Narrowing the Skills Gap in New York by Investing in Education

In New York State and in many places around the nation, there are not enough skilled workers to meet the needs of today’s workplaces.  And the need for skilled workers keeps growing.

skills gap report chart

Chart from report. ReadyNation/America’s Edge.

When we think about jobs with different skill levels, we may think of white collar jobs or blue collar jobs.  But a substantial and growing segment of jobs are middle skill jobs — those that require more than high school but less than a four-year college degree.  In New York, these middle-skill jobs comprise 33 percent of all jobs in the state.

A new report released today by ReadyNation/America’s Edge shows that New York is projected to face a deficit of 350,000 middle-skill workers needed to fill jobs in the state. By 2020, 81 percent of the high-growth, high-wage jobs in the state will require at least a two-year degree.  And in STEM fields, 95 percent of jobs in New York will require education beyond high school.

What can New York citizens and policy makers do to address the growing demand for skilled workers?  The report calls for innovative high school education approaches, along with rigorous Common Core Learning Standards, to help prepare tomorrow’s workforce and help close these skills gaps.  These education models each promote a set of cross-cutting skills referred to as 21st century learning skills, which include: critical thinking, problem solving, working collaboratively, and communicating effectively. These education models, such as Career Academies, Big Picture Learning, and the New Tech Network, prepare students for college and career success.

The press release of the report.  

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Filed under child policy, education, New York, program models, state policy

Early Learning Investments Can Help Kids AND the Economy

Report cover image

Those of us working on children’s issues know that investing in high-quality early learning for young children pays off over the long run, with better academic performance in school, increased rates of employment, and decreased involvement with crime.  Less well known are the impressive short-term benefits of early learning for the local economy.

The business leaders’ organization ReadyNation/America’s Edge released a report today, which I contributed to, illustrating the short-term economic activity that can be generated by early learning in Illinois.   As the report states:

For every $1 invested in early care and education in Illinois, an additional 94 cents are generated, for a total of $1.94 in new economic activity in the state.  This strong economic boost for local businesses is higher than investments in other major sectors such as transportation, retail trade and manufacturing.  This strong economic boost for local businesses is higher than investments in other major sectors such as manufacturing ($1.79), transportation ($1.91) and retail trade ($1.93).

While investments in any industry generate additional economic activity, what’s impressive here is that the early learning sector has one of the highest “multiplier effects” in the local economy compared to other major sectors.  Although the figures cited here are specific to Illinois, the same general pattern holds true across the country, with the early learning sector at or near the top compared to other major sectors.

Early learning promotes economic development.  Not only does it help kids get the right start in life, it generates additional economic activity in the local economy which benefits businesses and our communities. When policymakers are faced with tough budget choices, its good to know that early learning is an investment that can help children learn, help parents work and help grow the economy.

The press release for the report.

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State Action for Kids: in Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia, and Maryland

State legislative sessions are underway around the country, and advocates are busy at work seeking policy wins for children.  Here are updates on several state policy advocacy efforts this week:

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Filed under child policy, early childhood education, foster care, Maryland, minimum wage, Nebraska, New Mexico, state policy, Virginia

Study of North Carolina Pre-K and Child Care Explores Community Effects, Finds Improved Reading and Math Scores

Recently published research on the community-level effects of pre-K (More at Four) and child care (Smart Start) in North Carolina finds that both programs led to increases in reading and math scores in third grade.

  • North Carolina third graders had higher reading and math scores in counties that had received more funding for Smart Start and More at Four when the children were younger.
  • The estimated effects of Smart Start and More at Four investments were equal to test score gains of about four months of third grade reading instruction and two months of math instruction.  Notably, these results are for all children in the community, not just children who participated in either early childhood program.
  • While the authors did not do a full benefit-cost analysis, they note that the benefits in math and reading gains outweighed the program costs.  The expected savings from reduced instructional costs for children whose community received Smart Start or More at Four funding was at least equal to the cost of those programs.

Community-level effects – the concept of spillover:  One really interesting aspect of this study was that the researchers assessed the outcomes of children at the county level, including children who participated in the preschool or the child care initiative as well as children who did not.  The authors note that this approach allows them to measure the potential spillover effects of the program; that is, children living in the county but not participating in the program may also be affected indirectly, by other students’ participation in the program.  In theory, spillover could be positive or negative.  Positive spillover effects could occur in the elementary school classroom, for example, with a larger proportion of classmates arriving at elementary school ready to learn, enhancing the learning environment in that classroom.

More study details:  The article by Duke University researchers Helen Ladd, Clara Muschkin, and Kenneth Dodge and published in the Winter 2014 issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, examined the effects of two North Carolina early education initiatives:  Smart Start, the comprehensive child care and community services initiative, and More at Four, the state-funded preschool initiative.  The study used county-level program spending data matched with children’s birth records for children born between 1988 and 2000 and their third grade test scores to look at changes in test scores that took place after the introduction of More At Four and Smart Start in those counties.  The differences in when counties invested in these initiatives across the state allowed the researchers to assess the impact of More At Four and Smart Start on children’s math and reading performance.  To address other potential differences over time in counties which could also affect children’s math and reading scores, the researchers included statistical controls for related variables, a common and appropriate technique.

The numbers behind the basic benefit-cost results reported in the study were:  math and reading test score gains of two to four months translate into cost savings of $1,700 and $3,400 per child in the community (based on per-month costs out of a 10-month school year, which was $8,500 per child in North Carolina).  This was compared to program costs for More at Four and Smart Start of $1,100 per child in the community for each program.

Another benefit of measuring community-wide effects is that the authors were able to avoid a common potential problem in research studies that do not randomly assign people:  selection bias.  Selection bias is the potential bias that is created in a study based on how participants are chosen, such as when people self-select into the “treatment” being studied.  In this case, the treatment is preschool or child care, and the children whose parents sent them to public preschool may be different in meaningful ways (such as child health, family income, or parent education level, to name a few) than the children whose parents did not send them to preschool.  The differences observed between kids in preschool and those not in preschool may be due to preexisting differences between those groups of kids, rather than due to the experience of preschool itself.  Since this study examines outcomes for all children in the county, those participating and not participating in the preschool and child care initiatives studied, the researchers avoided this self-selection problem.

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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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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.

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