The Obama Early Childhood Legacy


By Laura Bornfreund and David Loewenberg

In a matter of weeks, the portrait of President Obama that hangs in the lobby of the Department of Education will be taken down. What policies and programs come down with it remains to be seen, raising questions about what the Obama legacy in education will be: How will he be remembered? What indelible mark has his administration left on education in our country?  What policies, if any, will outlive his administration? Finally, however the recent election alters (or tarnishes) his legacy, will his administration’s mark on early childhood education withstand?

While early learning was arguably overshadowed by K-12 reforms during the Obama administration’s first term, over the course of the past eight years, great strides have been made to improve the quality—and increase the availability—of high-quality early education offerings across the country.Since 2009, federal investment in early childhood programs has increased by more than $6 billion. Thanks to that funding, thousands more children are being served in state pre-K programs, steps have been taken to improve the quality of childcare, and Head Start—the nation’s largest federally funded early education program—has been overhauled to make it a higher quality, more flexible program. Today, nearly all states provide some funding for pre-K, and state investment in pre-K continues to rise. What’s more, 40 states are measuring early childhood program quality—up from 17 at the beginning of Obama’s administration.

Through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), 20 states have received a combined total of more than $1 billion to improve children’s access to high-quality early learning programs. And for the first time ever, there is a dedicated Office of Early Learning in the Department of Education (ED) — a move that proved to be significant in both symbolic and practical terms. Since its creation in 2011, the office has worked to thread early learning across ED offices and has improved coordination between ED and the Department of Health and Human Services which administers Head Start and other early childhood programs.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the president has used his bully pulpit to lift early education into the national spotlight. This was never more evident than in 2013 when President Obama used his State of the Union address to highlight the promise of early learning. Speaking on perhaps the most prominent stage in politics, the president set the ambitious goal of making high-quality pre-K available to every single child in America. This historic shout-out for early education was followed by the rollout of his “Preschool for All” proposal. While the proposal never gained much legislative traction, for the first time in recent memory, early childhood education became a centerpiece in the national conversation around improving education.

So has the access and quality of early childhood education for children and families improved over the last eight years of the Obama administration? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.”

There is room for debate, however, when it comes to whether the actions and rhetoric of the Obama administration have ushered in the type of sustainable, large-scale improvements that are needed.

While state pre-K programs are serving thousands more children, and while nearly all states now fund pre-K, the percentage of children served has remained relatively flat. Just 41 percent of four-year-olds and 16 percent of three-year-olds were enrolled in publicly-funded pre-K programs in 2015 — an increase of a mere 3 percent from 2008 levels and a far cry from the president’s 2013 call for “Preschool for All” four-year-olds.

And while it is certainly true that more states are investing in their youngest, the state of early education in the U.S., as a whole, is one that remains plagued by significant issues when it comes to quality, cost, and the workforce. The quality of state pre-K programs and other early childhood programs remains extremely varied, the cost of good child care is still far out of reach for most families, particularly low-income families, and the early childhood workforce continues to be severely underpaid.

Further complicating the record of progress, kindergarten and the early grades are still largely ignored in much of federal and state policy and the notion of a birth-through-third grade system — even a pre-K-3rd grade system — as a whole, is still just that, an idea rather than common practice. And as skeptics of large-scale pre-K programs will point out, we still don’t fully understand how best to ensure that the academic benefits of pre-K endure over time.

In short, progress has been made but significant work remains if the U.S. hopes to arrive at a place where its youngest children receive the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

Undoubtedly the Obama Administration did more than those that came before to make children’s earliest years an important part of the national education conversation. By incentivizing state and local investments and creating a national platform for the issue, the Obama administration has unmistakably helped to strengthen the quality and availability of early learning across the country. Still, rather than fundamentally transforming the early education landscape, it may be more accurate to say that the Obama years have laid important groundwork necessary for large-scale efforts in the years to come — should there be future leaders who make doing so a priority.

