Talk, Talk, Talk

Our guest author today is Douglas Yeager, President of the Nancy M. and Douglas M. Yeager Family Foundation, a non-profit established in 2001 focused on programs delivering or supporting childhood development. This focus is based on Nancy Yeager's lifelong interest in and commitment to early childhood education. Her love of teaching inspired her family to establish the Foundation.

Talk, talk, talk – odd as that may sound, a growing body of compelling research shows this to be a very effective strategy to reduce early language gaps among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. And, fortunately, it doesn’t cost a cent.

If caring parents want their child to be ready for school (and for life after school), they should talk with that child at every opportunity. And, of course, it is also fundamental to listen and to respond appropriately. Conversations, after all, are two-way.

That said, parents need to be the ones initiating the practice, persisting in it, and never giving up. It means so very much to children, and it pays off big-time. As my colleagues at the Shanker Institute like to say: “You don’t need a lot of money to give your child a head start; conversations and ideas cost nothing."

More Effective, Less Expensive, Still Controversial: Maximizing Vocabulary Growth In Early Childhood

Our guest author today is Lisa Hansel, communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator, the magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers.

With all the chatter in 2013 (thanks in part to President Obama) about expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, I have high hopes for America’s children finally getting the strong foundation of knowledge and vocabulary they need to do well in—and enjoy—school.

When children arrive in kindergarten with a broad vocabulary and a love of books, both of which come from being engaged in conversations with caregivers daily and being read to frequently, they are well prepared for learning to read and write. Just as important, their language comprehension makes learning through teacher read-alouds and conversations relatively easy. The narrower the children’s vocabulary and the fewer experiences they’ve had with books, the tougher the climb to come. Sadly, far too many children don’t make the climb; they mentally dropout in middle school, and are physically adrift soon thereafter.

How Much Do You Know About Early Oral Language Development?

The following was written by Susan B. Neuman and Esther Quintero. Neuman is Professor of Early Childhood & Literacy Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, & Human Development at New York University.

The topic of oral vocabulary instruction is affected by common myths, which have sometimes gotten in the way of promoting high quality teaching early on. While these myths often contain partial truths, recent evidence has called into question many of these notions.

We've prepared this short quiz  for you -- take it and find out how much you know about this important issue. Read through the following statements and decide if they are myths that have been perpetuated about oral vocabulary development or if they are facts (or key principles) about the characteristics of high quality vocabulary instruction. Download Dispelling Myths and Reinforcing Facts About Early Oral Language Development and Instruction if you prefer to go straight to the answers.

Can Knowledge Level The Learning Field For Children?

** Reprinted here in the Core Knowledge Blog

How much do preschoolers from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds know about the world and why does that matter? One recent study by Tanya Kaefer (Lakehead University) Susan B. Neuman (New York University) and Ashley M. Pinkham (University of Michigan) provides some answers.

The researchers randomly selected children from preschool classrooms in two sites, one serving kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, the other serving middle-class kids. They then set about to answer three questions:

Words Reflect Knowledge

I was fascinated when I started to read about the work of Betty Hart and Todd Risley and the early language differences between children growing up in different socioeconomic circumstances. But it took me a while to realize that we care about words primarily because of what words indicate about knowledge. This is important because it means that we must focus on teaching children about a wide range of interesting “stuff” – not just vocabulary for vocabulary’s sake. So, if words are the tip of the iceberg, what lies underneath? This metaphor inspired me to create the short animation below. Check it out!

The Word Gap

** Reprinted here in the Washington Post

It is now well established that children’s oral language development is crucial to their academic success, with the documentation of profound differences in word learning and the acquisition of content knowledge between children living in poverty and those from more economically advantaged homes. By the time they enter school, children from advantaged backgrounds may know as many as 15,000 more words than their less affluent peers. This early language gap sets children up to be at risk for other all too familiar gaps, such as the gaps in high school graduation, arrest and incarceration, post-secondary education, and lifetime earnings. So, what can we do to prevent this “early catastrophe”?

If a child suffers from malnutrition, simply giving him/her more food might not be sufficient to alleviate the problem. A better approach would be to figure out which specific foods and supplements best provide the vitamins and nutrients that are needed, and then deliver these to the child. Recent press coverage on the “word gap," spurred by initiatives such as Too Small to Fail and Thirty Million Words, suffers from a similar failing.

Don’t get me wrong, the initiatives themselves are hugely important and have done a truly commendable job of focusing public attention on a chronic and chronically overlooked problem. It’s just that the messages that have, thus far, made their way forward are predominantly about quantity – i.e., exposing children to more words and more talk – paying comparatively less attention to qualitative aspects, such as the nature and especially the content of adult-child interactions.

