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Early Education

Federal Early Learning Updates

August 2, 2013

New Leadership in the Office of Early Learning

Libby Doggett has been named the new deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education. Jacqueline Jones, the first appointee to this position, left the department in December 2012.

Using Blocks to Build Tomorrow’s Engineers

July 30, 2013

While most early educators recognize that block play is linked to early learning, it can be difficult to find blocks and other simple building materials in today’s first and second grade classrooms -- and sadly, even in many kindergartens.  

New Data Demonstrate Poverty Trends, Outcomes of Early Childhood Education

August 1, 2013
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Children have been hit especially hard by the economic recession that gripped the United States in late 2007. Many young children went hungry, homeless and without the educational opportunities and health care they needed as their parents struggled to find jobs and put food on the table. A new report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, bolstered by new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), looks at how children and families are doing today, amid the financial recovery.

Pairing Investments in College Access with Investments in Early Education

July 22, 2013
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My hometown, Kalamazoo, Michigan, made waves in 2005 when the superintendent of the local public school system announced that anonymous donors had established a fund to cover the college tuition of every Kalamazoo Public Schools graduate in perpetuity. The program, known as the Kalamazoo Promise, attracted the attention of national news outlets (NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and the New York Times, among others). Since its inception, community leaders have realized that it’s not enough to make college more affordable and accessible – students need high-quality PreK-12 instruction to be adequately prepared for college. Recent research shows that one of the community’s signature early education initiatives, Ready 4s, substantially improves students’ chances for long-term academic success.

At National Journal: Where Teachers Fit in Today’s ESEA Debate

July 18, 2013

Last week the National Journal Education Expert blog posed a question about teacher provisions in the House (H.R.5) and Senate (S.1094) ESEA reauthorization bills and whether the “highly qualified teacher” credential should be eliminated.

The Way We Talk: Professionalism

July 16, 2013
The Way We Talk

This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on terminology pervading today’s polarizing debates about American education. In each post, we’ll ask how various buzzwords—“professionalism,” “accountability,” and the like—influence the conversations we have. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots that come with framing our arguments in each of these terms? The hope is that assessing the implications of the way we talk will prompt more productive discussions about improving PreK-12 education.

 

In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Harvard Education Professor Jal Mehta argues that recent attempts at education reform have failed because they emphasize “teacher accountability” instead of “teacher professionalism.” He says that the reformers’ laudable goal—“consistent, high-level performance across the school system”—is stymied by inadequate attention to systemic obstacles. Mehta warns that test-based school accountability provisions and teacher performance pay destroy morale. In addition, they can polarize discussions of the potential and limits of teachers’ influence on their students’ academic outcomes. Mehta argues that reformers’ focus on accountability comes “at the expense of progress on” other elements of teaching as a “professional field.”

Senate Panel Approves New Early Education Funding for 2014

July 15, 2013
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For more details on the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education bill, check out this post from our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.

Senate Appropriations Panel Approves 2014 Spending Bill

July 15, 2013
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For more details on early education in the Senate Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education bill, check out this post from our sister blog, Early Ed Watch.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to approve a fiscal year 2014 spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), and Education. (Fiscal year 2014 starts this October 1.) That development is a reminder that key funding decisions for education programs are wending their way through Congress, and that the House and Senate could not be further apart in their proposals.

While the House hasn’t yet published or voted on an education appropriations bill for 2014, it indicated earlier this year that it would reduce overall funding substantially – from $150 billion in 2013 to $122 billion next year – for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS), and Education.

Why the big cut? The House wants to conform to the spending limit set forth in law by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which requires total appropriations funding be cut by $18 billion from fiscal year 2013 to 2014, to $966 billion. But the House also wants to hold defense spending harmless in those cuts, with domestic programs making up the difference. (For more details, check out our April issue brief on this issue, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis, and our May post, House Could Set Education Funding Back to Year 2001 to Fund Defense.)

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are ignoring the $966 billion overall appropriations limit for fiscal year 2014, and instead drafting bills within a $1.058 trillion limit. The president, for his part, supports that higher level.

Leaving aside the gulf between the House and Senate, the Senate’s committee-passed Labor, HHS, and Education bill totaling nearly $166 billion gives us some clues about senators’ priorities in the budget fight that looms in the latter half of the year. (See table below for more details.)

For most programs, the Senate appropriations bill would reverse the across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) that took effect earlier this year, and would actually increase funding for many programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee would increase the two largest federal K-12 programs, Title I grants to school districts and special education grants to states, from 2013 levels, even over the pre-sequester total. The committee would also reverse sequestration for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants and the Teacher Incentive Fund, but wouldn’t increase funding over those levels. It would bump up Impact Aid slightly from 2013 pre-sequester totals.

Under the bill, the Obama administration’s signature competitive grant programs, Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (i3), receive funding for new competitions next year. The Department of Education would run a Race to the Top college affordability and completion competition, rather than the early learning and K-12 ones it has already run. But the bill would appropriate only $250 million for the competition, shy of the $548 million it received last year pre-sequester and well short of the administration’s requested $1 billion. It would fund i3, meanwhile, at $170 million, above the $149 million provided in 2013. The committee also approved a healthy increase in funding for state data systems, from $38 million last year to $75 million.

Another of the administration’s own initiatives gets a mention, too: preschool. The Senate Committee explains that the president’s “Preschool for All” program isn’t included in the appropriations bill because the administration requested mandatory funding for it, which is provided outside the appropriations process. (Sen. Patty Murray [D-WA] has said she plans to introduce this portion of the pre-K plan separately.) But the Senate panel did include the president’s requested $750 million for Preschool Development Grants to help states build systems, as well as a $1.6 billion increase to Head Start, much of which will go to the White House’s proposed Early Head Start-child care partnerships.

On the higher education side, the Committee maintains a maximum Pell Grant award of $4,860, which, when combined with supplemental entitlement funding, brings the total figure to an estimated $5,785. It also awarded small funding increases to several pet projects, including international education and the high school intervention programs TRIO and GEAR UP. The president’s request for $250 million for a First in the World higher education competition was not granted.

In total, funding for the Department of Education – and for discretionary spending across these three agencies – would increase next year. But as explained above, it’s so far from what the House has indicated it will support that the two committees may as well be on different planets. It’s too early to say what the ultimate House-Senate agreement looks like for fiscal year 2014 education funding, but not too early to predict that a lot of squabbling lies ahead.

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Kindergarten's Leap Into the Virtual Classroom

July 12, 2013
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Technology has vastly altered the way students can attend schools- and many people may be surprised to learn that virtual schooling extends even to kindergartners. In fact, online offerings for kindergarten have been around for more than a decade, though early childhood experts continue to question whether these programs meet young children’s early developmental needs.
 
Online K-12 schools have provided students with alternative schooling options since the early 2000s. Each year, enrollment in such programs has grown by at least 20 to 25 percent.

KIDS COUNT Reports Bright Spots, Though Inequities Remain

July 10, 2013

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book for 2013. While the report contains a few bright spots for children, authors find that few children from poor families are attending early childhood programs of the highest quality.

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