Source: New America

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U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services Release Early Learning Challenge Annual Performance Reports for 20 States 


The U.S. Department of Education released a report today that shows Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge states are rapidly improving the quality of early learning programs while enrolling more children, especially from low- and moderate income families, in the highest-quality programs.

What’s more, thousands more children are receiving health screenings to help detect medical or developmental issues earlier, the report shows. The report comes from the annual performance reviews for the 20 states that have received more than $1 billion in Early Learning Challenge grants since 2011. These reports capture the successes achieved and obstacles overcome by states in the last year.

“By investing in high-quality early learning through programs like the Early Learning Challenge, states are giving many more children a strong start in life,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “Thanks to the leadership of governors, state officials and education advocates, these states are implementing plans to develop high-quality early learning systems that improve the quality of learning and provide our youngest citizens with the strong foundation they need for success in school and beyond.”

The Early Learning Challenge is a historic federal investment that supports states in building strong systems of early learning and development to ensure that underserved children – including low-income and minority students, as well as students with disabilities and English learners – and their families have equitable access to high-quality programs.

Highlights from the reports:

  • More than 72,000 early learning and development programs are now evaluated under their states’ Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (TQRIS) – an 87 percent increase since the states applied for their grants.
  • Nearly 14,000 programs are in the highest quality tiers of their states’ rating system – a 63 percent increase since the states applied for their grants.
  • Significantly more children with high needs are enrolled in programs in the highest quality tiers of their states’ rating system.
  • More than 200,000 children with high needs are enrolled in highest rated state-funded preschool programs.
  • Nearly 230,000 children with high needs are enrolled in child care programs that receive federal child care subsidy funds and are in the highest tiers.
  • More than 150,000 children with high needs are enrolled in Head Start/Early Head Start programs in the highest tiers.

“The Early Learning Challenge, an education reform initiative announced by President Obama in 2009, has been a catalyst for advancing state-led efforts to improve education. When we invest in early education, the benefits can last a lifetime,” HHS Administration for Children and Families Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg said. “Children who attend high-quality early learning and preschool programs are more likely to do well in school. We all gain when our country has strong early childhood systems in place to support our children on the path to opportunity.”

Duncan discussed the report at the annual grantee meeting in Virginia for the thirty-two states implementing the Early Learning Challenge, as well as Preschool Development Grants. Launched in 2011 as a historic joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Early Learning Challenge now has 20 states participating: California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state and Wisconsin. These grantees are working to align, coordinate and improve the quality of existing early learning programs across multiple funding streams that support children from birth through age 5.

Duncan also spoke about the Preschool Development Grants, a program jointly administered by both Departments. In 2014, 35 states and Puerto Rico applied for the Preschool Development Grants, jointly administered by the Departments, to expand high-quality preschool for children from low- to moderate-income families. Due to the limited funding, awards were made only to 18 states in over 200 high-need communities that span the geographic and political spectrum. Despite the evidence showing the importance of early learning and the unmet need for preschool in America, earlier this summer, House and Senate committees authored partisan spending bills that make significant cuts to programs that provide important services such as health care, public health and safety, job training, and education. Both bills eliminate Preschool Development Grants, jeopardizing critical early education opportunities for more than 100,000 children in the last two years of the grants.

This Early Learning Challenge report provides a high level overview of the progress made by Early Learning Challenge states in key areas as they implement their state plans. For more detailed information, see the individual state annu

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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BUILDing Strong Foundations – Natural Allies: Growing Connections between Health and Education


Joan Lombardi, Ph.D.
Director, Early Opportunities LLC

Last week we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Head Start Program. Leading up to that launch in 1965, a panel of experts, chaired by Dr. Robert Cooke of Johns Hopkins University, set forth recommendations for the establishment of the program. Reading through those recommendations five decades later, the wisdom of those early pioneers continues to shine – the founders called for comprehensive services that address the health, education, and family support needs of young children in poverty.

