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Children's Defense Fund

Early Childhood News June Edition


Closing The Achievement Gap Before It Starts

Last week, over 350 leading educators, researchers and policy experts gathered in Washington, DC to confront the crisis facing many of our nation’s school children, particularly the 3.5 million Black boys between the ages of 0-9. Described by Michael Nettles of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) as an “unwelcomed guest that arrives early and stays late,” the achievement gap between Black boys and their White peers exists soon after birth and continues throughout childhood. The message was clear, we must invest in the early years today, before birth, in the cradle, and in quality pre-K programs seamlessly connected to the 3rd grade year.

Dr. Iheoma Iruka, from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute presented her analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Sudy-K (ECLS-K) and ECLS-B data that demonstrates that Black children at 9 months already show a slight gap on cognitive measures and by 24 months that gap has more than tripled. Dr. Iruka’s research demonstrates that the achievement gap in the very early years exists for Black boys regardless of their economic status: the developmental trajectory for middle class Black boys virtually mirrors the developmental trajectory for Black boys in poverty.

Co-convened by ETS and the Children’s Defense Fund, the symposium entitled, A Strong Start: Positioning Young Black Boys For Educational Success examined startling research and discussed effective policies and innovative programs that help tackle the daunting achievement gap. With a focus primarily on young children, this symposium helped to delineate why long term educational goals such as “college and career ready” should include specific program and policy strategies for the early years. Getting Black boys off to a strong start begins with building academic as well as solid social and emotional skills so that they have the foundation to be proficient learners in the early grades. Oscar A. Barbarin III, psychology professor at Tulane University, noted that schools stress the teaching of academic content but fall short on helping children learn critical social and emotional skills.

Throughout the day, panels explored:

  • The conditions of young black boys in the United States. Black boys are unduly impacted by the stressors associated with poverty. Many face inadequate healthcare, low-quality schools and teachers, financial instability, and community violence. Data from various sources suggests that these stressors have an impact on outcomes of young black boys. 
  • The early years and the connections between poverty, early brain development and academic achievement. Scientists suggest that there is a direct connection between the earliest relationships that infants have with caregivers and the development of their brains as the foundation for lifelong learning.
  • An innovative approach to learning in the early years. The pre-k thru 3rd grade continuum is a pioneering strategy for building a high-quality, seamless continuum in which children move smoothly from one grade to another through a connected, aligned set of experiences. “Children live up or down to our expectations.” said CDF’s founder and president Marian Wright Edelman during her call to action. Ensuring that black boys live up to their potential and our expectations begins by ensuring that they have a strong start.

Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Program

Check out the Department of Education’s blog about the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge. In response to a call by the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services for input on guidance to states on applying for funding a summary of CDF comments are below. Go to the blog for the full response.

Recommendation #1 To help ensure quality child care programs are a part of the continuum of educational opportunity, require that states have in place the following in order to submit a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge application:

  • A statewide Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) that includes proof of an existing partnership with (at a minimum) school districts, health agencies, community college/university faculty and social service agencies as well as other related criteria described by the National Child Care Information Network. 
  • A P-20 data system framework that includes data on children birth through 4 year old.
  • A registry for family home providers (those caring for non-relative children in their home).
  • Pilot T.E.A.C.H. and WAGES-type programs to address the continued education and related compensation needs of the early childhood teacher workforce.
  • Curriculum guidelines and instructional strategies for infants through Pre-K.
  • A state-wide system for training early care and education providers and providing information to parents about high quality early care and education programs.
  • Comprehensive planning through the Head Start Collaboration office among Head Start programs, public schools, licensed centers and family home providers.

Recommendation #2: Recognize the importance of states addressing the early learning needs of children who are homeless, victims of abuse and neglect, in foster care, or have developmental challenges or other disabilities by awarding extra points in the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge competition to states that:

  • Specifically include in their comprehensive plans for service those agencies and organizations with relevant expertise in addressing the development of children who are homeless, victims of abuse and neglect, in foster care, or have developmental challenges or other disabilities.
  • Provide family support services to assist parents, especially those of children with special needs, in meeting developmental milestones in these early years.
  • Engage the state’s Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C) and the Part B Program of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in developing an early learning system.

Recommendation #3: Ensure all children a fair and equal educational start and a smooth transition from pre-kindergarten to grade school by awarding additional points in the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge competition to states that address the need for full-day kindergarten.

