Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger in Schenectady

"Put the kids in the middle, because they are the important ones."
Pete Seeger, Schenectady, New York, May 12, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education

This is from a recent report that evaluates the current research on the effectiveness of early education.


Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education

Executive Summary

Large-scale public preschool programs can have substantial impacts on children’s
early learning. Scientific evidence on the impacts of early childhood education has
progressed well beyond exclusive reliance on the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian
programs. A recent analysis integrating evaluations of 84 preschool programs concluded
that, on average, children gain about a third of a year of additional learning across language,
reading, and math skills. At-scale preschool systems in Tulsa and Boston have produced
larger gains of between a half and a full year of additional learning in reading and math.
Benefits to children’s socio-emotional development and health have been documented in
programs that focus intensively on these areas.

Quality preschool education is a profitable investment. Rigorous efforts to estimate
whether the economic benefits of early childhood education outweigh the costs of providing
these educational opportunities indicate that they are a wise financial investment. Available
benefit-cost estimates based on older, intensive interventions, such as the Perry Preschool
Program, as well as contemporary, large-scale public preschool programs, such as the
Chicago Child-Parent Centers and Tulsa’s preschool program, range from three to seven
dollars saved for every dollar spent.

The most important aspects of quality in preschool education are stimulating and
supportive interactions between teachers and children and effective use of curricula.
Children benefit most when teachers engage in stimulating interactions that support
learning and are emotionally supportive. Interactions that help children acquire new
knowledge and skills provide input to children, elicit verbal responses and reactions from
them, and foster engagement in and enjoyment of learning. Recent evaluations tell us that
effective use of curricula focused on such specific aspects of learning as language and
literacy, math, or socio-emotional development provide a substantial boost to children’s
learning. Guidelines about the number of children in a classroom, the ratio of teachers and
children, and staff qualifications help to increase the likelihood of—but do not assure—
supportive and stimulating interactions. Importantly, in existing large-scale studies, only a
minority of preschool programs are observed to provide excellent quality and levels of
instructional support are especially low.

Supporting teachers in their implementation of instructional approaches through
coaching or mentoring can yield important benefits for children. Coaching or
mentoring that provides support to the teacher on how to implement content-rich and
engaging curricula shows substantial promise in helping to assure that such instruction
is being provided. Such coaching or mentoring involves modeling positive instructional
approaches and providing feedback on the teacher’s implementation in a way that sets goals
but is also supportive. This can occur either directly in the classroom or though web-based
exchange of video clips.

Quality preschool education can benefit middle-class children as well as disadvantaged
children; typically developing children as well as children with special needs; and dual
language learners as well as native speakers. Although early research focused only on
programs for low-income children, more recent research focusing on universal preschool
programs provides the opportunity to ask if preschool can benefit children from middle income
as well as low-income families. The evidence is clear that middle-class children can
benefit substantially, and that benefits outweigh costs for children from middle-income as
well as those from low-income families. However, children from low-income backgrounds
benefit more. Children with special needs who attended Tulsa’s preschool program showed
comparable improvements in reading and pre-writing skills as typically developing children.
Further, at the end of first grade, children with special needs who had attended Head Start
as 3-year-olds showed stronger gains in math and social-emotional development than
children with special needs who had not attended Head Start. Studies of both Head Start
and public preschool programs suggest that dual language learners benefit as much as, and
in some cases more than, their native speaker counterparts.

A second year of preschool shows additional benefits. The available studies, which focus
on disadvantaged children, show further benefits from a second year of preschool. However,
the gains are not always as large as from the first year of preschool. This may be because
children who attend two years of preschool are not experiencing a sequential building of
instruction from the first to the second year.

Long-term benefits occur despite convergence of test scores. As children from
low-income families in preschool evaluation studies are followed into elementary school,
differences between those who received preschool and those who did not on tests of
academic achievement are reduced. However, evidence from long-term evaluations of
both small-scale, intensive interventions and Head Start suggest that there are long-term
effects on important societal outcomes such as high-school graduation, years of education
completed, earnings, and reduced crime and teen pregnancy, even after test-score effects
decline to zero. Research is now underway focusing on why these long-term effects occur
even when test scores converge.

