we must not forget oral texts–these relate to listening.

Assessment

Much of the concern expressed about CCSS relates to assessment. Excessive assessment is, indeed, an issue in some states. However, like curriculum, it is not a function of the CCSS. An increased reliance on Summative Assessments, in particular, has caused concern among many educators. Purposes and uses include to:

  • inform educators, students, parents, and the public about the status of student achievement
  • hold schools accountable for meeting achievement goals
  • inform relevant education policies re: areas in need of attention and resource allocation
  • adjust/differentiate instruction according to student needs
  • gauge performance of teachers and principals.

While these purposes/uses have always existed, they have taken on new emphasis in recent years (especially their use as tools in educator evaluation) and are often linked to the CCSS. For those whose states have adopted the PARCC assessment and others, I encourage a look at the Model Content Frameworks developed to bridge the Standards with the PARCC Assessments. They can be found online at www.parcconline.

  • Professional Development should make extensive use of the Model Content Frameworks that accompany the PARCC assessment. The Model Content Frameworks are:
    • a voluntary resource not a curriculum
    • designed to help teachers better understand the standards and how key elements of the assessment design interact with the standards within a grade and across grade levels.

Research Support

Appendix A: Common Core Standards for ELA/Literacy: Supporting Research and GlossarySimilar materials may be found in other appendices.



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