Scroll down the blog for commentary from organizations and individuals across the country,

Early Childhood in the States

Washington D.C. – Great Start DC recently released two commissioned reports: The State of Infant and Toddler Care in the District of Columbia: Baseline Quality Study and Workforce Survey Executive Summary
Six organizations that work on early care and education in DC – Great Start DC, Universal School Readiness Stakeholders Group, DC AEYC, the Directors’ Exchange, Fight for Children and WACC – came together in recognition that high-quality infant and toddler programs cannot be accomplished without a well prepared workforce. To that end, in the fall of 2010 this group of organizations commissioned the Howard University Center for Urban Progress to conduct two research studies: 1) a baseline quality study of 113 community-based infant and toddler programs to measure the quality of programming in DC; and 2) a workforce development survey administered to 216 community-based infant and toddler programs to gather information of numerous dimensions of personnel. There was some good news from the findings but unfortunately most results show that there is much work to be done in DC infant and toddler classrooms. In the interaction category the classrooms averaged “good”, but overall in terms of care the classrooms averaged “minimal”. Click here to read this report.

Preparing Our Infant and Toddler Professional Workforce for the 21st Century
In this executive summary released in April of 2011 by Great Start DC, a blueprint for achieving excellence in infant and toddler workforce preparation and development is presented. As a first step for building a framework for a comprehensive early care and education system in DC the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously passed the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Amendment Act of 2008 making access to high-quality pre-kindergarten education available to all 3-year-old and 4-year-old children. In March 2010, the District of Columbia Early Childhood Higher Education Collaborative released Preparing Our Pre-K Teacher Workforce for the 21st Century: An Action Plan for the District of Columbia. Now as a follow up, a similar action plan has been developed for the Districts infant and toddler workforce. Some of the policy recommendations include developing a policy and legislative agenda for infants and toddlers, strengthening the workforces and creating a network of infant/toddler specialists. Read the full summary.

Minnesota - Zero to Three Research to Policy: Maternal Depression and Early Childhood
A report released in May by CDF-MN describes the long-term harmful effects of unaddressed maternal depression on children’s development. The report examines current research, state data, policies and programs that impact families affected by this chronic condition. It recognizes that infants and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of parental depression because of their total reliance on their caregivers. A growing body of research is documenting that the foundation for future brain development is laid down during the earliest years of life. Adverse childhood experiences can disrupt that process with lifelong consequences, if unaddressed. In Minnesota, it is estimated that one in 10 babies each year is born to a mother experiencing serious depression during his or her first year of life. This represented nearly 14,000 mothers and infants throughout the state in 2009. It is estimated that maternal depression afflicts 10 to 20 percent of new mothers as a whole, especially low-income women and women of color. Maternal depression causes great risks for birth complications, delayed development, emotional and behavioral problems in school, and chronic health problems in adulthood. Download the report in its entirety.

Early Childhood News and Resources

Large-Scale Early Education Linked To Higher Living Standards and Crime Prevention 25 Years Later
The latest findings from the renowned, early childhood Chicago Longitudinal Study were published in Science magazine earlier this month. This newest iteration looks at study participants at 28 years old; 25 years after the study began. Look for more on the new findings of this study in the next edition.

NCES: The Condition of Education 2011
The National Center for Education Statistics recently released The Condition of Education 2011. The compilation summarizes important developments and trends in education using the latest available data. The report presents 50 indicators on the status and condition of education across the U.S., in addition to a taking a closer look at postsecondary education by institutional level and control.

Our Take on the 'Early Learning Challenge': Hope and Disappointment
This blog post from Early Ed watch candidly discusses the reasons to be hopeful yet cautiously optimistic in regards to the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge grant.

A Call to Action on Behalf of Maltreated Infants and Toddlers
American Humane Association, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Child Welfare League of America, Children's Defense Fund, and ZERO TO THREE, recently released this report regarding infants and toddlers in the child welfare system. The report represents a collective vision on the essential steps that should be taken in policies, programs, and practices to address the needs of these vulnerable infants and toddlers.

Degrees in Context: Asking the Right Questions about Preparing Skilled and Effective Teachers of Young Children
In this brief, the authors argue that too much attention has been given to debating the baseline qualifications required of preschool teachers – AA vs. BA. They contend that it is just as necessary to take into account the nature of the education teachers receive en route to a degree, supports for ongoing learning, and the effects of the workplace environment on teaching practice.

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