Education Vital Signs: Early Learning

Recent brain research shows that the kind of learning babies and toddlers engage in is much more sophisticated than once believed. These findings have obvious implications for public schools, which typically have little contact with children until they are 5 years old. Now all that is changing: School districts -- mindful that in today’s standards-driven environment kindergarteners must “hit the ground running_-- are paying more attention to the quality of preschool and toddler education the children in their communities are receiving. In many cases, districts are offering these services on their own. Meanwhile, while the science of early learning is burgeoning, it politics is becoming surprisingly controversial. Witness the oftentimes heated debate over the effectiveness Head Start and recent disagreements concerning the advisability of instituting universal preschool.

Below are some of the latest studies in this fascinating and critical field: 

Early learning
Students who don’t have a good start academically rarely do well later on, according to a report from ACT, “College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning.” Even students identified as far off track as early as eighth grade have very slim chances of recovering and reaching ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks by 12th grade: a 10 percent chance to catch up in reading, a 6 percent chance in science, and only a 3 percent chance to catch up in mathematics. The report emphasizes that, since learning takes time and is cumulative, since student interests develop early, and since it is so difficult to help students catch up in middle and high school, the earlier students get on track, the better.
February 2013

Preschools funding cuts
The State Preschool Yearbook from The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), "The State of Preschool 2011," reports that total state funding for pre-k programs fell by $60 million in 2011. While state per-child spending for pre-k dropped to $4,151, enrollment in state preschools increased by 30,818 children. Only 20 percent of children enrolled in state preschools attend programs that meet all ten of NIEER’s benchmarks for quality standards; 43 percent of children are in programs that meet fewer than five.
April 2012

High-quality child care benefits
New data published by the American Psychological Association from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s long-running Abecedarian Project in Adult Outcomes as a Function of an Early Childhood Educational Program show that the early child care project’s low-income participants at age 30 were four times more likely to have earned a college degree, more likely to have been consistently employed, less likely to have used public assistance, and had higher incomes than cohorts. They also delayed parenthood for two years longer than did the control group.
January 2012

Kindergarten Entrance Ages

Increasingly, states are supporting kindergarten admission cutoff dates of age 5 by September or earlier of the entrance year. This has been the trend over the past 35 years, and according to the Education Commission of the States’ report, Kindergarten Entrance Ages, only 12 states will not have a September cutoff date for the 2012-13 school year. Most states instituting a September kindergarten admission cutoff date chose September 1.

January 2012

National Kindergarten Preparedness Survey
Kindergarten teachers believe most children are coming to school unprepared to learn, with veteran teachers believing the situation is getting worse. A survey of 500 kindergarten teachers by Age of Learning revealed that phonetics were the weakest academic area, with two-thirds of the teachers saying a majority of their students don’t know the alphabet when they start school. Only 6 percent of teachers felt students were well prepared academically. The survey also included teacher recommendations for parents.
November 2011

Late Talking and the Risk for Psychosocial Problems During Childhood and Adolescence
A study of late talkers—toddlers who scored at or below the 15th percentile on the Language Development Survey for their gender—participating in the Western Australian Cohort Study shows no link between late talking and later development of behavioral and emotional disturbances. The study, “Late Talking and the Risk for Psychosocial Problems During Childhood and Adolescence,” was published in Pediatrics.
July 2011 

Positive effects of preschool shown to last

At-risk children receive long-term benefits from participating in intensive preschool programs, especially males and children of high school dropouts. A 25-year study of the Chicago-based Child-Parent Center Education Program found that 80 percent of the more than 1,400 program participants had graduated from high school, compared to 75 percent of their cohorts. School-Based Early Childhood Education and Age-28 Well-Being also found that program participants earned more. The average annual adult income for participants was $11,600, as compared to $10,800 for nonparticipants.