There are important benefits of comprehensive services when these added services
are carefully chosen and targeted. When early education provides comprehensive
services, it is important that these extensions of the program target services and practices
that show benefits to children and families. Early education programs that have focused in
a targeted way on health outcomes (e.g., connecting children to a regular medical home;
integrating comprehensive screening; requiring immunizations) have shown such benefits as
an increase in receipt of primary medical care and dental care. In addition, a parenting focus
can augment the effects of preschool on children’s skill development, but only if it provides
parents with modeling of positive interactions or opportunities for practice with feedback.
Simply providing information through classes or workshops is not associated with further
improvements in children’s skills.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Universal Pre-K

Any thoughtful person.....

The Push for Universal Pre-K

Nancy Folbre is professor emerita of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The bigger issue is who will pay the costs and who will enjoy the benefits. Loyalties based on age, race and ethnicity, gender, citizenship and class have a fragmenting effect. Mothers are more affected than fathers, who account for a smaller share of the overall time and money devoted to children. Self-interest also comes into play. Some nonparents feel they shouldn’t be required to help subsidize parents.
The labor is going to be long and difficult, but this baby is on its way in most affluent countries. Japan and Germany, two countries long considered laggards in the child care area, are now increasing their spending. In the United States, President Obama is keeping the issue atop his domestic agenda, where it is gaining traction despite slim chances of Congressional approval. Many states and several big cities have developed innovative and successful pre-K programs.

I’ve touched on some of the reasons forresistance to increased public investment in children in earlier posts. Sometimes the issue is framed as one of disagreement over social cost-benefit analysis, but many economists, most famously James Heckman of the University of Chicago, offer powerful evidence of a high social rate of return in the form of improved outcomes for children. The net benefits loom even larger when the value of increased work flexibility for parents is added in.
Most families worry more about their own budgets and the relative well-being of their own children than the growth of the overall economy or average child outcomes. Persistently high unemployment and the decline of middle-class jobs increase apprehensions about competition among members of the next generation. Will there be enough future demand for all this human capital we are urged to invest in?
On the other hand, universal pre-K eases economic stress on parents and improves human resources. It helps counter economic forces that are bothdriving up the relative cost of child-rearing and increasing economic inequality.
Sustained below-replacement fertility will increase the share of elderly in the population, threaten national and ethnic identity, and weaken the links between present and future generations that are forged by family commitments. The taxes paid by the working-age population benefit all elderly fellow citizens, including those who have contributed relatively little to their care. In tomorrow’s global economy, the quality of future workers will matter even more than the quantity.
Entirely self-interested individuals have no reason to worry about what happens after they die. But a nation, like a family, hopes and plans to live on.
Currently, the United States ranks far below most members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (including Japan and Germany) in both public expenditure on child care services as a percentage of gross domestic product and child care enrollment among those under age 6.
Other countries are also making more rapid progress. Japanese anxieties about women’s labor-force participation and fertility recently prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to promise a significant expansion of day care(enough to eliminate current waiting lists) by 2017.
In Germany, the recently re-elected government of Angela Merkel has taken a different tack, promising to increase the number of public child care slots but also creating an allowance for families who care for very young children at home.
President Obama couched his proposal as a federal/state partnership to expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income 4-year-olds from families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty, to be financed by an increased tax on tobacco, which would also help deter youngsters from smoking. On Sept. 22 and 23, a summit of national business leaders in Atlanta mobilized support for early childhood education, though it stopped short of endorsing the president’s plan.
On both the federal and state level, efforts to cut government spending have taken a big bite out of public child care programs. This coming year, 57,000 children will lose access to Head Start as a result of sequestration.
While states vary enormously in terms of both levels and trends, average per-child spending has recently declined, leading the National Institute for Early Education Research report on the State of Preschool to characterize the 2011-12 year as “the worst in a decade for progress in access to high-quality pre-K for American’s children.” Still, the report noted that enrollment in state programs increased rapidly over the last decade and was now holding even.
It also singled out Washington for serving a higher percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds (and spending more per child) than any state. The city’s relatively large population means that more 4-year-olds are in pre-K there than in 15 states with programs. A recent post in The New York Times’s Motherlode blog vividly describes how the program changed one parent’s life.
Last month in San Antonio, Mayor Juli├ín Castro greeted 4-year-olds taking part in a new pre-K program aimed at low-income families, financed by a 1/8-cent increase in the local sales tax. Once the program is up and running,about 4,000 children will benefit.
In New York City, the Democratic mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio has called for an increase in the city’s tax rate on income over $500,000 (to 4.4 percent from the current 3.87 percent) to raise money for pre-K and after-school programs.
In the long run, such local conceptions could lead up to a big national delivery.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lifelines for Poor Children by James Heckman

