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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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The Top Early Ed News of 2010

Published:  December 22, 2010
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Image courtesy of Flickr user 'smil under Creative Commons license.

Before we close for the holidays, it’s time to take stock of what transpired in 2010 and look back on the many issues we’ve covered. We can’t tie it all up with a bow, but consider this click-and-find list our gift to you. Happy New Year!

ESEA: We had high hopes that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be reauthorized this year. Alas, that was not to be. But when Congress appears willing to take it up again (will it be in 2011?), we’ll be ready. Here’s our page dedicated to ESEA and early learning, including a set of recommendations drafted by 15 national groups and an op-ed published in USA Today.

Head Start study and reform: It’s been a tumultuous year for Head Start, starting with the release of the Impact Study showing that the gains children made after a year in Head Start no longer appeared after two years in elementary school. (To us, this was more evidence of the work still to do in kindergarten and first grade.)  In the summer, the Government Accountability Office reported on some cases of fraud in enrollment practices. Then, at the end of the summer, the federal government released a proposal for “re-competition” – a new plan, applauded by some policy experts, that requires poorly performing programs to re-apply for funding. (Comments on the proposal are due tomorrow, Dec. 21.) In the meantime, some smart innovations are taking place in locations like the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Head Start directors continue to prepare for federal triennial reviews.

Obama’s budget and Congress’s (in)action: President Obama requested budget increases for programs that provide early care and education – a welcome note after news of the recession causing states to cut aid to kids and families. But Congress took its sweet time and failed to pass a budget by the end of the fiscal year. For details on appropriations for fiscal year 2011, see our page dedicated to news of the federal budget.

Early Learning Challenge Fund: What looked like a done deal in 2009 became a cliff-hanger in contentious debates over higher education funding, and by the end of March it fizzled, causing disappointment among many early education advocates. The $1-billion-a-year fund, which was designed to spur states to build a more cohesive early childhood system, was left out of a bill the Senate passed as part of health care reform. Senator Tom Harkin vowed to restore it, and a Senate committee included a reduced version in a spending bill for 2010. As of today, no funding has been allocated for the Early Learning Challenge Fund -- a big blow to many supporters of early education. In other news of system-building, nearly all 50 states applied for grants to build early learning advisory councils.

Home visiting and other coverage of infants and toddlers: One program that did become law with passage of health-care reform is the federal home visitation program. This summer and fall, states have been prepping for the grants. New research studies on home visiting are underway. Here at Early Ed Watch, we’ve expanded our coverage of the importance of the early years – including those months in the womb and the need for more flexible leave policies to support parents with young children.

Investing in Innovation, Race to the Top, and Promise Neighborhoods:  It was a year of winners and losers for these three new competitive grant programs.  Winners of Race To the Top included at least some mention of early learning, and applicants for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grants could gain an extra point by showing their early learning plans. After the i3 winners were announced, we found some inconsistencies in scoring and provided additional analysis of the winning proposals. The U.S. Department of Education also announced grant winners for Promise Neighborhoods planning grants.

Data, data, data:  This year, the federal government awarded grants to 20 states that could help them link early childhood data to their K-12 longitudinal data systems. In our issue brief, Many Missing Pieces, you can learn more about those states and discover why, even in states that are making good progress, we are still missing many pieces of data on what kind of childcare experiences children had before entering school. Also see the webcast and recap of our event on this topic, as well as our interactive map.

Literacy: Literacy – including states’ “illusions of proficiency” among their students --was a recurring theme at many conferences this year, and philanthropies are marshalling forces to make a difference. Research continues to show the need for good teachers and interventions, such as more attention to oral language development and the impact of the infant and toddler years. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education collected public input for the birth-to-12th-grade Striving Readers program that it will launch next year.  Here at the Early Education Initiative, one of our articles posed the specter of an unfair class-based divide in how reading is being taught in elementary schools.

Math and Science: A group of science educators gathered in Northern Iowa this spring to address the need for better preschool and kindergarten science and engineering instruction and what it should look like. A report on mathematics in pre-k highlighted the dearth of strong math teachers in the early years, though a bright spot emerged in a new program for pre-k teachers that shows them how to integrate math, science and the performing arts.

Play: Concerns over the erosion of playtime in early childhood centers and kindergartens have not abated. Discussions are continuing over how to lift up the importance of entwining play with literacy and other academic pursuits, and a Central Park playfest this September helped to spotlight some areas for continued research.

Common Core standards: More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have now said they will adopt the Common Core State Standards that were released this year. Though the standards have the backing of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, some early childhood advocates expressed strong concerns over the kindergarten standards, and a few changes were made in the final version. This fall, a new tool arrived to help teachers build content-rich lessons using the new standards.

Dual language learners:  At least two states found themselves engaged in debates over how to improve education for young students who speak a first language other than English. In Illinois, debate erupted over regulations for bilingual pre-k teachers. In, Arizona, studies about equitable resources stirred controversy, and new research showed how much dual-language learners move from school to school. For more on dual-language learning in the early years, see our blog series and podcast.

Young Kids and Technology: This summer, as the NAEYC considered how to update its position statement on technology, the Early Education Initiative weighed in with some suggestions. Robotic teachers and iPhone apps for young children also made the news.

A vision for transforming early education: In March, the Early Education Initiative published a paper on a new vision for building a high-quality public education system – one that begins earlier than kindergarten (including pre-k starting at age 3) and extends through the early grades of elementary school. The paper -- A Next Social Contract for the Primary Years of Education, by Lisa Guernsey and Sara Mead – was released at an event here in D.C. (see the webcast),covered on television, and adapted for an article in the National Academies of Science journal, Issues in Science and Technology

(Interested in looking back even further? Here’s our 2009 list.)

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