June 2011



Slow Off the Mark
A report by the Center for American Progress, Slow Off the Mark, says that early learning is crucial to later success in science, math, and technology fields. It claims many elementary teachers are ill-prepared to teach math and science, pointing out that teachers can pass the licensing exam in most states without passing the math portion of the test. The report recommends raising admission standards to elementary teacher preparation programs and pay-for-performance to attract the best candidates to elementary teaching positions.
May 2011


Early Care and Education for Children in Immigrant Families

Immigrant children make up 24 percent of children under age six children nationally and 50 percent in California. However, they are more likely than native-born children to be in parental care only, and less likely than native-born children to participate in center-based care. Early Care and Education for Children in Immigrant Families recommends universal preschool and addressing language barriers and informational gaps in publicly subsidized programs’ marketing and structure as ways to reach disadvantaged immigrant children.

March 2011


Evaluating the Effectiveness of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program
Initial results of a new study of a state-funded voluntary Pre-K program in Tenn. show children in the program gained an average of 82 percent on early math and literacy skills when compared to cohorts who did not attend the program. Assessments were made at the beginning and the end of the prekindergarten year. They revealed that the pre-K children had a 98 percent greater gain in literacy skills, a 145 percent gain in vocabulary, and a 109 percent gain in comprehension, with more moderate gains in early math skills, ranging from 33 to 63 percent higher gains than those of children who did not attend the program. Read Evaluating the Effectiveness of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program for more information.
February 2011

Few Preschool Slots for Latino Children
Preschool enrollment in heavily Latino Illinois neighborhoods is half that of enrollment for non-Latino neighborhoods, leading to wide gaps in early learning. While this disparity is due in part to low levels of Latino maternal education and poor early-learning home practices, the central problem seems to be one of simple access: Just one in three Latino parents can find a spot in a neighborhood preschool for their child. Read Few Preschool Slots for Latino Children for more information.
November 2010

Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy
A new report details enrollment in and Federal spending on three early childhood programs: Early Head Start, Head Start, and home visiting programs. Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy finds that with an enrollment of 900,000, Head Start serves less than half of the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds in poverty, and that Head Start serves many children who are not poor; 18 percent of the children served are not in the bottom 40 percent of families by income. The report also says that Head Start and Early Head Start have not been found to have a lasting effect on child development or school readiness, and that while home visiting programs have shown consistent impact on child development in some trials, they have not yet been evaluated as a full-scale public program.
September 2010

A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States
The average cognitive scores of America’s most affluent children are 60 percent higher than those of America’s least affluent before kindergarten, according to A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States. The brief says only seven states – Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, and Vermont – conduct school readiness assessments of children entering kindergarten to monitor statewide readiness. The brief recommends that readiness assessments consider children’s physical, social, and emotional progress.
June 2010

A Next Social Contract for the Primary Years of Education
The age of children entering public education should drop from 5 to 3, according to a new report from the New America Foundation. The report says that research shows as much as one-third to one-half of the achievement gap between black and white students exists before first grade. It recommends universal access to pre-kindergarten programs, universal full-day kindergarten, and a curriculum and standards aligned from pre-K through third grade to help close the gap.
March 2010

Head Start Impact Study 2010
The first Head Start Impact Study, released in 2005, showed that Head Start children were better prepared for school than non-Head Start children. The Head Start Impact Study 2010, however, shows children’s gains from participation in the federal program do not last through the end of the first grade. The 2010 study showed that, at the end of one year in the program, children participating in Head Start appeared more ready for school based on several indicators of school readiness, but when they were measured again at the end of kindergarten and first grade, they performed on the same level as non-Head Start children on most measures.
January 2010

Parenting Infants and Toddlers Today
Parents are getting the message that certain activities and experiences help children’s development. Ninety-three percent of parents surveyed for Zero to Three’s new report, Parenting Infants and Toddlers Today, understand the importance of reading to young children, and 80 percent of parents believe that play with other children, comforting their child when distressed, and setting and enforcing rules will help their child’s social development.
November 2009 

