Early Education in the News

Star Tribune
October 28, 2015

Math and reading proficiency scores for Minnesota fourth-graders this year have dipped from their record highs in 2013, according to the results of a national test released Wednesday. In 2013, fourth-graders in Minnesota posted the highest scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), considered the best comparison of students from state to state in the country. But scores for both reading and math dropped in fourth grade this year.

The state also saw no significant improvement in reading or math scores for eighth-graders in Minnesota. Still the state continues to outperform others across the country, especially in math. But state officials say Minnesota’s educators should not be content because large gaps in achievement show many poor and minority students are not meeting standards.

Washington Post
July 2, 2015

Can kids really learn as much from “Sesame Street” as from preschool?

Recently, a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons From Sesame Street,” prompted media stories, including one in The Washington Post, saying that “Sesame Street” can be as effective as preschool in lifting student achievement...

The authors examine differences in access to “Sesame Street” when and after it was first launched in 1969 in areas of the United States that had VHF, and other areas that had the weaker UHF, which did not reliably carry the station that broadcast the show. This comparison in broadcast strength was then matched with what the research said were student outcomes in an effort to show that kids in those areas where the show was broadcast had better academic outcomes that were statistically significant than in those areas where the broadcast signal was weak and where it was likely the kids didn’t see as much of “Sesame Street.”

The authors said they did not actually know whether kids in either group watched “Sesame Street”; just that it was more available, and that they were able to factor out other causes for the difference in  outcomes for students...

In fact, there is at best scant evidence that blended learning is a successful model. Besides that, Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, wrote in an e-mail:

To believe their results you have to believe that TV teaching through Sesame Street has a much deeper and more profound effect on the child than a teacher. What is the theory that would explain this?  They do not have a theory or explain how their results are consistent with the larger body of knowledge about learning and teaching. This is the most disturbing aspect of the paper.

Office of Gov. Mark Dayton & Lt. Gov. Tina Smith
July 2, 2015
During the 2015 Legislative Session, Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature made important new investments in E-12 education. Many of those new investments take effect today, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. The $525 million investment enacted this year will increase funding for every Minnesota classroom, improve early learning opportunities, improve literacy, and provide needed new resources for American Indian education and English language learners. New school funding enacted this session is directed toward strategies proven to help close achievement gaps, raise graduation rates, and improve career and college readiness.
“This year, we made important new investments in education that will improve educational opportunities for students across Minnesota,” said Governor Dayton. “We have a lot more work to do to close achievement gaps in Minnesota, and provide excellent educations for every student. I will remain fiercely committed to that important work in the years ahead.”
“We have made significant progress in our work to provide an excellent education to every child in Minnesota,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “The investments in our youngest learners, in our American Indian students and in our students learning English will help us to further reduce achievement gaps and prepare kids for career and college.”
The following is a summary of new education investments made this session, and the impact those investments will have on Minnesota students, families, and teachers...
July 1, 2015
Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Friday a set of rights that would help parents demand high quality education for their children. Speaking at the 2015 National Parent Teacher Association Convention and Expo in North Carolina, Duncan said every parent must be able to demand from their kids' schools.
He said the three rights, which cover preschool to college, "must belong to every family in America -- and I hope you'll demand that your leaders in elected or appointed offices deliver on them."
The three educational rights include high standards in a well-resourced school, free quality preschool, and affordable quality college, Rebecca Klein of The Huffington Post reported.
"They come together as a set of rights that students must have at three pivotal stages of their life, to prepare them for success in college and careers and as engaged, productive citizens," said Duncan during his speech.
NY Times
June 22, 2015
Children as young as age 3 will intervene on behalf of a victim, reacting as if victimized themselves, scientists have found.
With toys, cookies and puppets, Keith Jensen, a psychologist at the University of Manchester in England, and his colleagues tried to judge how much concern 3- and 5-year-olds had for others, and whether they had a sense of so-called restorative justice.
Economic Policy Institute
June 19, 2015

