Achieving Kindergarten Readiness for All Our Children: A Funder’s Guide to Early Childhood Development from Birth to Five

10/20/2015

When every child has the opportunity to meet his or her full potential, we strengthen families, our communities, and the nation’s economic future. Remarkably, one in four American children come from low-income families and enter kindergarten not ready to learn and, as a result, fall behind from the very start. Our nation pays a heavy price through larger taxpayer burdens in remedial and special education, more costly health interventions, and increased criminal justice expenditures. Research shows that for a fraction of those costs, preventive investments in high-quality early childhood programs can avoid the high price of remediation and bring enormous benefits to the economy. Further, early intervention strengthens families and accelerates a child’s ability to learn, thus increasing the effectiveness of K–12 education.

America vastly underinvests in early childhood programs that work, especially in the critical period from pregnancy to age three. This guide offers numerous specific, evidence-based public investment opportunities private donors and government can pursue immediately to make an impact. We cannot afford to wait. Philanthropy, business, and government must work together to expand early childhood opportunities so that all children arrive at school ready to learn and with an equal chance to achieve success throughout their lives.

Source: The Bridgespan Group

Available at: http://www.bridgespan.org/Publications-and-Tools/Youth-Development/early-childhood-funder-guide-2015.aspx#.VkvpQdDMD2A

HHS Launches National Center for Excellence in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

10/9/2015

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pleased to announce the launch of the National Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (CoE), a new $6 million investment to support children’s social emotional development and behavioral health led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in partnership with the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Administration for Children and Families.

Infant and early childhood mental health consultation is a multi-level preventive intervention that builds the capacity of teachers, home visitors, and families to promote social-emotional development and has demonstrated impacts for improving children’s social skills and adult-child relationships; reducing challenging behaviors, expulsions and suspensions; increasing family-school collaboration; increasing classroom quality; and reducing teacher stress, burnout, and turnover.

Research has also shown that a child’s first years of life are critically important for brain development, including the acquisition of social, emotional, and cognitive skills that create a foundation for later school and life success.  That is why one of President Obama’s key priorities is ensuring that all children have access to high quality early learning opportunities and supports that promote children’s healthy development, including social-emotional and behavioral health.Although we know what a difference social-emotional and behavioral health makes in the lives of our children, too many of our nation’s teachers and early learning providers still lack the professional development and supports they need to foster readiness in children they serve.  Social and emotional health is among the most pressing training needs of early educators, and the early childhood system is often lacking in its capacity to provide the kind of support that teachers need to help them promote healthy social emotional development and address the behavioral challenges of young children.  Lack of sufficient training and support results in higher teacher turnover, and can be linked to poorer child outcomes.

Over the next four years, the Center of Excellence will build strong, sustainable mental health consultation systems across states, cities, and tribal communities across the country through the development of culturally responsive state-of-the-art tools, and through the delivery of training and technical assistance. The new Center of Excellence will provide inclusive and culturally sensitive expertise, including a focus on tribal communities. Work will be steered by a group of experts in the early childhood mental health field, including tribal experts, to ensure that the work is culturally responsive to the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native children and their families. The unique strengths and needs of tribal communities warrant an intentional focus and strong partnership with tribal nations. The Center of Excellence will include attention to racial and ethnic disparities in exclusionary discipline practices, disparities in access to behavioral health services, and will promote tools and trainings that are culturally responsive and relevant, addressing issues of implicit bias, and benefiting all children, their families, and their caregivers.

The need to better support early childhood professionals with access to training and mental health consultation is particularly acute in  in remote rural and tribal communities, where the geography, limited resources, and lack of infrastructure can be significant barriers to the attraction, retention, and ongoing professional development of teachers and home visitors. Additionally, we know that infants, toddlers, young children and their families in rural communities have mental health needs that are not currently being met because there is a lack of available, accessible, and affordable services for young children. In fact, estimates show that 1.9 million children with mental health difficulties live in areas where there are minimal to no resources available to meet their needs.

This project closely aligns with the White House Rural Council’s Rural Impact strategy to address child poverty, which is another of the ways the Obama Administration is addressing the needs of vulnerable young children and families by supporting cross-agency, nonprofit, and private sector partnerships to better serve rural and tribal kids and families.  Expanding access to high-quality early childhood programs that include a strong focus on children’s social-emotional and behavioral health, is a key piece of this strategy.  And this project also aligns with the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative, and the MBK Task Force Report, which recommends building a strong foundation of social-emotional and behavioral health, fostered by warm, enriching, and secure relationships with adults like parents and early learning providers, as an integral component of entering school ready to learn.