Lifelines for Poor Children

What’s missing in the current debate over economic inequality is enough serious discussion about investing in effective early childhood development from birth to age 5. This is not a big government boondoggle policy that would require a huge redistribution of wealth. Acting on it would, however, require us to rethink long-held notions of how we develop productive people and promote shared prosperity.
Everyone knows that education boosts productivity and enlarges opportunities, so it is natural that proposals for reducing inequality emphasize effective education for all. But these proposals are too timid. They ignore a powerful body of research in the economics of human development that tells us which skills matter for producing successful lives. They ignore the role of families in producing the relevant skills They also ignore or play down the critical gap in skills between advantaged and disadvantaged children that emerges long before they enter school.
While education is a great equalizer of opportunity when done right, American policy is going about it all wrong: current programs don’t start early enough, nor do they produce the skills that matter most for personal and societal prosperity.
The cognitive skills prized by the American educational establishment and measured by achievement tests are only part of what is required for success in life. Character skills are equally important determinants of wages, education, health and many other significant aspects of flourishing lives. Self-control, openness, the ability to engage with others, to plan and to persist — these are the attributes that get people in the door and on the job, and lead to productive lives. Cognitive and character skills work together as dynamic complements; they are inseparable. Skills beget skills. More motivated children learn more. Those who are more informed usually make wiser decisions.
These established findings should lead to a major reorientation of policies for human development. Because skill begets skill, the opportunity for education should begin at birth — and not depend on the accident of birth.
The family into which a child is born plays a powerful role in determining lifetime opportunities. This is hardly news, but it bears repeating: some kids win the lottery at birth, far too many don’t — and most people have a hard time catching up over the rest of their lives. Children raised in disadvantaged environments are not only much less likely to succeed in school or in society, but they are also much less likely to be healthy adults. A variety of studies show that factors determined before the end of high school contribute to roughly half of lifetime earnings inequality. This is where our blind spot lies: success nominally attributed to the beneficial effects of education, especially graduating from college, is in truth largely a result of factors determined long before children even enter school.
Improving the early environments of disadvantaged children is a promising way to reduce inequality, but conventional wisdom is to level the playing field with cash transfers, tuition assistance and raising the minimum wage. High-quality early childhood programs are great economic and social equalizers — they supplement the family lives of disadvantaged children by teaching consistent parenting and by giving children the mentoring, encouragement and support available to functioning middle-class families. Children in these programs develop foundational skills on par with those of more affluent children and create a stronger family structure for themselves. Caring parents and early stimulation are essential ingredients of successful early childhood environments.
Critics say that early childhood education is expensive and that it is not effective. They are right about the cost, but terribly wrong about the large return on the investment. Quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children more than pay for themselves in better education, health and economic outcomes.
Proof comes in the form of a long-term cost-benefit analysis of effective early childhood programs. The Perry Preschool project was an intensive two-year voluntary program administered between 1962 and 1967 to disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-old, low-I.Q. African-American children in Ypslanti, Mich. The curriculum emphasized the development of self-control, perseverance and social skills in conjunction with basic cognitive skills. It also worked with the mothers to foster attachment, develop parenting skills and deepen their interactions with their children. The participants were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups, with the outcomes evaluated over a period of four decades.
Perry did not produce lasting gains in the I.Q.’s of its participants, but it did boost character skills that produced better education, economic and life outcomes. The economic rate of return from Perry is in the range of 6 percent to 10 percent per year per dollar invested, based on greater productivity and savings in expenditures on remediation, criminal justice and social dependency. This compares favorably to the estimated 6.9 percent annual rate of return of the United States stock market from the end of World War II to the 2008 meltdown. And yes, these estimates account for the costs of raising taxes and any resulting loss of economic activity.