This study seeks to broaden the debate by examining the education gaps that exist even before children enter formal schooling in kindergarten, and showing that the gaps extend to noncognitive skills, which are also critical for adulthood outcomes (Heckman 2008; Heckman & Kautz 2012). Regarding the analysis of early education gaps, this paper is modeled on Lee and Burkam’s 2002 monograph Inequality at the Starting Gate: Social Background Differences in Achievement as Children Begin School, which found that cognitive gaps between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds and races and ethnicities were both sizeable and statistically significant at school entry in kindergarten.1 This is important for policymakers because, if unaddressed, there is the potential that gaps persist over time and compound. Such early-in-life inequalities point to the need for substantial interventions to reduce them, including early educational interventions, to ensure that children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn and for compensatory policies to support these children throughout the school years (from kindergarten through 12th grade). Moreover, the social and economic disadvantages that generate these gaps should be addressed directly and eliminated through social and economic policies, not just education policies (Morsy and Rothstein 2015; Putman 2015; Rothstein 2004).


Delaware Online
May 22, 2015

Recently, more than 150 business, community and philanthropic leaders, parents, early childhood professionals and policymakers gathered in Dover for Early Learning Advocacy Day... 

Providing high-quality early-learning opportunities that help each child realize his or her potential and succeed in school and life may be one of the few topics everyone can agree on in a time of restricted resources and competing priorities for state investment...

We can take pride in the headway we have made for our state's young children and their families, and still recognize that more is needed. Over 40 percent of Delaware children, birth to 5 years old, are from low-income families and are at risk to the achievement gap, which appears as early as 9 months old. Only 38 percent of Delaware's children are reading proficient at the end of fourth grade, according to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

January 23, 2015

A statewide readiness test has found that half of kindergarten students began class in the fall without having basic skills to help them succeed.

Woodburn Independent
January 21, 2015

The results of the 2014-15 Oregon Kindergarten Assessment, which were released by the state Department of Education last week, only reinforces the need for early learning and earlier intervention before kindergarten, according to Woodburn Superintendent Chuck Ransom. The state’s assessment results should not surprise anyone familiar with the district and its composition. The data show that Woodburn students, when they begin their public school careers, are generally in line with their peers in approaches to learning and early mathematics, while they lag significantly behind in early English literacy. . . 

According to the 2014-15 assessment, local students matched or even exceeded the statewide averages for self-regulation and interpersonal skills (two measures dealing with approaches to learning) and came in just behind the statewide results for numbers and math operations.

The Huffington Post
January 13, 2015

Congress is currently revving up yet another attempt to rewrite the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, and Murray said Tuesday that she sees putting her stamp on the sweeping education legislation as "another big step forward, putting the ideals of our nation into action." No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush's rebranding of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, required that students in America's public schools be tested in math and reading in certain grades, and punished schools based on those scores. Since then, it has earned a reputation from nearly everyone for being too crude in its metrics, because it relies on raw test scores as opposed to student growth. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that after years of working around Congress to get states out of the law by issuing waivers, the Obama administration is ready to go back to the legislative drawing board.

Washington Post
January 11, 2015

A University of Virginia report published last week found that about a third of Virginia youngsters rated poorly on kindergarten readiness and argued that more assessments are needed for young students to identify where they fall short. They found a third of students fell short of benchmarks in at least one area. In 40 percent of classrooms, 40 percent of children were rated “not ready” in one area. The report does not disclose which districts participated, but said the students in the study were representative of the state’s kindergartners.

The Washington Post
December 19, 2014

The state of Maryland has developed a new Common Core-aligned “kindergarten readiness assessment” for teachers to administer to young kids to see, rather obviously, if they are “ready” for kindergarten. Now hundreds of kindergarten teachers who used the computer-based test for the first time this fall are pushing back, saying the assessment is not appropriate and won’t help them teach. Kindergarten teachers have been giving readiness tests to youngsters for many years. Today at least 25 states mandate a kindergarten readiness assessment and this is likely to rise. As standardized testing has become a key component of school reform and early childhood education, new emphasis has been placed on ensuring that children are “ready” to enter kindergarten, and new assessments that evaluate a range of social and academic abilities are being created. The U.S. Education Department, for example, this month announced that $250 million in federal funding was going to 18 states to create or expand existing preschool programs, with one of the requirements the creation of  kindergarten readiness assessments (KRAs). . .

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute of Early Education at Rutgers University, said that kindergarten readiness exams can be useful but in some cases, can also be wasteful. 


