Category Archives: federal policy

The First Eight Years: KIDS COUNT Report Calls for Comprehensive Services

The Annie E. Casey Foundation‘s new KIDS COUNT reportImage First Eight Years Report Cover calls for a comprehensive and integrated system of supports and services for children from birth through age eight and provides new data to help make the case.  The report, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, reviews the research evidence about the importance of early childhood investments, and documents disparities in young children’s development and access to services by income and race/ethnicity.  The comprehensive, integrated services called for in the report include parent education and income supports, improved access to quality early care and education,  health care, and developmental screenings.

The report features new analysis of nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study  – Kindergarten Class of 1998-99, focusing on third-grade results.  Especially valuable are the data breakouts by income and by race and hispanic origin.

Here are a few compelling findings from the report:

  • Only 36 percent of third graders nationally were on track in cognitive knowledge and skills.  This means that children scored at or above the national average on math, reading, and science assessments.
  • An analysisFigure 1 image third grade outcomes by income level shows economic disparities, with only 19 percent of third graders in low-income families being  on track in cognitive knowledge and skills, compared with 50 percent of third graders in higher-income families. (Low-income was defined as families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold.)
  • Just 56 percent of third graders nationally were on track in terms of their physical well-being, which included healthy weight and very good overall health.

For a full overview, check out the Foundation’s press release, which provides key findings and policy recommendations.

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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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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.

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