In the United States, nearly 1.3 million children attend publicly-funded preschool. As enrollment continues to grow, states are under pressure to prove these programs serve to increase school readiness. Thus, the task of figuring out how best to measure preschoolers’ learning outcomes has become a major policy focus.
First, it should be noted that researchers are almost unanimous in their caution about this subject. There are inherent difficulties in the accurate assessment of very young children’s learning in the fields of language, cognition, socio-emotional development, and even physical development. Young children’s attention spans tend to be short and there are wide, natural variations in children’s performance in any given domain and on any given day. Thus, great care is advised for both the design and implementation of such assessments (see here, here, and here for examples). The question of if and how to use these student assessments to determine program or staff effectiveness is even more difficult and controversial (for instance, here and here). Nevertheless, many states are already using various forms of assessment to oversee their preschool investments.
It is difficult to react to this (unsurprising) paradox. Sadly, in education, there is often a disconnect between what we know (i.e., research) and what we do (i.e., policy). But, since our general desire for accountability seems to be here to stay, a case can be made that states should, at a minimum, expand what they measure to reflect learning as accurately and broadly as possible.
So, what types of assessments are better for capturing what a four- or a five- year old knows? How might these assessments be improved?
It’s well-known that patterns of occupational sex segregation in the labor market – the degree to which men and women are concentrated in certain occupations – have changed quite a bit over the past few decades, along with the rise of female labor force participation.
Nevertheless, this phenomenon is still a persistent feature of the U.S. labor market (and those in other nations as well). There are many reasons for this, institutional, cultural and historical. But it’s interesting to take a quick look at a few specific groups, as there are implications in our current policy environment.
The simple graph below presents the proportion of all working men and women that fall into three different occupational groups. The data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they apply to 2011.
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.**
Our guest author today is Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, President of the IBM Foundation, and a member of the Shanker Institute's board of directors.
This is a difficult year for city and state leaders. They are struggling mightily with how to cope with both declining revenues and escalating costs, resulting in painful short term decisions about what to cut, how to cut, and ways in which basic or vital services can be maintained. Sadly, we have heard far too little these days about where to invest and how to invest in order to produce longer term benefit and mitigate longer term costs.
As people focus on education, it has been common wisdom that business leaders and those concerned with the bottom line have an interest in education too, but that interest is focused solely on STEM, or Science Technology, Engineering and Math. And that focus is placed on the later grades such as middle and high schools. It is undeniable that STEM is important, especially if we are to nurture the next generation of innovators. To do so, we must invest more creatively to improve teacher quality and student outcomes. But we can not address these challenges by limiting our focus to secondary education. While career pathways are great motivators for teenagers and young adults, we simply can not wait until high school - or even middle school - to prepare students and capture their imaginations. We must start earlier, much earlier. In that effort, early childhood education is vitally important.
A diverse group of influential education and other leaders today announced support for clear curricular guidance to complement the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by most states.
Today’s statement released by the nonpartisan Albert Shanker Institute and signed by dozens of educators, advocates, policymakers, researchers and scholars from across the educational and political spectrum, highlights one largely ignored factor needed to enable American students to achieve to high levels and become internationally competitive—the creation of voluntary model curricula that can be taught in the nation’s classrooms.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, urged broad support and dissemination for the statement, "A Call for Common Content". “We are arguing for the tools and materials that teachers need," she said. “With rich, sequential common curricula, amplified by state and local content—and with teacher preparation, classroom materials, student assessments, teacher development, and teacher evaluation all aimed at the mastery of that content—we can finally build the kind of coherent system that supports the achievement of all learners; the kind of system enjoyed by the world’s highest performing nations."
The release of “A Call for Common Content” comes at a special time. After decades of debate, the nation is finally on its way to having common, voluntary standards in mathematics and English language arts. Although this recent state-led effort is an important and positive first step, notes the statement, it is not sufficient to achieve a well-functioning education system that offers both excellence and opportunity.
Each dollar spent on a high-quality early childhood program in the Chicago Public Schools yields $4 to $11 in benefits to the economy, according to a new cost-benefit analysis. (Full disclosure: Barbara Bowman, Chicago
When it comes to closing the academic achievement gap between students from lower- and higher-income families, we share the fate of Greek mythological figure Sisyphus, who was sentenced to spend eternity pushing a giant rock uphill, watching it roll back down, and then repeating the task.
The gap in school performance comes “pre-installed," as it were, beginning well before children ever step foot in the classroom. By the time they enter kindergarten, poor children are already at a huge disadvantage relative to their counterparts from high-income families. By the time they take their first standardized test, the differences in vocabulary, background knowledge, and non-cognitive skills are so large that most poor children will never overcome them – no matter what school they attend, which teachers they are assigned to, or how these teachers are evaluated. And, like Sisyphus, whatever gap-closing progress we may make with each cohort of struggling students after they enter school, we must start all over again with the next.
What can be done? Stop putting out fires and prevent them – address the achievement gap before it widens.