Category Archives: early childhood education

To Support Reading By Third Grade, Start With Babies

At last week’s virtual #Rally4Babies, policy leaders, government officials, and celebrities all showed support for increased investments in services to help the nation’s infants and toddlers get the right start in life, including Early Head Start, quality child care, and home visiting.  The event, hosted by ZERO TO THREE and a number of other organizations, was held via rally4babies screen shotGoogle+ hangout, and participants around the country could join up on-line to watch.

Among the statistics cited to make the case for the importance of starting early was the dramatic difference in vocabulary between more and less advantaged children by age three.  Economically advantaged children know 1,100 words by age three, but economically disadvantaged children know only 500 words by that age.  This word gap is stark, with economically advantaged toddlers having twice the vocabulary of toddlers in poverty.

This statistic comes from a classic study by Hart and Risley, published in 1995.  If you are unfamiliar with the study, it is worth a look, providing a rich, detailed data set that documents how different trajectories in language development begin and unfold.  (Here are two articles summarizing its key findings:  an excerpt from their book, and Todd Risley’s article).  This study observed 42 families for an hour each month for nearly 2 1/2 years, recording the interactions between children and parents, yielding over 1300 hours of interactions that were then carefully studied and coded.  The study started when babies were 7 to 9 months old and followed them until they turned three.chart vocabulary gap

We know that the goal of having children reading at grade level by the third grade is a hot policy topic, and a policy priority supported by 19 governors, according the the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.  The dramatic vocabulary gap documented by Hart and Risley shows just how critical the earliest years are for laying the foundations of language learning and literacy.  Hart and Risley’s team followed up on children’s language skills in third grade and found that children’s vocabulary at age three was indeed a strong predictor of later vocabulary and reading in third grade.

To reach the goal of on-target third grade reading, start with babies.  As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the Rally4Babies, we need to get out of the catch-up game. It is much harder to help children catch up who have already fallen behind in their vocabulary and pre-reading skills; it is so much more effective to provide a rich and supportive environment for learning from the start.  Those supports include high-quality early learning and home visitation services for at-risk children and families.


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Filed under early childhood education, Early Ed Quality, federal policy, home visiting, Uncategorized

Two-Generation Approaches: Supporting Parents and Children

In recent years, there has been increased attention to addressing the needs of at-risk families via two-generation approaches, with programs that focus on parents and children.

Last week, at the 16th annual Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference, hosted by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families, researchers, practitioners and policymakers gathered to discuss new findings and approaches in providing services and supports to low-income families. The conference included a session on two-generation strategies to provide services that support parents and their children.  The session provided useful information and food for thought on what we are learning about how to do this effectively, and what we still need to learn.

CC Image courtesy of PJR on Flickr

Lisa Gennetian of the National Bureau of Economic Research moderated the session, titled “Two Generation Strategies to Support Family Well-Being and Stability.” Gennetian recapped past approaches which focused on teens and young mothers, including New Chance and various home visiting models, noting that for many of these models, the results have not been as strong as would have been hoped.  The field currently is focused more on economic self-sufficiency approaches in addition to parenting, with more optimism.  Holistic approaches in two-generation programming were noted, including the Jeremiah Program in Minnesota. Also mentioned was the Ascend initiative at the Aspen Institute, a leading player in the two-generation approaches space.

Shelley Waters Boots, Senior Consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, spoke about the Foundation’s work on two-generation approaches.  In the Casey Foundation’s framework, there are three major components in two-generation interventions:

  1. Family economic success strategies
  2. Capacity building for parents and caregivers
  3. Early care and education and early grades

The expectation is that if families receive all three components simultaneously, it will lead to stronger outcomes than would be achieved with just one of the pieces.  The Foundation is supporting efforts employing this two-generation approach via its Family-Centered Community Change initiative, with community-based partners delivering these multi-level services in Buffalo, Columbus, and San Antonio.  Casey seeks to test new ways to deliver two-generation programs that can be both cost-effective and scalable.  This is an encouraging approach for the field, since developing programs likely to be effective and replicable in the real world, rather than boutique programs, is essential to making a real difference for at-risk children and families.

Susan Popkin, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, discussed lessons learned from the Housing Opportunities and Services Together Demonstration, which coordinates public housing and human services in four sites, in Chicago, IL,  Portland, OR, Washington, DC, and Brooklyn, NY.  In each of these public housing sites, the HOST demonstration program also provided services for families and for children and youth specifically, from afterschool programming to sexual health services.  These ambitious demonstration programs are still underway, and they have had some implementation successes and faced several challenges.  Among the lessons learned were: figuring out how to serve lots of kids; determining how to target kids most at risk; building trust within the community in the broader context of a long history of distrust and isolation; and the need to choose project partners carefully, ensuring that community and service partners are willing to work collaboratively toward shared goals in order to be effective partners.

JoAnn Hsueh, Senior Associate at MDRC, presented findings on OPRE’s Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project.  This demonstration project provided Early Head Start (EHS) services enhanced by incorporating employment and education services for parents.  The project, which included a longitudinal experimental design with an implementation study, has been completed.  The study, which examined impacts on employment, earnings, and child care at 18-month and 42-month follow-ups, found only a few limited significant impacts, but the project has yielded some key lessons learned that provide insight in to the challenges of delivering these services effectively.