The Washington Post
December 16, 2014

The Maryland State Education Association is calling on the State Board of Education to suspend its Kindergarten Readiness Assessments, arguing that teachers lose too much instructional time administering the new computer-based tests and are not receiving useful data to improve teaching and learning. Betty Weller, the president of the teachers union, said the MSEA fielded numerous complaints from teachers after they started administering the test this fall. The union wants the state to halt the testing until issues surrounding the assessment and its implementation are resolved.

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute of Early Education at Rutgers University, said teachers nationwide have had similar complaints. “Every state is grappling with the same issues,” he said. But Barnett said the assessments provide education policy experts the tools they need to determine what type of reforms should be considered for early education; what type of support children need before they go to kindergarten; and a base line of a student’s skills as he or she moves through elementary school.

November 21, 2014

The method, called “formative assessment,” isn’t about paper-and-pen standardized testing, or pulling a student out of a classroom and drilling on what he or she knows after each lesson is taught. It’s a teacher’s constant observation of how a child is learning and developing in various ways — with a goal of using that information to guide and tailor instruction. Next year the new process will spread to more classrooms and will eventually be in use in every public elementary school across the state. It is an outgrowth of a $70 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant awarded to North Carolina by the federal government and also is part of legislation enacted by state lawmakers. The plan was recommended by a think tank composed of teachers, parents and scholars from seven universities in North Carolina. The group worked for about a year to devise the program, which moves North Carolina away from testing that some experts say is developmentally inappropriate for young children.

Oregon State University News & Research Communications
November 21, 2014

An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills is helping prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

Self-regulation skills – the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty – are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond, said OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally recognized expert in child development and a co-author of the new study.

The Washington Post
October 31, 2014

Similar scenarios are playing out across the country as educators increasingly use tests to measure kindergartners’ knowledge in such area as letters, sounds, syllables and number recognition, assessing their needs as they move into the nation’s K-12 public school system. For more than a decade, Maryland has assessed student readiness for kindergarten, but the tests have been revised to align with the Common Core State Standards, a new, national set of academic guidelines. . . 

Messick said she looks for a variety of skills and actions, from how students hold their pencils and crayons (with their fists or between their fingers?) and how they interact (do they help others, and do they share?). Teachers have been trained to also observe the child’s “social foundations,” which include their behavior and their ability to follow multi-step instructions, work collectively, complete tasks and relate to their peers.

U.S. News & World Report
October 16, 2014

The White House on Thursday will announce a new initiative to encourage technological and research support to combat the word gap, a learning curve many low-income children face in their early years before entering school. Research has shown that children from lower income families on average hear 30 million fewer words in the first three years of their lives than those from wealthier families. Proponents of closing the gap say it’s important for parents to talk, read and sing with their children, but that low-income parents often don’t have the time or the resources to do so. The Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Institute of Museum and Library Services will partner to encourage more organizations to develop technologies and research that can help better spread information to the communities that need it, the White House will announce.

October 7, 2014

In North Carolina public schools, formal assessments do not begin until third grade, but many students develop learning problems long before then. That’s why education leaders say they are rolling out a statewide plan to begin assessing students in the earlier years. Now, that does not mean five- and six-year-olds will have more paper and pencil tests. Instead, the responsibility will fall on teachers to track the development of their students. . .

Russolese and almost 250 kindergarten teachers are part of a state pilot program that’s encouraging them to do more of this hands-on formative assessment – to be more intentional about recording work samples, conversations and activities. The hope is that they’ll be able to gain a better understanding of how their students develop.


VPR News (NPR)
June 23, 2014

[A] year from now, all children in Vermont will be offered a place in preschool or daycare. Many schools will outsource instruction to private childcare providers who must be qualified to participate, based on a rating system.

Over 80 percent of Vermont’s towns currently offer some subsidized preschool, but only about 38 percent of Vermont’s children are enrolled. The new law is designed to bring more early education to more kids. It’s expected to cost an additional $10 million over the next seven years, and local districts and philanthropists will also carry some of the cost.

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
October 22, 2013

Stressed pre-school teachers complained Tuesday to state Education [Superintendent] John White about the pressures of implementing Louisiana's new assessment program for publicly funded early childhood centers. They said they are being rushed to evaluate students with a tool that is new to them.