Children's Defense Fund

Early Childhood News – October Edition

The Cradle to Prison Pipeline: What Is It and What Does Early Childhood Have to Do With It?

For far too many of our young children, poverty and early childhood experiences are directly connected to the Cradle to Prison Pipeline—an identifiable pattern of cumulative, adverse life occurrences that many children experience, particularly Black and Latino boys, that seemingly move them from birth into the incarceration pipeline. Often these experiences happen during crucial points in development and are coupled with wrong-headed policies and practices that promote negative life outcomes over positive ones. Poor children without high quality early care and education opportunities; inadequate health care; inexperienced teachers and low quality schools; protection from abuse and neglect; mental health care; substance abuse treatment; and ineffective juvenile justice systems all contribute to the pipeline to prison. These risk factors converge and make the chance of success later in life such as graduation, college, and employment significantly less likely than negative ones like incarceration and premature death.

Poverty is the pervasive thread that binds all of the risk factors together and feeds the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. New data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals 46.2 million people in America were poor in 2010 and similar to years past children took the biggest hit. One in five children live in poverty and sadly infants, toddlers and preschoolers suffered the most, with one in four at or below the poverty threshold. These troubling statistics tell us that far too many of our youngest children won’t get the quality early care and education experiences that research tells us prepares them for success in school and in life. Read more about the recent poverty numbers.

Professor Oscar Barbarin, the Endowed Chair in the Psychology Department at Tulane University, noted in his recent article Halting African American Boys’ Progression from Pre-K to Prison: What Families, Schools and Communities Can Do! that, “African American men figure so prominently in the correctional system that the number of African American four-year-old males can be used to predict the number of people who will be incarcerated 15-20 years in the future. Of the approximately 600,000 four-year-old African American males growing up in the United States in 2008, prisons are being planned to house 28,134 of them by 2029.” It is shameful that we as a nation will not guarantee these young boys a brighter future—the opportunity to get a good education, good healthcare and a good job.

Professor Barbarin says these future projections assume the over representation of Black males in prison will continue rather than challenging and changing the odds for Black boys today. In fact, research proves that effective early learning programs can stem the tide of later incarceration rates particularly for children of color. The Perry Preschool Project is one powerful example. In the 1960s, high-quality preschool education was provided to three- and four-year-old African-American children living in poverty. This intervention provided access to health and nutrition, used certified teachers in the classroom with a low teacher/student ratio, and engaged parents through specific programming and home visiting. Compared to a control group and assessed at different ages such as 3, 11, 14-15, 19, 27 and 40, the program group demonstrated significantly higher rates of pro-social behavior, academic achievement, employment, income, and family stability. Significantly, the program group also showed lower rates of crime and delinquency. At 19 they had lower overall scores for total misconduct and serious misconduct; lower incidence of fighting and other violent behavior; lower incidence of property damage; and fewer police contacts. By 27 the results were more dramatic and indicated significant differences between the program group and control group for adult arrests. The control group had more than twice as many arrests as the program group, more felony arrests, were considered frequent offenders, had been arrested more often for drugs and averaged more months on probation. Read more about the Perry Preschool project.

Let’s spark discussions about how early childhood programs can dismantle the Pipeline as we did last week at the National Black Child Development Institute Annual Conference. In a standing-room only session we discussed effective strategies for combating initial entrée into the Pipeline and successful interventions later on. This is a critical conversation for those of us in the early childhood field. Together we can play an important role in replacing the Cradle to Prison Pipeline with a pipeline to academic, career and life success. We hope you will join us in that effort.

Full-Day Kindergarten: Time to Take This Seriously

By the skin of their teeth and a handful of votes, William Floyd School District on Long Island, N.Y., is able to provide full-day kindergarten this school year. However, the parents have been put on notice: full-day kindergarten and all after school programs may soon be a thing of the past in their school district. It’s a different story across the state. Starting next fall, kindergarten students will be required to attend classes for the entire school day, making East Aurora the last of Erie County's 29 school districts to mandate the practice. District and community leaders had long fought the change, contending that East Aurora has a reputation as one of the most successful and academically rigorous districts in Western New York and that adding full-day kindergarten would be an unnecessary cost at a time when schools are trying to save money. But ultimately, educators and others who studied the issue at length came to the same conclusion as almost every other school district in New York: a full-day program is critical to meet the increasing educational standards, it gives children more time to learn and explore in their school day, and better prepares them for their primary years and beyond. The current two and a half-hour kindergarten day simply isn't enough.

Read CDF President Marian Wright Edelman’s recent Child Watch Column “Full Day Kindergarten: A Missing Half-Step in Our Schools”.

New York, as well as 42 other states and Washington, D.C., has adopted National Common Core Standards in English/Language Arts/Literacy and Math. The expectation from the U.S. Department of Education that all students must meet these standards (or similar standards) by 2014 is clear and triggering massive changes in how schools do business. These changes are coming fast and school districts are making changes in instructional content, professional development of teachers, use of assessments and other areas, but they continue to leave out one critical element—the starting point for school success—the length of day in kindergarten.