Investing In Children = Supporting Their Families

Although some parents are better positioned than others to meet their families’ child care needs, very few parents are immune to the challenges of balancing work and family. Adding further stress to families is the fact that single-parent households are at a record high in the U.S., with more than 40 percent of births happening outside of marriage. Paid parental leave and quality early childhood education (ECE) are two important policies that can assist parents in this regard. In the United States, however, both are less comprehensive and less equally distributed than in most other developed nations.

As a recent (and excellent) Forbes piece points out, we have two alternatives: hope that difficult family circumstances reverse themselves, or support policies such as paid parental leave and universal early childhood education and care — policies which would make it much easier for all parents to raise children, be it as a couple or on their own. So, what’s it going to be?

In 2010, a global survey on paid leave and other workplace benefits directed by Dr. Jody Heymann (McGill University) and Dr. Alison Earle (Northeastern University) found that the U.S. is one of four* countries in the world without a national law guaranteeing paid leave for parents.** The other three nations are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. Some might see this as evidence of American “exceptionalism," but what a 2011 Human Rights Watch report finds exceptional is the degree to which the nation is "Failing Its Families." In fact, according to a survey of registered voters cited in the report, 76 percent of Americans said they would endorse laws that provide paid leave for family care and childbirth. Yet, it is still the case in the U.S. that parental leave, when available at all, is usually brief and unpaid.

The Education Reform Movement: Reset Or Redo?

June 12, 2012

Our guest author today is Dr. Clifford B. Janey, former superintendent for the Newark Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Schools, and Rochester City School District. He is currently a Senior Weismann Fellow at the Bankstreet College of Education in New York City, and a Shanker Institute board member.

For too many students, families, and communities, the high school diploma represents either a dream deferred or a broken contract between citizens and the stewards of America's modern democracy. With the reform movement’s unrelenting focus on testing and its win/lose consequences for students and staff, the high school diploma, which should signify college and work readiness, has lost its value.

Not including the over seven thousand students who drop out of high school daily, the gap between the percentage of those who graduate and their readiness for college success will continue to worsen the social and income inequalities in life. Recent studies report that America has the highest number of people (46.2 million) living in poverty since data collection began in 1959. While poverty and its conditions have been unforgiving, policy makers and education reformers have largely ignored this reality. Rebuttals to this argument are interesting, but, without fundamental change, the predictable growth within the ranks of poverty will continue.

A framework within which solutions will thrive requires a redo of the national reform focus, not merely a reset of existing efforts—including teacher evaluation systems, closing low performing schools (and opening up new ones that are at best marginally better), and increasing the opportunity for mayoral control (which still commands attention but with little assurance of transparency).

Why Stop In Early Childhood? Two-Generation Strategies To Improve Educational Outcomes

In education research, it is now widely accepted that ages 0 to 5 are crucial years for child development. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that children perform better behaviorally and academically in families with stable employment and rising incomes, families with stable employment and those where parents themselves are improving their own educational levels.

Although it’s clear that increasing parents’ human capital protects and enhances the investments made in their children, "few programs have addressed the postsecondary education and training needs of low-income parents" (p. 2) through comprehensive, family-(child- and parent-) centered strategies.*

I learned about some remarkable exceptions at a recent New America Foundation discussion on innovations in child care and early learning. Four providers from around the country were asked to describe their programs, all largely focused on helping parents achieve the kind of economic stability needed to support their children’s educational attainment.**

Getting Ready For The Common Core

Our guest author today, Susan B. Neuman, is a professor in Educational Studies at the University of Michigan specializing in early literacy development and a former U.S. Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education. She and her colleagues at the University of Michigan have also partnered with the Albert Shanker Institute in sponsoring a summer institute for early childhood educators, focusing specifically on oral language development and the ways it can support and help build strong content knowledge. For more information, see here.

States are now working intently on developing plans that will make new, common standards a reality. A recent report from Education First and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center concludes that that all but one of the 47 states adopting the Common Core State Standards is now in the implementation phase. Seven states have fully upgraded professional development, curriculum materials, and evaluation systems in preparation for the 2014-2015 school year.

Nary a word has been spoken about how to prepare teachers to implement common standards appropriately in the early childhood years. Although the emphasis on content-rich instruction in ways that builds knowledge is an important one, standards groups have virtually ignored the early years when these critical skills first begin to develop.

Young children are eager to learn about the sciences, arts, and the world around them. And, as many early childhood teachers recognize, we need to provide content-rich instruction that is both developmentally appropriate and highly engaging to support students' learning.