The program faced implementation challenges in delivering the full program model with fidelity.  Most interesting among these challenges was the problem of adding self-sufficiency services for parents on to an Early Head Start program; EHS staff, accustomed to providing early childhood services, did not feel they had expertise to help parents with job and education goals.  Further, in some cases the EHS staff were not in agreement with the demonstration program’s employment goals for parents, feeling that employment was not in the best interest of these parents of babies and toddlers. On a more technical note, the evaluation was also unlikely to detect differences between treatment and control groups given that the difference in the amount of services received between the two groups was small — this means that both groups received fairly similar services, so understandably there was not a great difference between groups in results.

Findings from Popkin and Hsueh both illustrate the many real-world challenges of trying to meet the needs of low-income families by working across service areas that have traditionally operated in silos, being delivered in separate places by separate agencies.  Two-generation programs are a promising area with more work to be done to continue efforts to transcend traditional program boundaries and address the needs of at-risk parents and their children.


Filed under child policy, demonstration program, early childhood education, economic self-sufficiency, evaluation, home visiting, parent education, program models

QRIS Status in the States: 37 States and DC Have Statewide Systems

The QRIS National Learning Network has a handy map showing QRIS status in the states, updated May 2013.  This map shows that:

  • 37 states and the District of Columbia have launched a statewide QRIS;
  • 2 states (California and Florida) have regional QRIS;
  • 3 states (Virginia, New Jersey, and Hawaii) have a QRIS pilot program launched or completed;
  • 1 state (Missouri) requires legislation to implement a QRIS; and
  • 7 states (Alaska, Connecticut, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Alabama, and West Virginia) are planning a QRIS.

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems have made great strides in the past few years; estimates from even two years ago indicated that approximately half of states had a QRIS in place.

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems provide ratings of the quality of early childhood education programs, so parents, child care providers and the state will know the level of quality of a given program.  Rating systems typically use star ratings, ranging from one to four or five stars, not unlike hotel or restaurant ratings.  The criteria used for different ratings levels are far more substantive than satisfaction ratings, generally based on research evidence and professional practice for program quality in the early childhood education field (here is a fuller definition of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems).

QRIS is a major strategy being used by states to provide better information to parents, and to incentivize providers to improve their quality, often for enhanced funding. States vary in whether QRIS participation is voluntary or required for programs, and in the range of early education programs participating (child care centers, family child care providers, pre-k and Head Start).

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Filed under early childhood education, Early Ed Quality, state policy

Early Learning Innovations in Washington, Virginia, and Texas

While significant federal early learning initiatives have been proposed recently by the Obama Administration, today’s briefing on early learning highlighted how some states and cities are leading the way with innovative approaches to comprehensive early childhood initiatives.

The briefing (webcast available), hosted by the First Five Years Fund and The Pew Charitable Trusts, featured three examples of systemic approaches to delivering birth to five services. Elliot Regenstein of the Ounce of Prevention Fund moderated the panel, and Libby Doggett, Director of Pew’s home visiting campaign, delivered closing remarks.the U.S. Capitol

Dr. Bette Hyde, Director of the Washington State Department of Early Learning, emphasized the importance of building an early learning system.  After noting research evidence on the benefits of early learning, Dr. Hyde described Washington’s approach, noting the components of a system foundation the state has, including a 10-year early learning plan. She also explained the continuum of early learning services the state has, starting with infants and supporting continuity into the K-3 elementary years.  Infants are served by home visiting and infant/toddler child care consultation services, and preschoolers are served by the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.  At kindergarten entry, the WaKIDS kindergarten assessment includes three components: input from the family, a whole child assessment, and collaboration between the kindergarten teacher and the early learning provider.  For additional detail, Dr. Hyde’s presentation slides are available.

Dr. Tammy Mann, President of the Campagna Center in Alexandria, Virginia, spoke next.  Dr. Mann described the range of services her agency offers, focusing on its Early Head Start (EHS) services.  The Campagna Center’s EHS program employs a diverse delivery model, providing services using several different approaches:  center-based services, home-based services, and via a partnership with family child care providers.  The family child care providers are employees of the agency, serve only EHS families, meet higher qualifications, and are provided coaching and outreach.  The Center’s approach to providing center-based services and partnering with child care providers illustrates an approach that may be mirrored in the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships provision of the Administration’s early learning proposal.

Madeline McClure, Executive Director of TexProtects, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, and final panelist, spoke about Texas’ home visiting initiatives. She provided a good overview of home visitation services and features of the major models. She presented research findings on the impressive outcomes from quality home visiting services, and the high return on investment possible with these programs. Texas provides home visiting services using a combination of federal and state funds. (For further details, Ms. McClure’s presentation slides are available). Ms. McClure noted the bipartisan support in Texas for home visiting and the maintained investments despite budget challenges. The compelling return on investment evidence has helped child abuse prevention advocates make the case and garner bipartisan support in this politically conservative state.


Filed under early childhood education, federal policy, home visiting, state policy

Getting Started

Welcome to Child Policy Developments. I will  be blogging here on child policy and early childhood education issues.  I will summarize new reports, share resources, and analyze new research findings of interest to child policy professionals.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you visit again.

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