New York is one of 40 states that has not enacted a publicly funded state mandate requiring all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten. If news reports were written about the questionable future funding of a full-day fourth grade, an outcry would be heard from one end of the country to the other. In many states, discussions around kindergarten’s role in student success have to begin at a level more basic than conversations around the content provided to students during the day - it has to begin around how long the school day actually lasts. There is a huge difference in determining what content will be introduced in a 30 hour week versus one that is 15 hours in length. Any other elements of the instructional day from how teachers interact with the children, how assessments are conducted and what is done with the data, hinge on the clock. How we expect students to meet national standards by 2014 when they have no universal learning time? How can teachers do their best work when they are constantly looking over their shoulder at the minute hand? It is past time to get serious. Making full-day kindergarten a part of the school finance funding formula in states is no longer an option, it is a necessity whose time has come.

Learn more about CDF’s Full-Day Kindergarten Campaign. All Children. All Schools.

Early Childhood in the States

Washington - The Power of PreK-3rd: How a Small Foundation Helped Push Washington State to the Forefront of the PreK-3rd Movement

This report tells the story of the pioneering role that Washington State has played in the emerging strategy of connecting PreK - 3rd grade in a systematic continuum of learning for young children. Originally the idea was to develop an independent school that served low-income families and educated the whole child. The school included instruction that started in prekindergarten; engaged parents; focused on the social, psychological, physical, and academic needs of students; offered small classes and aligned early elementary grades. The report covers some of the lessons learned while building the initial school, such as ensuring community buy-in before moving forward and having the tenacity to stick with an unproven idea. This bold, ambitious idea for an independent school ultimately became the heart of the Pre-K - 3rd grade model being replicated across the state and across the country. The report describes how the funder created the climate to take the model to scale. Bremerton School District was the first to connect the city’s collection of pre-kindergartens and childcare providers with its public school system. Download the full report.

Ohio—The Talent Challenge 2, Ensuring Kindergarten Readiness by 2020

This report released by the Ohio Business Roundtable challenges the leaders of the state to ensure that by 2020 ninety percent of the children entering school will be ready to succeed in kindergarten. It explores what science says about brain development and school readiness and examines ways to foster children’s learning in the early, most formative years. The report lays the foundation for a bold early learning strategy and calls for an intensified effort to meet Ohio’s talent challenge. In Ohio more than half of young children entering kindergarten are unprepared in basic early literacy. Less than a quarter of economically disadvantaged students in fourth grade are proficient in mathematics, while just 15 percent are proficient in reading according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The good news is that the state has taken positive steps to support the social-emotional needs of young children, while community-based initiatives are emerging to promote school readiness at the local level. The report recommends three areas in which policymakers can and should act to move the state’s early care and school readiness agenda forward:

  • Establish new leadership—solely accountable to the governor—with the responsibility for consolidating services and funding to create a world-class system for early learning.
  • Adopt a new comprehensive kindergarten readiness assessment to track the state's progress in meeting all dimensions of children's school readiness.
  • Invest in home visiting and quality pre-kindergarten for at-risk children and families.

Read the complete report.

Early Childhood News and Resources

Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future

The new report released by the Pew Center on the States challenges our nation’s policy makers to transform public education by moving from a k-12 to a pre-k-12 system. It lays out a compelling vision of how to construct a pre-k-12 continuum that uses lessons drawn from early education in elementary, middle and high school.

CNNMoney Highlights the High Cost of Child Care

In this five-part series, CNNMoney reports on the high cost of child care and the rising expenses associated with raising children. As part of the series, CNNMoney shares parents’ stories and their struggles with finding and paying for child care while highlighting the many challenges that working families face in these challenging economic times.

Beyond Bachelor's: The Case for Charter Colleges of Early Childhood Education

A new paper by Sara Mead and Kevin Carey proposes that states should create Charter Colleges of Early Childhood Education to meet the unique educational needs of professionals working with children from birth through pre-k. These accountable institutions would be research-driven, flexible, and help increase the supply of high-quality early childhood educators, provide those workers and their families with stable well-paying jobs, and create a new model of higher education and credentialing that can be applied to other fields.

Early Learning Legislation in the 112th Congress

Early Ed Watch recently blogged about early childhood development in the 112th Congress. Lawmakers have introduced a number of bills that, if passed, could have a big influence on states' early learning systems. Check out the blog to learn about some of the new ideas and to see which bills are making a reappearance.

U.S. Department of Education Issues Final Regulations Governing the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities

The U.S. Secretary of Education has issued the final regulations governing the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities. These regulations are needed to reflect changes made to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (Act or IDEA). The regulations are effective October 28, 2011.

Thousands of Students in Early Grades Miss Weeks of School

Catalyst Chicago tackles chronic absenteeism in their latest article. The article finds that Chicago’s chronic absenteeism rate is 62 percent for preschoolers and 14 percent for kindergarteners. Missing school in the early years sets a negative trend toward absenteeism for later years and hurts young children as they work to gain early learning skills.

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