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Digital Intersections

October 9, 2012

On October 2, 2012, Lisa Guernsey gave a presentation on technology's role in early education at a meeting in Indianapolis for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The presentation, Digital Intersections: Where and How Digital Technology Should Meet Early Childhood Policy, explored the science of learning via media for young children and charted several areas, such as teacher training, library partnerships and parent engagement models, where state leaders could encourage more thoughtful adoption of technology among early educators. 

Romney Says He Won’t Cut Education Funding, and Other Notes on Last Night’s Debate

October 4, 2012

During last night’s Presidential Debate, both candidates linked education into their arguments as a major workforce development issue- rhetoric that is often used by education and labor advocates but less often by presidential candidates, who are more likely to focus on the economy and other top-tier voting priorities.

Romney swung towards the center on many issues last night, and education was chief among them. When it comes to education and student aid, Romney said, “I'm not planning on making changes there.” Once again, he praised Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Race to the Top, and often focused more on what he had in common with Obama’s education policies than where they differ. One big exception, however, came when he touted his “backpack” program, in which students can use Title I and IDEA funds to attend whichever public school they choose. Some have called this a voucher program, though Romney hasn’t used that terminology to describe it.

Obama went after Romney’s approach to balancing the budget, saying that Romney would make cuts that would “[gut] our investments in schools and education.” When Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate, the Ryan budget raised eyebrows among many with its drastic cuts in domestic discretionary spending, a pool that includes education. As I and my colleague Clare McCann have noted on Early Ed Watch before, Ryan’s budget could have a big impact on federal education spending—though it won’t necessarily “gut” every education program.

At Education Nation, Two Visions for Federal Education Policy

September 27, 2012
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Presidential politics made its way into the final day of NBC News’ third annual Education Nation summit Tuesday, with an appearance by Governor Mitt Romney and a taped interview between Today show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie and President Barack Obama. Finally, both candidates got a little wonky and explained their education policy proposals, along with the underlying philosophy that informed them.

After nearly four years of watching President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in action, the president’s interview offered few revelations to education stakeholders, beyond an interesting and surprisingly detailed exchange on ESEA waivers (which is worth a read, in full). Guthrie asked whether the president was bothered “on a gut level” that some states with flexibility under No Child Left Behind, like Virginia, had set lower performance targets for racial minorities. After replying “of course it bothers me,” Obama explained that his approach would be to emphasize growth and encourage continual improvement toward high standards, rather than set an absolute standard off the bat that schools could not come close to meeting. That’s true, but his answer felt incomplete. He failed to link the growth approach to a strong accountability and improvement system for schools with large achievement gaps. States are encouraged to develop these systems in their waiver proposals, but many are criticizing states’ plans in this area.

The Education Nation appearance offered Governor Romney a chance to go beyond the talking points in his education platform (Cliff’s Notes version: More choice! More transparency!), fill in some of the details and context behind his proposals, and speak to his own ideas on accountability. Romney continues to cling to the naïve idea that soft accountability – like the school report cards with A-F letter grades that Florida uses – will be sufficient to turn around underperforming schools. According to Governor Romney:

“If we had that, then you'd see parents, if they saw their school get a C or a D or worse, those parents are going to be outraged. And they're going to want to gather together, become part of PTA organizations and talk about taking back the school.”

School report cards? That’s so ten years ago. Where are the hordes of parents taking back their schools (other than at the movies)?  And how are these report cards going to be any different than what parents have been getting? In 2012, parents gave their public schools higher marks than they did twenty years ago, according to Gallup’s annual education survey, despite the fact that increasing numbers of schools are labeled as needing improvement on their accountability report cards each year. Transparency needs to be coupled with real accountability and consequences for persistently low-achieving schools.

Governor Romney also answered questions on topics he’s mostly avoided on campaign stops, like Common Core State Standards and early childhood education. In these areas, the Republican nominee shied away from endorsing any significant federal role. When asked by a teacher how he would support schools implementing the new standards, Romney said he wouldn’t. The states chose to adopt them, and so they are “on their own.” Of course, the Common Core is a state-led initiative, but it’s hard to imagine where the effort would be today had the federal government not supported it financially. Between grants to the two assessment consortia and to states through Race to the Top, federal policy built momentum for the initiative. It’s difficult to see how these efforts will be sustained on state budgets alone once the federal grant funding is spent. Even with existing federal funds dedicated to the Common Core efforts, states may need additional flexibility and resources to support educators in their efforts to transform teaching and to build sophisticated testing and data systems that match the standards’ quality.