A similar long-term early childhood study, the Carolina Abecedarian Project, better known as ABC, gave cognitive stimulation, training in self-control and social skills, and parental education starting in the first few months of life. The children were also provided with health checkups and health care. Four groups of individuals born between 1972 and 1977 were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups, and their progress has been monitored so far through studies conducted at ages 12, 15, 21 and 30. This program had lasting effects on I.Q., parenting practices and child attachment, leading to higher educational attainment and more skilled employment among those in the treatment group.
Most dramatic were ABC’s effects on lifelong health. Now, over 30 years later, those treated in ABC have lower blood pressure, lower abdominal obesity, less hypertension and less likelihood of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular conditions as adults. This evidence clearly shows the power of quality early childhood programs for producing flourishing people with healthier lives, which increases productivity and lowers health care costs.
Why aren’t we moving forward and changing our ways by making investments in life-changing early childhood development for disadvantaged children? Two things: unfounded doubt and fear of doing things differently.
Our educational programs don’t start early enough.
Doubters say that high-quality programs like Perry and ABC cannot be replicated and scaled up. However private groups, states and municipalities have used these models to custom-build their own programs, and they are seeing substantial results and cost savings. What’s not working is taking away funding for these programs in the face of budget cuts. Also holding back progress are those who claim that Perry and ABC are experiments with samples too small to accurately predict widespread impact and return on investment. This is a nonsensical argument. Their relatively small sample sizes actually speak for — not against — the strength of their findings. Dramatic differences between treatment and control-group outcomes are usually not found in small sample experiments, yet the differences in Perry and ABC are big and consistent in rigorous analyses of these data.
These unfounded doubts feed our fear of taking new and more effective approaches. American public policy throws money at programs that don’t produce results as good or better than what is obtained from early childhood education.
What doesn’t work? Investing in smaller class sizes is not as effective as making sure each child has the foundational skills to do well inside the classroom, regardless of its size. Because skill begets skill, it’s common sense that adult literacy programs and many job-training programs are too little, too late. It is much more effective and cost efficient to create instead of remediate.
This is not to say that we should abandon all remediation programs; only that our focus on fixing downstream problems should not preclude enlightened upstream solutions.
Fortunately, the public knows that something is wrong and senses that early childhood development might be the solution. A recent public opinion poll commissioned by the First Five Years Fund found that 68 percent of voters think that only half or even fewer children begin kindergarten with the knowledge and skills they need to do their best in school. Eighty-nine percent say it is important to make early education and child care more affordable for working families to give their children a strong start, and a similar number want the federal government to help states build better preschools and make them more accessible to low- and middle-income children.
President Obama has proposed an early childhood initiative that combines family visitation, infant health and development, early learning, quality child care and more effective preschooling at ages 4 and 5. This is an encouraging shift in American policy, one that could significantly reduce inequality if it remained true to the evidence of what works — not to the politics of what is convenient.
Our choice in these difficult economic times is not just whether to spend or cut, but whether to choose knowledge over conventional wisdom. Will we put money in programs that pay off? Quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children are not “entitlements” or bottomless wells of social spending. They foster human flourishing and they improve our economic productivity in the process. There is no trade-off between equity and efficiency, as there is for other social programs. Early investment in the lives of disadvantaged children will help reduce inequality, in both the short and the long run.

James J. Heckman is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a Nobel Laureate in Economics.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What Can Union City Teach America?

