High-Quality Birth-to-Five Programs Produce a Greater Return on Investment


Professor James Heckman and colleagues have just released The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program, the results of a new analysis demonstrating that high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a 13% per year return on investment—a rate substantially higher than the 7-10% return previously established for preschool programs serving 3 and 4-year-olds.

Heckman’s team used data from FPG’s Abecedarian Project and FPG’s Carolina Approach to Responsive Education, and this new analysis includes the value of health outcomes, as well as the economic benefits of providing child care to mothers.

In a two-page research snapshot, Heckman and colleagues recommend “more and better” programs for young children in poverty.”Child poverty is growing in the United States,” they write. “Investing in comprehensive birth-to-five early childhood education is a powerful and cost-effective way to mitigate its negative consequences on child development and adult opportunity.”The authors also suggest that policymakers coordinate early childhood resources “into a scaffolding of developmental support for disadvantaged children” and that such support “provide access to all in need.”According to the researchers, “the gains are significant because quality programs pay for themselves many times over. The cost of inaction is a tragic loss of human and economic potential that we cannot afford.”

Source: FPG Child Development Institute

Available at: http://fpg.unc.edu/node/8730

Children in Poverty


In 2010, more than one in five children (22 percent) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line, the highest level since 1993; by 2014, this had fallen to 21 percent. Black and Hispanic children, children living in single-mother families, and children under five are even more likely to be poor.


Since the mid-1970s, children under 18 have been much more likely than adults to be poor.[1] Being raised in poverty (defined as income of $24,008 or less in 2014, for a family of four with two children) [2] places children at higher risk for a wide range of problems. Research indicates that poor children are disproportionately exposed to factors that may impair brain development [3] and affect cognitive, social, and emotional functioning. These risks include environmental toxins, inadequate nutrition, maternal depression, parental substance abuse, trauma and abuse, violent crime, divorce, low-quality child care, and decreased cognitive stimulation (stemming in part from exposure, in infancy, to a more restricted vocabulary[4],[5],[6]

While determining causality is complex in this context, experiencing poverty is also related to increased risks of negative health outcomes for young children and adolescents. When compared with all children, poor children are more likely to have poor health and chronic health conditions.[7] Children in poor families are more likely to be born premature and at a low birth weight, and to develop later illnesses, such as respiratory diseases. As adolescents, poor youth are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, such as personality disorders and depression. Moreover, in comparison to all adolescents, those raised in poverty engage in higher rates of risky health-related behaviors, including smoking and early initiation of sexual activity.[8],[9],[10]

Aside from physical and mental health, poverty in childhood and adolescence is associated with a higher risk for poorer cognitive and academic outcomes, lower school attendance, lower reading and math test scores, increased distractibility, and higher rates of grade failure and early high school dropout.[11],[12] Poor children are also more likely than other children to have externalizing and other behavior problems, or emotional problems,[13],[14] and are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors during adolescence.[15] Finally, growing up in poverty is associated with lower occupational status and lower wages,[16],[17] poorer health,[18] and deficits in working memory[19] in adulthood.

Reporting on child poverty rates at a single point in time gives an under-estimate of its deleterious effects, since research shows that persistent poverty, as well as poverty experienced in the childhood’s early years, is most detrimental to development.[20] Nearly four in ten children are poor for one or more years before they reach age 18—nearly double the point-in-time estimate. More than one in ten are poor for half or more of their childhood years.[21]

Source: Child Trends

Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/indicators/children-in-poverty/

America’s Children 2015 – Introduction


Twenty-one years ago, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) joined with six other Federal agencies to create the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Formally chartered in April 1997 through Executive Order No. 13045, the Forum’s mission is to develop priorities for collecting enhanced data on children and youth, improve the communication of information on the status of children to the policy community and the general public, and produce more complete data on children at the Federal, state, and local levels. Today the Forum, with participants from 23 Federal agencies, continues to collaborate in the collection, production, and publication of policy-relevant Federal statistics about children and their families.

America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2015 is a compendium of indicators depicting the condition of our Nation’s young people. The report, the 17th in an ongoing series, presents 41 key indicators on important aspects of children’s lives. These indicators are drawn from our most reliable Federal statistics, are easily understood by broad audiences, are objectively based on substantial research, are balanced so that no single area of children’s lives dominates the report, are measured often to show trends over time, and are representative of large segments of the population rather than one particular group.