In early childhood education, Governor Romney’s favored approach isn’t really a policy initiative at all: get parents involved, especially if children can be in two-parent households  with “one parent that stays closely involved with the education of the child and can be at home in those early years of education.”  In this case, Governor Romney isn’t ten years behind federal policy, he’s sixty.

Instead of lamenting the breakdown of the 50’s-era nuclear family, Governor Romney could have elaborated more on specific federal early childhood programs with a parent involvement component but didn’t. While he mentioned Geoffrey Canada’s work in Harlem three times, Romney didn’t say if he would support expanding funding for Promise Neighborhoods, the federal grant competition to replicate efforts like the Harlem Children’s Zone. With limited funding and disputed results, many are skeptical of the program’s sustainability and long-term impact. Governor Romney also offered few details regarding Head Start. While supporting early learning programs that are evaluated and proven to be effective, he did not specify if this extends to Head Start recompetition and other public early childhood programs. And although Romney repeatedly mentioned his unsuccessful effort to offer parent education classes for low-income parents in Massachusetts, he did not relate this to federal policies to improve parenting skills in the early years, like home visiting programs and the parent involvement requirements within Head Start. 

Even with the domestic policy-focused presidential debate fast approaching on October 3, this may prove to be the most we hear about each candidate’s education plans during the election season. Kudos to Education Nation for raising the issue.

3 Reasons Why Early Learning Deserves More Attention in This Election

September 25, 2012

Last week, the Newark Star-Ledger's Linda Ocasio asked me why our presidential candidates should be talking about early learning and child care -- the lead topic in an open panel discussion hosted by the Early Education Initiative and the Workforce and Family Program in W

Asset Building News Week, August 27-31

August 31, 2012
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The Asset Building News Week is a weekly Friday feature on The Ladder, the Asset Building Program blog, designed to help readers keep up with news and developments in the asset building field. This week's topics include childcare, food security, housing and foreclosures, and financial products.

Paul Ryan Probably Wouldn’t Defund Head Start (And Other Things Worth Knowing About Romney’s VP Pick)

August 15, 2012

As is becoming evident, Mitt Romney choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election campaign will give a lot of ammunition to the Obama campaign, which immediately took aim, saying that Ryan has engineered budgets that proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid.

Inevitably, some of the spin coming out of the Obama campaign will be very true and some will be a stretch. But contrary to some of the media's reports, the claim that a Romney-Ryan ticket would devastate education spending, Head Start in particular, is a stretch.

Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Head Start Recompetition

July 10, 2012

In April, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched its highly anticipated Designation Renewal System, which will redistribute federal funding away from low-quality Head Start and Early Head Start providers and favor providers with more proven track records. HHS was met with pushback from the media, individual Head Start providers, and from state Head Start associations--most notably, the Ohio Head Start Association, which filed a lawsuit against HHS claiming the “recompetition” process was arbitrary and unfairly penalized providers for past infractions that may have been corrected.

A federal judge dismissed the suit yesterday, leaving little doubt that Head Start providers in Ohio and elsewhere will participate in the new Designated Renewal System.

Hitting a Triple: States Winning 3 Federal Grants that Could Improve Education from Birth to Third Grade

June 27, 2012

Read the headlines about the federal government’s early education competitions among states, and you might think there is only one game in town: the Early Learning Challenge that is part of Obama’s signature education reform initiative, Race to the Top.

But three other statewide grants could also have an impact on children’s learning in early childhood from birth through third grade: Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy grants; Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) grants; and the original Race to the Top, which is labeled a K-12 program and therefore explicitly includes the K-3 grades and could implicitly impact public schools’ pre-K programs as well.

What’s Expected of the 5 Runner-Up States in 2012 Early Learning Challenge?

June 22, 2012

This week, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released their proposal for funding five states that narrowly missed winning the 2011 Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. Under the proposal, those states -- Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin -- could receive up to 50 percent of what they were eligible to win in the original competition.

Federal Actions and PreK-3rd Reforms: Where, How and Why They Should Fit Together

June 14, 2012

On May 11, 2012, Lisa Guernsey gave a talk at Harvard University's PreK-3rd Institute on the federal government's role so far in reforming early education to enable better alignment across the pre-K, kindergarten, first, second and third grades (PreK-3rd). The presentation examines the Obama Administration's top-level education agenda and its early learning policies and describes how new and existing federal programs and funding streams are influencing the work of states and school districts in creating better early education systems for young children.

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