Washington, DC may be the place to watch in the coming year when it comes to early education. The new mayor there, Vincent Gray, who take office in January, is promising to make infant and toddler care a priority, despite a tight budget. According to a Washington Post article: “Gray sees an infant and toddler initiative as a logical extension of his work as D.C. Council chairman, when he played a key role in a $40 million expansion of pre-K slots for 3- and 4-year-olds in the District’s public schools, public charter schools and community-based organizations.”
This week, Gray met with President Obama, and said afterward that one of their main topics of discussion was education. Gray, quoted in a Washington Examiner article, said “first and foremost [he and Obama] talked about our respective commitment to improving public education in this city and across the nation,” with Gray noting that he focused particularly on early ed.
DC has become something of a pioneer when it comes to radical education reform (the District, for example, just won the highest score in the nation for its generous charter school policies from a pro-charter group). Perhaps early education could be be the city’s next frontier.
EarlyStories examined some suggested new rules for Head Start recently, and now a leading expert on early childhood is lauding the Obama administration in a Washington Post op-ed for proposing a new system he says could force much-needed improvements to the $8 billion program for 3- and 4-year-olds. The op-ed makes it clear that what happens before children set foot in a public-school classroom is an integral part of the national debate on education.
“A substantial number of Head Start programs are so ineffective that they do little or nothing to boost child development and learning,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families, co-authored the op-ed with Barnett.
Center leaders have not entirely welcomed the proposals. Some are worried that competition would be costly, and could create more uncertainty and possibly chaos. Large centers have expressed concerns that they’ll be singled out simply because their size could lead to more problems.
The Post piece comes as a new, must-read collection of papers assessing federal policies for early childhood education and child care was released by NIEER, entitled “Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy.”
Head Start — which has had a rough year — got a shake-up this week when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced proposed regulations that will force at least a quarter of Head Start grantees to compete to stay in business. The Obama administration says the new rules will improve the quality of Head Start programs by removing programs that don’t measure up, but the new rules are likely to upset a lot of Head Start providers.
The idea to make Head Start more competitive came out of a 2005 Government Accountability Office audit, which found that Head Start often kept giving money to programs year after year, regardless of program quality. The Bush administration convened a committee to look at the issue. In the resulting recommendations, the committee proposed that 10 to 20 percent of Head Start grantees should have to compete for their grants.
Obama administration officials said they took this proposal further, raising the percentage to 25 percent, to bring more accountability to the Head Start system. Accountability has been a favorite buzzword for the administration. The Race to the Top competition — which awarded states money for proposing, among other things, new ways to make teachers and schools more accountable — just wrapped up. Obama has also pushed Congress to fund a similar competition for early education systems, known as the Early Learning Challenge Fund. So it’s no surprise that Head Start has been caught up in the “accountability” push.
“A renewed era of innovation, improvement and integrity in Head Start is here,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the press release.
The proposed rules call for ranking Head Start programs based on a variety of measures, or “triggers,” related to poor performance, including financial audits, low scores on assessments and child abuse. Programs with the most triggers would have to compete to be refunded every five years when their grant-periods are up.
Center leaders have expressed concerns about such a system, however. The director of the Washington State Association of Head Start, Joel Ryan, wrote in comments on the first set of proposed rules that “wide scale competition would be costly to administer, would create more uncertainly [sic] and chaos in the management of a complicated program, and would unfairly ‘sweep up’ high quality programs with subpar performers.”
And some large centers worry that they could be singled out because they are more likely to have a higher number of infractions due simply to their bigger size.
HHS is offering carrots as well as sticks. The department will be naming 10 “Centers of Excellence,” to be nominated by governors. These high-performing centers will offer “peer-to-peer technical assistance.” In addition, HHS is creating four training centers to help local Head Start programs.
The rules are not set in stone, yet. HHS is asking for public comments on the proposals, but my impression from a reading of the proposed rules is that the 25 percent cutoff is here to stay.
Congressional testimony on Tuesday revealed some alarming evidence of fraud at federally funded Head Start centers, at a time when some concerns and questions are being asked about a program established some 45 years ago by President Lyndon Johnson.
Prompted by anonymous tips to a fraud hotline, investigators with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that in six states Head Start workers attempted to enroll children whose family incomes made them ineligible for the program.
Head Start, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department with a budget of about $9 billion this year, provides child care and other services to nearly one million children nationwide. To be eligible, children must be from families whose incomes do not exceed 130 percent of the poverty level, or about $28,600 a year for a family of four. This year, the program received $7.2 billion from Congress to serve 900,000 children in 1,600 centers, along with another $2.1 billion from the stimulus program.
According to the New York Times, Republicans on the House committee are calling for a broader investigation, while Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said her agency had begun its own internal investigation and would begin visiting centers — unnannounced.
But don’t look for Head Start centers to be shut down, Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute tells USA Today, even though he is among the critics who think the program should be reformed. Why? Because there’s a Head Start center in every congressional district.
“You’re not going to put the Head Start centers out of business without an enormous political fight,” Petrilli told USA Today.”And it’s a fight they’d probably win.”
At a time when early childhood advocates have experienced a few setbacks, all hopes are on reauthorization of what was once No Child Left Behind – and is now more commonly referred to as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for a variety of reasons.