The report continues to present key indicators in seven domains: family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health. As in prior years, the report incorporates data modifications that reflect the Forum’s efforts to improve its quality and breadth. In addition to updating data sources and expanding several indicators, this year’s report presents a special feature on health care quality among children in the United States. As is our practice, we periodically revise indicators, data sources, and features to maintain the relevance of the report.

Each volume of America’s Children also spotlights critical data gaps and challenges Federal statistical agencies to address them. Forum agencies meet that challenge by working to provide more comprehensive information on the condition and progress of our Nation’s children. This year, the immunization indicator has been aligned with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 standards, and the health insurance indicator was changed to the child’s health insurance coverage at the time of interview as measured in the National Health Interview Survey.

The value of the America’s Children series and the extraordinary cooperation that these reports represent reflect the Forum’s determination to help better understand the well-being of our children today and what may bring them a better future. The Forum agencies should be congratulated once again for developing such a comprehensive set of indicators and ensuring they are readily accessible in both content and format. The report is an excellent reflection of the dedication of the Forum agency staff members who assess data needs, strive to present relevant statistics in an easily understood format, and work together to produce this substantial and important publication. Nonetheless, suggestions of ways we can enhance this volume are always welcome.

No work of this magnitude and quality would be possible without the continued cooperation of the millions of Americans who provide the data that are summarized and analyzed by Federal statistical agencies. This report is, first and foremost, for you and all of the American public. We thank you for your support, and we hope the volume will continue to be useful to you.

Katherine K. Wallman
Chief Statistician
Office of Management and Budget

Source: Childstats.gov

Available at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/

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


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

The Effects of Two Influential Early Childhood Interventions on Health and Healthy Behaviors


By Gabriella Conti, James J Heckman, and Rodrigo Pinto

This paper examines the long-term impacts on health and healthy behaviors of two of the oldest and most widely cited U.S. early childhood interventions evaluated by the method of randomization with long-term follow-up: the Perry Preschool Project (PPP) and the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC). There are pronounced gender effects strongly favoring boys, although there are also effects for girls. Dynamic mediation analyses show a significant role played by improved childhood traits, above and beyond the effects of experimentally enhanced adult socioeconomic status. These results show the potential of early life interventions for promoting health.

Source: The National Bureau of Economic Research

Available at: http://www.nber.org/papers/w21454

Word Health: Addressing the Word Gap as a Public Health Crisis


Over the past twenty years, scientists and researchers have built the case that the earliest moments of a child’s life offer a unique opportunity to shape her future. The brains of infants and toddlers develop at an incredible rate, forming the foundation for lifelong learning and health. The stimulation that children receive in these early years powerfully influence not only their academic and material success, but also – critically – their physical and mental health as well. An emerging body of research links poor health outcomes and chronic illness to unmet social and environmental factors, as well as to adverse childhood experiences.

While higher-income families seem to be reaping the benefits of this brain research and boosting their children’s advantage, families with fewer resources and less education are not. There is a gap in knowledge and understanding about the power of language-rich interactions – such as talking, reading, and singing – with infants and toddlers that has long-term implications for children, and society at large. Decades of research, including studies that have been replicated and deepened in recent years, demonstrate that there are important disparities in the language exposure of young children. These disparities are predictors of children’s development, success in school and even long-term health outcomes.

Taken together, the brain research coupled with these disparities suggest a public crisis related to the early development of young children, which impacts not only those children and families, but also the promise of social mobility, equality, health, and economic future of our country.

One tangible, feasible, and actionable strategy is to address the “word gap,” or the difference in both the number of words and the quality of conversation heard by low-income children as compared to children in higher income households.

This paper provides a framework to consider early childhood development broadly, and the word gap specifically, as not only a school readiness issue, but as a public health issue and the topic of a public health campaign. Like efforts to put babies on their backs to sleep and to reduce tobacco use, this paper argues that we need to combine media and action campaigns aimed at changing personal behavior with changes in public policy to support the broader ecosystem for parents and caregivers. Through a widely targeted and thoughtful campaign, individuals and the public and private sectors will come to understand the problem and help to raise awareness, which will lead to more families and caregivers talking, reading and singing with young children, and ultimately improving children’s health and educational outcomes for all children.