This week we reaffirm this holistic approach to child development with the publication of the third chapter of the E-Book, Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families. The chapter being shared today, Early Learning-Health Connections by Dr. Jill Sells, documents some of the recent cross-sector accomplishments in nine out of the 20 states that received Early Learning Challenge funds. As Dr. Sells points out, “The relationship between health and early learning feels like common sense.”

Over the years the vision of good health as a cornerstone to successful learning has been reinforced through numerous scientific advances and on-the-ground experiences with families. Good health was a key indicator in the readiness goal; it was the drive behind several federal efforts such as Healthy Child Care America, the Maternal and Child Health systems grants, Project Launch, as well as private initiatives, such as the BUILD Initiative, which are supported by a range of foundations. For most of these initiatives the goal was to bring the vision of coordination between health and education that was so fundamental to Head Start – into child care and other early childhood programs through health and mental health consultation, developmental screening, immunization campaigns and other efforts that emerged across the country. It was through the leadership of so many pediatricians, public health officials, and dedicated early childhood, family support and developmental disability experts and advocates that efforts such as Help Me Grow, Reach Out and Read, Healthy Steps, Let’s Move Child Care, among others, started to take hold.

When the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education came together to plan and implement the Early Learning Challenge, they built on this rich history and solid foundation. The Challenge included the clear recognition that that the domains of development are integrated, that early learning standards as well as quality standards must address these holistic needs, and that screening measures are a core component of a comprehensive assessment system.

While progress has been made, there is so much more to do. As we present this important chapter, I offer four recommendations for continued action to bring health and education together:

  1. All states should identify and address the health, behavioral, and developmental needs of children with high needs. This optional component in the Early Learning Challenge should be required in every state, with additional resources to make it a reality.
  2. Communities need to rally around a new set of goals that help assure that every child enters school happy and confident, at a healthy weight, with healthy eating habits, lots of time for physical activity, early dental care and access to consistent, quality health care. Prevention is the name of the game in 21st century health care and in education reform. It all starts with healthy adolescence, prenatal care, and breastfeeding, and it continues through ongoing linkages between health providers and schools.
  3. Health care for parents and providers is essential for the healthy development of children. The adults in children’s lives should have access to social and mental health supports and good health care themselves, particularly during those stressful early years of parenting and for those who care for infants and toddlers.
  4. A new era of innovation should be launched to develop measures and technologies to assure developmental monitoring at the population level, including for children from birth to age three. Assessing children as they enter school is a step forward, but far too late for many children whose development is at risk at a much earlier age.

Five decades after the dawn of Head Start, it is more widely recognized than ever   that health, learning, and behavior are grounded in the earliest years of life. Federal leaders have acknowledged this with the Early Learning Challenge and the Affordable Care Act, which provides new opportunities to pay for population level health and links to early learning.

Let’s renew efforts to grow connections between education and health – two of life’s natural allies – and help fulfill the promise that is born in every child.

Source: The BUILD Initiative

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The Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Year Two Progress Reports


The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have released a report that highlights some of the work undertaken by these Phase 1 and Phase 2 States during 2013, as reported in their APRs. Download this report, “Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Year Two Progress Report,” by clicking on the image to the left or the link above.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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GRADS360° – Home > Overview > Home

In 2014, the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Phase 1 and Phase 2 States (which were awarded grants in 2011 and 2012) submitted Annual Performance Reports (APRs). These APRs are available below.

The Race to the the Top – Early Learning Challenge Year Two Progress Report

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have released a report that highlights some of the work undertaken by these Phase 1 and Phase 2 States during 2013, as reported in their APRs. Download this report, “Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Year Two Progress Report,” by clicking on the image to the left or the link above.

Executive Summary

Download the executive summary to this report by clicking the link above.