There has yet to be a clear outline of the Obama administration’s priorities for early learning, though, as our colleagues over at Early Ed Watch have pointed out on several occasions. But Early Ed Watch is watching, waiting and helping anyone who would like understand what is in store, with a new page dedicated entirely to ESEA and early learning. It’s intended to spark a conversation about how the law should be changed.
At a time when President Barack Obama’s early childhood education agenda has been somewhat derailed, the U.S. Department of Education will be hosting a series of meetings to discuss critical topics in early learning.
Yes, it’s another listening tour.
It’s not clear exactly what will come out of the meetings, which will take place over the next two months and focus on everything from understanding preschool through grade three to issues of standards, assessments and family engagement. The meetings come as advocates for early childhood education are hoping to have influence over the government’s “blueprint,” for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The meetings will take place in Washington D.C., Denver, Colorado, Orlando, FL and in Chicago and will feature some of the top experts in the U.S., including Marcy Whitebook at the Center f or the Study of Child Care Employment to Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development.
The first meeting on April 23 can also be accessed as a webinar.
There was great energy and excitement about a year ago when President Barack Obama appeared poised to make early-childhood education one of his top priorities. A lot has changed, however, and Education Week takes a look at what happened in a collaboration with the Hechinger Report.
“The excitement has cooled a bit,” Education Week wrote. “President Obama’s historic remaking of the country’s health-care system and the related measure overhauling student loans last month ultimately failed to include money for his proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would have provided competitive grants to help states both create and improve the quality of services for at-risk children from birth to age 5.”
The story takes a look at what advocates for early childhood education hope will happen next.
If every state had a high-quality pre-kindergarten program, it would not be difficult to gather and record information about a child’s progress beginning at an early age. A renewed emphasis on the progress both children and their teachers are making throughout their education is all in vogue at the moment, as states scramble to revamp their applications for the second round of Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion competitive grant program.
So it was interesting to read the suggestions of economist Fred Carstensen in the CT Mirror, a new source for news and information about the state. Cartensen, head of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, wants to help Connecticut fill in key gaps in its education data system. The system should include a wide variety of data, “beginning with the [student's] earliest contact with the educational system,” including pre-kindergarten programs, and continuing through college,” he told the Mirror.
Connecticut cannot match student data to individual teachers and cannot link data from elementary and secondary schools to higher education, the Mirror noted. Only Tennessee and Delaware won awards in the first round, and Tennessee has been widely praised for its detailed data collection to monitor student progress.
Lessons from the two winning states can be seen here. Cartesen, meanwhile, wants Connecticut to consider a research model his center developed two years ago.
While celebrations continue over last night’s historic passage of President Barack Obama’s health-care bill, there are plenty of early childhood experts and advocates who are disappointed.
The president’s promise of an expanded — and expansive — early childhood agenda got caught up in the complexities of health care reform and in the overhaul of student lending, leaving many questions about what will become of plans and promises.
The First Five Years Fund, whose goal is to expand high-quality early learning services to children from birth to age five, realized last week that the president’s Early Learning Challenge Fund was in trouble. The Fund would have provided funding to help states build high quality early learning systems.
“Obviously, this is a bitter disappointment to all of us who have been working on this bill since last summer,” said Cornelia Grumman, Executive Director of The First Five Years Fund, said in a statement last week. Grumman said in an interview with EarlyStories that she worried what will become of an agenda that would have allowed a much needed, coordinated approach to early childhood education in the U.S.
“The worry is, will there be another opportunity in this economy?” Grumman said. “I am incredibly disappointed and I’m skeptical that it will be done in a way that isn’t piecemeal.”
Marci Young, the Project Director of Pre-K Now, also expressed disappointment in the removal of the Early Learning Challenge Fund, calling it “a missed opportunity to provide more children with a high-quality early learning experience.”
Young said in a statement she hopes momentum will build to add pre-kindergarten into authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Education Week that the administration will be looking for other ways to finance early-childhood education, and that the issue still has “huge bipartisan support.”
How and what that support will look like remains to be seen. EarlyStories will be watching.
At a time when all eyes in Washington are focused on health care reform and the Obama administration has proposed revamping the No Child Left Behind law, it’s the right time to wonder what will happen to the president’s promising early childhood agenda. There has been very little press coverage on what a re-write of the law will mean for the early years, so it was refreshing to see our colleagues over at Early Education Watch raise such good questions.
“There is no section about improving the early grades,” Lisa Guernsey at Early Education Watch writes. “There is no mention of pre-K, preschool or other educational settings for 3- or 4-year-olds. There is but one reference to the need for better transitions and authentic coordination between early childhood settings and schools.”
Early education experts have been enthusiastic about Obama’s “birth to five,” agenda, and his emphasis on giving young children the best possible start at an early age, so naturally they wonder what the overhaul of federal education policies will hold. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, meanwhile, has his hands full today as he prepares to deliver remarks to Congress about the new law amidst some formidable opposition.
Teachers unions, for one, are opposed to the administration’s proposals for rewriting the the law, as the New York Times noted.
With so many objections and roadblocks, those who cover and care about early childhood education have to keep a focus on the president’s priorities and pledges for the critical early years.