Too Small to Fail has issued a Community Campaign Guide, which walks local leaders through the steps of creating a word gap campaign, or enhancing a current campaign with word gap messaging. Those interested in building a local word gap campaign should review that guide, as well.

Source: Next Generation

Available at: http://thenextgeneration.org/publications/word-health-addressing-the-word-gap-as-a-public-health-crisis

Celebrating Head Start at 50: How Lessons from Head Start Can Inform an Agenda for America’s Poor Children 


Signed into law by President Johnson on May 18, 1965, Head Start celebrated its 50th anniversary early this week.  When I had the chance to speak about the anniversary at April’s National Head Start Association conference, I learned that since its inception, Head Start has reached over 32 million low-income children and their families, touching them powerfully with its comprehensive learning experiences and services.

After all these years of accomplishment and debate, what is there new to say about Head Start?  Perhaps surprisingly, researchers do have new information, as they reanalyze decades of studies to mark the 50th anniversary and conduct new analyses that take advantage of up-to-the-minute data.  A careful re-analysis of a recent and large-scale random assignment study of Head Start finds that cognitive effects lasting into the early elementary years are greatest for English language learners.  And an essay by the distinguished social scientist Christopher Jencks reviewing the evidence of Head Start’s long-term effects in a short-term political culture concludes that, “Had parents not embraced Head Start, we might well have abolished it before we discovered that, in important ways, it worked.”

But just as important as the direct effect of Head Start on more than 30 million babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families are the lessons it teaches us.  From its inception, Head Start built on the insight that the early years of a child’s life, before talking or reading or formal schooling, matter greatly to success in education and in life–an insight that once was counter-intuitive but has been powerfully confirmed by brain research in the decades since. And the program also constitutes a two-generational policy framework because at the heart of the Head Start model are strategies that tackle issues facing poor parents—through dedicated family support workers and home visitors in addition to opportunities for parents to participate in decision making and advance their own careers—as well as providing an education for their children. The voice of Head Start has particularly mattered in countering the myths about poor parents that too often hamper U.S. policy, as well as modeling two-generational support services for children and families. Despite the myth that poor parents don’t care about their children’s education, for example, I remember visiting a Head Start program for migrant workers where parents who had spent all day in the fields still devoted volunteer time to their children’s Head Start program.

Another Head Start lesson comes from its grounding not only in the War on Poverty but also in the civil rights movement.  Anchoring Head Start is the belief that all children, including children of color, deserve the opportunity to succeed and that as a country we must work harder to reach those children and families who are marginalized and who face social and economic barriers.  As a result, Head Start throughout its history has reached black children, Native American children, and other children of color.  Today, about 36 percent of Head Start children are Latino, and Head Start is a leader in research and practice innovations to help young children who are dual language learners succeed in school and beyond.

Over its 50 years, Head Start programs nationwide have dedicated themselves to continuous improvement, applying lessons from both research and practice—consistent with the program’s earliest designation as a “national laboratory.”  One of the proudest moments in my own career came from just such an innovation—the creation of Early Head Start in the Head Start reauthorization that was signed into law 21 years ago, on May 18, 1994, when I served as Commissioner for the Administration of Children, Youth, and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Early Head Start was created in response to growing evidence about the crucial role that the earliest months and years of life play in young children’s development, and it represents the nation’s first large-scale venture into top-quality early learning and comprehensive services for babies and toddlers and their families.  It was designed through an expert committee of researchers and practitioners and—while still reaching far too few young children—has recently been expanded by the Obama administration through the Early Head Start–Child Care partnership initiative.

For 50 years, Head Start has stood for a vision of the United States as a nation that sees promise in all young children, including those in the poorest families; that reaches out across barriers of race, ethnicity, and income to make that promise real; and that invests in the high-quality educational and comprehensive services that research and experience tell us are needed to improve children’s lives.  Unfortunately, however, our country hasn’t lived up to that vision. Today, 22 percent of children under the age of five are still poor and 41 percent live in low-income families. Moreover, children of color are disproportionately represented in those populations. Yet even though all of these children are our future,  investment in their well-being has stalled—with Head Start reaching just 4 percent of all poor babies and toddlers and 45 percent of poor preschoolers, while struggling families just above the poverty line have even less access to high-quality early learning programs.