/* The specialist after teaching his weekly class to elementary students in a government school in Tianjin, China. The 'plane' was put up by their regular English teacher, who made as much money in a month as I did in 10 hours as a foreign expert. */

I finished distilling Improbable Scholars, by D. Kirp. Its a fine book, and I would suggest it to someone who has not taught in an urban American school. Otherwise, educators, and others familiar with the literature, can read the first and last chapters to understand his thesis. In the last chapter 'What Union City Can Teach America' the author transmits what common principles that are found in the urban school districts that have transformed themselves by increasing student achievement above  average.

I will quote an excerpt:

What do these effective school systems have in common? Core principles.

They put the needs of the students, not the preferences of the staff, at the center of decision making.

They start early by investing in quality preschool.

They rely on a rigorous, consistent, and integrated curriculum.

They make extensive use of data to diagnose problems and pinpoint what's required to solve them.

They build a culture that combines high expectations with respect and a "we can do it" emphasis on the positive.

They value stability and avoid political drama.

They are continuously improving - planning, doing, reviewing -turning a system comprised of schools into a school system. 


These are the core principles not because of random experiment, but because the research literature has proven that these are the strategies that are necessary to improve urban schools.

The author discusses one example of a districts commitment to early education that is reflective of how I would prioritize programs in times with economic restraints . Aldine, Texas "even when its budget was being cut it preserved full-day prekindergarten for four-year-olds because of its proven long-term benefits". This is exactly where Schenectady has been failing for the past few years. We have been cutting early education and preserving programs for older students that can already read. We can learn from the districts Kirp describes in this book, but the thing that they emphasized was early education.

Jerry Weast, Superintendent of the Montgomery County School District north of Washington DC followed a clear course to turn around that district. The first thing he did was expand prekindergarten "it's at the top of my list of priorities".

When I am on the Schenectady School Board I will also prioritize early education.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Investing in Preschool Programs

informational post; follow link for paper; no comment at this time

Investing in Preschool Programs
by: Greg J. Duncan and Katherine Magnuson
Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 27, Number 2—Spring 2013—Pages 109–132

"It appears that an effective strategy is to combine a proven curriculum that
offers well-designed lesson plans and activities, based on an understanding of children’s
trajectories of learning within specififi c content areas, with strong professional
development to target improvement in specififi c instructional practices. Several
random-assignment studies of curricular innovations in early childhood education
programs have shown substantial effects on children’s learning in math and literacy,
and these curricula are currently found in some effective preschool programs. The
What Works Clearinghouse provides up-to-date information on rigorous evaluations
of early childhood education curricula (at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/).

The Boston pre-kindergarten system provides a scaled-up model of how this
might work. System leaders developed a curriculum from proven literacy, math, and
social skills interventions. The academic components focused on concept development,
the use of multiple methods and materials to promote children’s learning,
and a variety of activities to encourage analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving
(Weiland and Yoshikawa forthcoming). Extensive professional development training
and on-going coaching ensured that teachers understood the curriculum and were
able to implement it effectively in their classrooms. A regression- discontinuity evaluation
showed relatively large impacts on vocabulary, math, and reading (effect sizes
ranging from .45 to .62 standard deviations) as well as smaller, but still noteworthy
effects on working memory and inhibitory control (effect sizes ranging from .21 to
.28 standard deviations; Weiland and Yoshikawa forthcoming).


For the economically disadvantaged children in the sample—those with family
income below 180 percent of the poverty line in their fifi rst year of life—participation
in the Infant Health and Development Program (IHDP) produced large impacts
on cognitive development. Specifically, children in the treatment group outscored
their control-group counterparts by .82 standard deviations on the Stanford–Binet
IQ mental subscale by age three .5 For children in higher-income families, the
IHDP’s program impact was much smaller, only .18 standard deviations.

What Can Be Done To Improve Struggling High Schools?

Follow link to new article.

by: Julie Berry Cullen, Steven D. Levitt, Erin Robertson, and Sally Sadoff
Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 27, Number 2—Spring 2013—Pages 133–152

informational post; no comments at this time