Today’s announcement is an important step forward in boosting the quality of early childhood programs and thereby ensuring the healthy social, emotional and behavioral development of young children across the country, including in rural and tribal communities. Though families in rural and tribal communities face a unique set of challenges, they also possess a strong set of assets. The work of the Center of Excellence will build on those assets to improve school readiness, school success, and the well-being of the next generation.

Source: The White House

Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/10/09/hhs-launches-national-center-excellence-infant-and-early-childhood-mental-health

Early childhood interventions—a slow fade and a strong comeback? 

9/24/2015

When trying to improve educational outcomes, it is hard not to feel the need for urgency. We want to figure out what works now and implement changes immediately—because if we wait, kids who are in schools now will miss out. Unfortunately, this pressure to act quickly may be fundamentally at odds with the ability to measure what really works, since meaningful changes in the trajectory of student achievement are not always apparent until years later. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University provides a compelling example of exactly this conundrum.

Schanzenbach’s thesis is that too often, education research only assesses an intervention’s immediate or intermediate outcomes without capturing its long-term benefits. This may be particularly relevant, she asserts, when judging the impact of early childhood investments.

Schanzenbach offers the example of two studies (both of which she co-authored) on the famous 1990s Project STAR class size experiment in Tennessee. That well-known experiment assigned students randomly to either regularly sized classes or smaller ones. Researchers behind both papers (the first from Dynarski, Hyman, and Schanzenbach and the second from Chetty, Friedman, Hilger, Saez, Schanzenbach, and Yagan) found that the smaller kindergarten classes yielded an immediate bump in student test scores for that year; but both papers report that this bump faded as students entered middle school.

That’s not the end of the story, though. When the students became adults, clear positive impacts reemerged for those students who had been placed in the smaller classes. Schanzenbach concludes, “We find that the actual long-run impacts were larger than what would have been predicted based on the short-run test score gains.”

The failure of test score gains to endure and carry through to what later turn out to be positive outcomes may confirm public skepticism about test scores as an accurate indicator of long-term achievement.

But not so fast.

Schanzenbach is right in noting that the fade-out of higher test scores between two and six years after the intervention did not correlate with more positive life outcomes. However, the immediate test score gains from the year of the intervention, when students were in kindergarten, were highly predictive of students’ college attendance and degree completion. Schanzenbach admits as much, stating the first paper that “the short-term effect of small classes on test scores, it turns out, is an excellent predictor of its long-term effect on adult outcomes.”

Schanzenbach’s theory finds stronger footing in her second publication. This study looked at both kindergarten class size and each student’s kindergarten classroom quality (as measured by the average test scores of his classmates at the end of kindergarten—a proxy for a combination of peer effects, teacher effects, and other classroom characteristics). Again, small kindergarten classes correlated with higher kindergarten test scores and higher college attendance.

Moreover, while the higher kindergarten test scores were correlated with higher earnings at age twenty-seven, they provide a statistically significant explanation for only a small portion of the difference in earnings. Thus, the short-term test score bump can barely begin to explain the benefits students derived later in life from having been assigned to a smaller or higher-quality class.

The missing piece of the statistical puzzle was students’ non-cognitive skills. When the STAR students were in fourth and eighth grades, they were assessed on non-cognitive outcomes, with results finding stronger non-cognitive outcomes but faded test-score gains for the students who had been in the small class sizes.

Furthermore, these non-cognitive measures seem to explain a much greater share of future earnings than do the academic outcomes. Teasing apart the positive impact of higher test scores and stronger non-cognitive skills achieved in a higher-quality kindergarten classroom, the higher fourth-grade test scores would predict an additional $40 of income at age twenty-seven, but the non-cognitive skills would predict an additional $139 in earnings.

Although we think Schanzenbach’s characterization of the findings in undersells the predictive power of immediate test score gains, she does raise several critical points. The first is that early childhood interventions may foster outcomes that most strongly emerge long after the initial study period has ended, thereby eluding researchers who only measure immediate and intermediate outcomes for a few years. The second is that interventions may yield effects that cannot be evaluated purely by measures of academic skills and content. As our understanding of the importance of grit and executive functioning grows, so too should our measures of the impact of classroom experience on these skills alongside standardized test scores.

Source: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Available at: http://edexcellence.net/articles/early-childhood-interventions%E2%80%94a-slow-fade-and-a-strong-comeback

To Prevent Bullying, Focus on Early Childhood 

8/18/2015

How do we prevent bullying? Despite decades of study and numerous programs claiming to be the solution to bullying, few programs have actually been shown to be effective. One of the main issues is that “bullying prevention” is often a misnomer; instead of trying to stop the behavior before it begins, the focus of many programs is on reducing already high rates of bullying. By the time students enter sixth grade, the earliest grade for which nationally representative data is collected, nearly 28 percent report having been targeted in the past year. For younger children, data are far more limited, but suggestive. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that 20.4 percent of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6 percent had been teased (verbally bullied).