In fact, we now risk an actual disinvestment in these children, as reflected in the House and Senate budget proposals. Despite the bipartisan consensus that early childhood education and support matter, there is no consensus that we must make an investment to deliver that education and support. For example, the White House calculates that the Congressional spending targets for the key domestic spending bill that funds Head Start would leave Head Start serving 35,000 fewer children in 2016, and the budget resolution also would fund domestic programs in future years at levels that would serve 157,000 fewer children in Head Start the following year, due to the resolution’s proposed additional cuts on top of the already-reduced 2017 budget levels that are mandated by sequestration. Other early care and education programs have already seen cutbacks, with spending on child care subsidies through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) at an 11-year low.

So, what can we do from here? We must seek a different future, drawing from the lessons of research and experience over the past 50 years and also telling stories about the power of Head Start.  First, those who know families well, including Head Start caregivers as well as parents, early childhood policy and practice experts, and advocates, need to tell the story about the potential of these children and families—how much they have to offer and how terribly misguided it would be for our country not to invest in them.  Failing to ensure success for all young children in struggling families would be a great loss and great disservice not only to the children and families themselves, but also to our nation and economy as a whole–given our reality that more than 4 in 10 young children live in low-income families and almost half are children of color.  Second, we need to tell the story about success, as seen both by researchers and parents–and about the hard work, persistence, and commitment to continuous improvement that underlies that success.  Even when Congress shuts down the government—failing to do its job—deeply committed Head Start teachers, directors, and other staff stay focused on doing their job and doing it well.  Finally, we need to tell the story of what it takes to achieve high quality for both generations, and in particular, the resources required to support and train teachers, link families to services, take on other challenges that impede learning, and at the same time, reach out to far more children than we touch today.

Two-generational programs like Head Start deserve celebration on this day, and continued investment in the years to come.

Source: CLASP: Policy Solutions That Work for Low-Income People

Available at: http://www.clasp.org/whats-next/celebrating-head-start-at-50

Family Financial Stability


Financial stability is a critical part of family well-being. Increasing family financial security can lead to positive, long-term outcomes for families and children. Use the following resources to learn more about asset-building. Find strategies to share with families, such as participating in financial literacy activities and claiming tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Source: Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, National Center on Program Management and Fiscal Operations

Available at: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/family/family/family-financial-stability

Ending Child Poverty Now


It is a national moral disgrace that there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children in the United States of America – the world’s largest economy. It is also unnecessary, costly and the greatest threat to our future national, economic and military security.The 14.7 million poor children in our nation exceeds the populations of 12 U.S. states combined: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming and is greater than the combined populations of the countries of Sweden and Costa Rica. Our nearly 6.5 million extremely poor children (living below half the poverty line) exceeds the combined populations of Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming and is greater than the populations of Denmark or Finland.The younger children are the poorer they are during their years of greatest brain development. Every other American baby is non-White and 1 in 2 Black babies is poor, 150 years after slavery was legally abolished.America’s poor children did not ask to be born; did not choose their parents, country, state, neighborhood, race, color, or faith. In fact if they had been born in 33 other industrialized countries they would be less likely to be poor. Among these 35 countries, America ranks 34th in relative child poverty — ahead only of Romania whose economy is 99 percent smaller than ours.

Source: Children’s Defense Fund

Available at: http://www.childrensdefense.org/library/PovertyReport/EndingChildPovertyNow.html

How Much Could We Improve Children’s Life Chances by Intervening Early and Often?


Children born into low-income families face barriers to success in each stage of life from birth to age 40. Using data on a representative group of American children and a life cycle model to track their progress from the earliest years through school and beyond, we show that well-evaluated targeted interventions can close over 70 percent of the gap between more and less advantaged children in the proportion who end up middle class by middle age. These interventions can also greatly improve social mobility and enhance the lifetime incomes of less advantaged children. The children’s enhanced incomes are roughly 10 times greater than the costs of the programs, suggesting that once the higher taxes and reduced benefits likely to accompany these higher incomes are taken into account, they would have a positive ratio of benefits to costs for the taxpayer. The biggest challenge is taking these programs to scale without diluting their effectiveness.

Source: The Brookings Institution

Available at: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/07/improve-child-life-chances-interventions-sawhill