Can Teacher Training in Classroom Management Make a Difference for Children’s Experiences in Preschool?
Improving young children’s healthy emotional and behavioral development is important in its own right, and also can be a pathway to improved academic achievement, according to a new report from MDRC. The report says teachers consistently emphasize their need for professional development and other supports to help them address children’s behavioral issues.
September 2009

Prepared to Learn: The Nature and Quality of Early Care and Education for Preschool-Age Children in California
More than half of California’s preschoolers attend center-based early care and education programs, but the children who have the most to gain from preschool frequently are those least likely to participate in the programs, according to a RAND Corporation study. Researchers found that children from lower-income families, children whose mothers have less education, and Latino children are significantly less likely than others to attend center-based early care and education programs, even though they are among the groups that consistently show a lack of readiness for school.
June 2008

Implementing Policies to Reduce the Likelihood of Preschool Expulsion
Behavior problems for preschool students can be a meaningful predictor of continued behavior problems and academic difficulties throughout the education pipeline, but high-quality early education and intervention programs can help, according to a policy brief released by the Foundation for Child Development. The brief found that children are more likely to be expelled from pre-kindergarten programs with high student-teacher ratios and in extended-day programs. But, by requiring classrooms to have no more than 10 children per teacher and by providing teachers access to early childhood mental health consultants to manage disruptive behavior, pre-K expulsions can be reduced.
January 2008

Life Chances: The Case for Early Investment in Our Kids
The December 2007 issue of The American Prospect examines pre-K and early childhood models in “Life Chances: The Case for Early Investment in Our Kids.” Articles focus on pre-K politics and the science of early childhood development.
December 2007

Who Goes to Preschool and Why Does It Matter?
The nation is failing to meet the need for preschool education, and those with the least access are children from low-income, poorly educated families who live in the West and Midwest, according to Who Goes to Preschool and Why Does It Matter? The report, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, says Hispanic children suffer the most from limited access. In 2005 two-thirds of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in some kind of preschool program, a dramatic difference from the 5 percent of 3-year-olds and 16 percent of 4-year-olds in 1965, according to the Current Population Survey.
November 2007

Taking Stock: Assessing and Improving Early Childhood Learning and Program Quality
School districts should develop a comprehensive assessment system and align standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments to improve the performance of students in grades pre-K through three, according to a report by the National Early Childhood Accountability Task Force. The report, Taking Stock: Assessing and Improving Early Childhood Learning and Program Quality, offers advice for helping students become “prepared to read, think, compute, and learn self-control and how to work with their peers and adults by the end of the third grade.”
October 2007

Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2008
A state-by-state analysis of legislative support for pre-kindergarten programs shows increasing numbers of states are spending more money on programs for preschool-age children. Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2008, by Pre-K Now, found that $528 million in additional money has been budgeted for fiscal year 2008 by state lawmakers to provide 88,000 more children with preschool programs. Thirty-four states increased funding for pre-k programs, a more than 50 percent increase from fiscal year 2005.
September 2007

Children Enrolled in Public Pre-K: The Relation of Family Life, Neighborhood Quality, and Socio-Economic Resources to Early Competence
Poverty’s harmful effects in children start with their caregivers, according to Children Enrolled in Public Pre-K: The Relation of Family Life, Neighborhood Quality, and Socio-Economic Resources to Early Competence, a report by FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The report looks at how the family and social environments of children in public preschool programs influence the skill levels of those children. It found that caregiver well-being had an enormous impact on student achievement. When examined together, parental education, household income, and self-perception of financial status accounted for differences in every academic area evaluated.
August 2007

Pre-K for Military Families: Honoring Service, Educating Children
State should provide high-quality preschool to the children of U.S. military personnel, according to a report from Pre-K Now entitled Pre-K for Military Families: Honoring Service, Educating Children. Good preschool programs can provide continuity and help young children cope with the stress of frequent moves and having their parents deployed overseas. Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma provide universal preschool currently. Kansas and Texas, however, recently enacted legislation to make all military children eligible for state preschool programs.
July 2007