To actually prevent bullying before it starts, we need to focus on how bullying behaviors develop—for those engaging in bullying behaviors and those being targeted—starting in early childhood. Child Trends recently conducted a literature review and convened an expert roundtable, which NAEYC took part in, to document current understandings of the roots of bullying in early childhood. We identified key contextual factors linked to bullying behaviors, promising and evidence-based programs that help address emerging behavior, and the need for further research.

Research on bullying and early childhood development is limited. When we talk about bullying, the early childhood audience is often forgotten. There remains immense debate in the field about how to distinguish between typical, sometimes aggressive behavior that young children show and the more strategic and deliberate behaviors that define bullying. In preparing their uniform definition of bullying, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined bullying as being between “school-aged youth,” recognizing that the behaviors observed in young children are often not what we traditionally think of as bullying, but are developmental in nature, as children first begin to navigate interactions with peers. Many young children who are aggressive with their peers will not engage in bullying behaviors in later childhood and adolescence. Likewise, being the target of an aggressive behavior does not mean that child will be victimized for life. Still, these early aggressions (and conversely, the early skills of sharing, listening, and empathy) are precursors to later behavior, and it is important to intervene early. More research is needed to understand the trajectory of early aggression into bullying behaviors.

Despite the limited literature, four key factors consistently seemed to be related to bullying behaviors in young children:

1) Parents’ treatment of each other, their children, and others influences how young children treat their peers. Specifically, parents’ use of harsh discipline and children’s exposure to domestic violence are related to increases in bullying behavior, while parents’ positive engagement in their children’s lives, such as through interactive play, reading, and meals together, seems to be protective against bullying behavior. Parents serve as role models for their children, and modeling empathy, concern, and care for others may help deter later bullying. Resources such as those provided by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education can help parents expand their own “circle of concern” and help their children do so, too. (It should be noted here that the majority of current research looks at the behaviors and characteristics of mothers; studies looking at the role of fathers are more limited, primarily because mothers are more likely to be the primary caregiver for young children and more likely to respond to the research. Some effort is being made, however, to address the role of fathers in bullying prevention.)

2) Young children exposed to maltreatment are more likely to be involved in bullying, both as the target and the aggressor. Not only can maltreatment change children’s behaviors, it has been shown to fundamentally alter the development of young children’s brain structures, which can lead to developmental deficits including in the social and emotional domains. Early intervention is critical to help stem these delays. Adults and Children Together (ACT) Against Violence Raising Safe Kids, an evidence-based program specifically aimed at helping reduce child maltreatment and promote positive parenting strategies, is one approach that shows promise.

3) Television and other media can contribute to the development of both aggression and pro-social skills. Screen time for your children is one of the most debated subjects among early childhood advocates. Research shows that increased television watching is related to increases in aggressive behavior even if the content is not inherently violent. Conversely, when shows are specifically designed to promote skills such as sharing, empathy, and other pro-social skills—shows like Sesame StreetDaniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, or in past generations, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—children are more likely to engage in these behaviors after viewing.

4) Building young children’s social and emotional skills and promoting welcoming classrooms can significantly reduce aggression. Evaluations of several evidence-based social and emotional learning programs for young children, such as PATHS for Preschool, Second Step, and Al’s Pals, show that helping children understand and control their own emotions, and understand those of others, can significantly reduce conflict and aggression. Even without these formalized interventions, teachers of young children (and parents for that matter) can work to reduce bullying behaviors. The Guidance Matters column in the professional journal Young Children provides a number of resources that can support these efforts.

Overall, it is clear that more attention needs to be paid to identifying, researching, and preventing the roots of bullying behavior in young children. It is only when we recognize that bullying behaviors do not simply appear in elementary or middle school, but may be part of a developmental trajectory, that will we be able to stop bullying.

Source: Child Trends

Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/to-prevent-bullying-focus-on-early-childhood/

Business Leader Actions to Support Early Childhood: A Global Imperative; A Local Opportunity

4/2015

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Business leaders from every country have similar concerns – hiring skilled employees, finding customers who can afford their goods and services, and operating in an environment that spurs innovation and economic vitality. Overwhelming, rigorous evidence shows that the root of all of these factors lies in children who have the good start that will prepare them for success in school and in life. For that reason, business executives across the globe—from multi-national CEOs to shop owners in small towns—are starting to take action to create the conditions that will help young children thrive, fulfill their potential and become productive adults.