Webinar for the RTT-ELC Overview of Year 2 Progress

Listen to the webinar releasing the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Year Two Progress Report by clicking the link above.

via GRADS360° – Home > Overview > Home.

Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance Program Website

The Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge RTT-ELC discretionary grant program supports states in building statewide systems that raise the quality of Early Learning and Development Programs and increase access to high-quality programs for children with high needs, so that all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

The RTT-ELC discretionary grant program is administered jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. It is organized around five key areas that represent the foundation of aneffective early learning and development reform agenda:

  • Successful State Systems built on broad-based stakeholder participation and effective governance structures.
  • High-Quality Accountable Programs based on a common set of standards aligning HeadStart, CCDF, IDEA, Title I of the ESEA, state-funded preschools, and similar programs to create a unified statewide system of early learning and development.
  • Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children through theimplementation of common statewide standards for young children, comprehensiveassessments aligned to those standards across a range of domains, and clear guidelines forimproving the quality of programs and services that promote health and engage families in thecare and education of young children.
  • A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce that is supported through professional development, career advancement opportunities, differentiated compensation, and incentives to improve knowledge, skills, and abilities to promote the learning and development of young children.

Source: Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance Program Website

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Webinar Summary: Confidentiality Issues: Addressing Questions about Sharing Data among Organizations

This document summarizes ELC TAs April 2014 webinar, Confidentiality Issues: Addressing Questions about Sharing Data among Organizations. Baron Rodriguez from the Education Data Technical Assistance Program presented on common questions and considerations related to sharing data about children for example, when inputting of developmental screening results and other sensitive child-level data into a statewide database.

Source: Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance Center

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Check out May edition of Early Childhood Development Newsletter

Learn about:

  • Developmental Screening
  • Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships: Why Do We Need Them?
  • Choctaw Nation Celebration
  • Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge
  • Preschool Development Grant Competition
  • Rebuilding after Super Storm Sandy
  • Pre-school Expulsion Research
  • Supporting Early Childhood

And more in the May Edition of the Early Childhood Development Newsletter.

Source: Administration for Children and Families

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Early Learning at Ed


Message From the Deputy Assistant Secretary Libby Doggett

“Ultimately, we are all here because we care about kids,” Secretary Duncan reminded over 250 of us in attendance at the third annual Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge RTT-ELC meeting a couple of weeks ago. Teams from 20 RTT-ELC States attended the action-packed meeting that began with Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle joining the social-media fun by tweeting out, “Little kids need big hearts to care for them–thanks RTT ELC grantees!”  Over the two-days,  participants heard presentations on the “Evidence Base on Early Education” from Dr. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, and innovative strategies to close the word gap and reach busy families from several sources, including Jackie Bezos of Vroom and Ann O’Leary of Too Small to Fail.  Special Assistant to the President for Education Roberto Rodriguez and Urban Institute Senior Research Associate Justin Milner discussed two new White House Initiatives respectively: My Brother’s Keeper and Bridging the Word Gap. But the real excitement was hearing from State leaders about how they are building strong systems and putting early learning reforms in place to improve family engagement, workforce development, and the quality of early learning and development programs.  Later this summer, we’ll share some of these amazing State stories.  Another highlight of the meeting was HHS Secretary Sebelius who received a standing ovation as she charged State leaders to “ratchet up the pressure” on policy makers to expand early learning opportunities for our children who need it most.

Source: Office of Early Learning, U.S. Department of Education

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We Have to Quit Playing Catch-Up


Only one in three four-year-olds attend a high-quality preschool program — and the number for three-year-olds is much lower. Across the country, children remain on long preschool waiting lists, and families who could benefit from support as they raise their children remain unserved.

Today, six states learned that they will have vital new support to build systems that help to solve that problem. Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) funding was awarded to Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. These states join 14 others that have received RTT-ELC grants and are building their capacity to serve preschool children with quality, accountability, and efficiency.

Source: Blog

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