Companies are acting on their own initiative, because they see the benefit to their community and nation, and their bottom line. This paper describes four types of actions companies can take, along with examples from many countries—actions to

  • Benefit their communities,
  • Support employees,
  • Educate key decision makers, and
  • Influence public policies.

To help companies decide among these many options, the paper ends with advice on choosing a course of action and designing a successful initiative.

ReadyNation is a business membership organization whose 1,100 members, including current and former Fortune 500 CEOs, advocate for public and private investments in children and youth that improve the economy and workforce. Since 2006, ReadyNation has been supporting executives to take actions that start in the earliest years of life to create a strong citizenry able to tackle the world’s challenges.

Source: ReadyNation

Available at: http://www.readynation.org/wp-content/uploads/ReadyNation-Business-Actions-on-Early-Childhood1.pdf

Access to Early Childhood Programs for Young Children Experiencing Homelessness: A Survey Report

3/2015

The purpose of this brief is to share findings from a national survey focused on developing an understanding of the barriers and facilitators of access to early childhood services among young children and families experiencing homelessness.

Source: The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth

Available at: http://www.naehcy.org/sites/default/files/pdf/naehcy-survey-report.pdf

Leadership in Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education

3/2015

The Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) believes that high-quality leadership should be developed and supported at all levels of service systems in early intervention / early childhood special education (EI/ECSE). The service systems within which we work are highly complex and are composed of a single entity or multiple entities. They are administered by many different agencies1 (e.g., education, health, human services), funded through numerous sources, and governed by multiple federal and state laws. EI/ECSE program administrators and practitioners are expected to work collaboratively across system, disciplinary, and program boundaries to support the optimal development of young children who have, or are at risk for, developmental delays/disabilities and their families. To do so effectively, personnel at all levels of EI/ECSE service systems must demonstrate individual and collective leadership skills.

Source: Division of Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children

Available at: http://dec.membershipsoftware.org/files/Position%20Statement%20and%20Papers/LdrshpPositionStatement_final_Mar%202015%20(1)(1).pdf

Research on Early Childhood Teacher Education: Evidence From Three Domains and Recommendations for Moving Forward 

2013

It is essential that a solid research base be established to provide a foundation that will enable the field of early childhood teacher education to examine whether, for whom, and in what ways teacher education matters. The purpose of this article is to review several important domains in early childhood teacher education to illustrate the characteristics, key features, and significant gaps in current research, and to identify the kinds of research that are most needed to enhance the impact of early childhood teacher education. We conclude by identifying five crosscutting research priorities and describing what is needed to create a supportive environment that produces—and implements—early childhood teacher education research.

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education – Volume 34, Issue 1

Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10901027.2013.758541

Reducing Suspension and Expulsion Practices in Early Childhood Settings

12/17/2014

Recent data indicate that expulsions and suspensions regularly occur in preschool settings. This is a problematic issue given the well-established research indicating that these practices can influence a number of adverse outcomes across development, health, and education. In addition, stark racial and gender disparities exist in these practices, with young boys of color being suspended and expelled at much higher rates than other children in early learning programs. These trends warrant immediate attention from the early childhood and education fields. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education issued a policy statement and recommendations to assist states and public and private early childhood programs in partnering to prevent and severely limit expulsions and suspensions in early learning settings.

Source: Administration for Children and Families

Available at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ecd/child-health-development/reducing-suspension-and-expulsion-practices

ZERO TO THREE: Infant, Toddler, and Early Childhood Mental Health Competencies: A Comparison of Systems

6/5/12

In the United States, the past few years have seen heightened interest in and recognition of the mental health needs of infants, toddlers, and young children. Although those who have been working with young children and their families have known it to be true for decades, the general public is slowly coming around to the understanding that our youngest children can suffer from serious mental health disorders, that exposure to physical and emotional trauma during this period can have lasting consequences, and that many children have unmet social and emotional needs—with strong implications for development and learning.1 Recent publications and initiatives have highlighted this increased focus on infant, toddler, and early childhood mental health (ITECMH), such as the special section of an issue of American Psychologist (”Infant Mental Health,” 2011), and an updated paper by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (NSCDC, 2008/2012). In addition, heightened interest in the findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in scientific (Anda, Butchart, Felitti, & Brown, 2010) and popular literature (Tough, 2012) have fueled the drive to understand these needs and offer services to promote child well-being, prevent early mental health challenges from occurring, and if necessary, provide treatment as early as possible.

A Policy Center webinar on June 5 highlighted state-level competency systems to support providers in addressing the mental health needs of young children.

Source: ZERO TO THREE

Available at: http://www.zerotothree.org/public-policy/webinars-conference-calls/infant-toddler-and-early-mental-health-competencies.html