Early Education

Pence promises big push for preschool bill

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence focused on education issues in his state of the state speech in January as well as throughout the legislative session.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence rolled out more details of his preschool funding plan today, suggesting the annual price tag when it is fully in place would be about $10.6 million.

Pence, recapping the just-completed first half of the legislative session with reporters, also praised a bill passed this week by the Senate that would void national Common Core standards Indiana adopted in 2010.

In all, Pence said nearly all of the education bills he advocated in support of preschool, charter schools, teacher choice and career and technical education passed the House or Senate. The one education bill from his agenda that did not advance was designed to create an innovation fund to support teachers with creative ideas. Pence’s spokeswoman said he expects that concept to be revived by being amended into another bill later this month.

As part of his preschool push, Pence said he delivered to the leadership of both parties in the House and Senate a 29-page report, which includes four pages of footnotes of studies of preschool effectiveness.

“With regard to across the board, some of the reports of the value of pre-K are ambiguous,” Pence said. “But with regard to disadvantaged kids, and we make this point in the report, numerous studies suggest that for disadvantaged kids quality pre-K education is of a great benefit to children who grow up in difficult circumstances.”

Pence said he is already talking to members of the Senate Education Committee, which he said would take the bill up next week.

That committee is key because last year a very similar preschool pilot program was dismantled when it could not garner enough support there. Committee members at the time expressed concerns about the cost and need for such a program. Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said last month he has not detected any shift in attitudes about creating a new preschool pilot program in 2014.

Pence hopes to change their minds.

“For the sake of our kids and for the sake of education in Indiana and for the sake of our future in Indiana, I think it’s an idea who’s time has come,” Pence said. “I’m very encouraged about the progress we’re making and we’re working to continue carrying that forward.”

The report describes the pilot program as not incurring any costs until 2015. That’s important because it puts of the fiscal impact until the next budget which the legislature will craft in 2015. Sen. Luke Kenley, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and serves on the education committee, has insisted that new spending not be added to the current budget.

The first year cost of about $650,000 will just cover start up in 2015. The first children would enroll in 2016.
On Common Core, Pence said he was pleased that the Senate had passed a bill insisting on self-created academic standards for Indiana.

Pence’s report estimates about 30,000 four-year-olds would be eligible for the program statewide based on the income limits. Because the pilot program will only be in five counties, the report estimates 1,500 children will participate.

“I’m grateful for the efforts in the General Assembly to support our call for standards in Indiana that are written by Hoosiers for Hoosiers and are of the highest magnitude,” he said.

Indiana is currently one of 46 states that have agreed to follow the same standards, which are aimed at assuring high school graduates are ready for college or careers.

In 2013, the legislature approved a bill to “pause” Indiana’s implementation of Common Core to allow time for a review of the standards and a new vote of the Indiana State Board of Education by July 1. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said last month she expected the review process to result in recommendations for changes to at least some of the standards so they would be different than Common Core.

Rejecting Common Core, Pence said, was in line with his longstanding personal belief that education is as state and local function.

“We’ve hit pause button on Common Core,” Pence said. “The state board of education is charged under the statute with reviewing standards and producing Indiana standards. They’re working through that process. The General Assembly’s efforts to reinforce that through legislation is welcome.”

Pence’s legislative priorities

Most of Gov. Mike Pence’s education legislative priorities were passed by either the House or Senate in the first half of the session. One other priority, an innovation fund for teachers, did not advance but his spokeswoman said Pence would seek to have it amended into another bill later this month. Here are the bills that passed:

–Preschool pilot. One of Gov. Mike Pence’s signature legislative initiatives is to institute a preschool pilot program. House Bill 1004 would create a program for about 1,500 low income children to attend preschool in five counties. It passed the House 87-9.

–Charter school funding flexibility. Senate Bill 321 give charter school operators new flexibility to share funds across multiple schools. It passed the Senate 35-13.

–Teacher choice program. Senate Bill 264 makes highly rated teachers who take jobs at D or F rated public or charter schools eligible for extra pay if the legislature approves money for stipends in next year’s budget. It passed the Senate 34-14.

–Career and technical education study. House Bill 1064 creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana. It passed the House 94-0.

Early readers

Tennessee wants to boost third-grade literacy. Here’s why it’s looking to early childhood education as the answer.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks at the University of Memphis about reading and early childhood education.

Calling reading the “equity issue of our time,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday that Tennessee will increase its literacy rates when it improves the quality of its early education programs.

The state has been waging war on illiteracy for years but is zeroing in on pre-K and other early education programs as the best vehicles to get 75 percent its third-graders reading on grade level by 2025. Currently less than half of its students are there.

Beginning this year, the state attached more strings for local districts to receive pre-K funding, tying the amount received to the quality of programming instead of the volume of students.

But McQueen said the state still has a lot to learn about developing young readers, and data is key.

“Before kids get to third grade, we have very little information statewide with whether or not those students are on track,” McQueen said. “We have very little data statewide to know where we should be putting investments.”

The state is seeking to fill that void by working with local leaders to better track its youngest students to determine what’s working best. In Memphis, Porter-Leath is taking the lead in that effort. The nonprofit organization opened a major pre-K center this year to serve as a teacher training hub to bolster the quality of all of the city’s pre-K classrooms.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
From left: Sandra Allen of LeBonheur Center for Children and Parents, Rafel Hart of Porter-Leath, Sharon Griffin of Shelby County Schools, and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

McQueen was part of an early reading panel discussion hosted in Memphis by Tennesseans for Quality Early Education and the PeopleFirst Partnership. The event featured Shelby County Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin, state Rep. Mark White, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam, who has championed literacy during her husband’s administration.

Since launching its Read to be Ready initiative last year, Tennessee has invested $30 million in summer reading camps and another $4.2 million in a coaching network to support teachers with literacy instruction.

The stakes are high because reading is foundational to lifelong learning — and is critical to closing the achievement gap.

“When kids are not reading on grade level by third grade, they are four times less likely graduate high school,” McQueen said. “Kids scoring in the lowest proficiency level on literacy almost never catch up. Guess who is in that bottom level? Students who are African American. Students who are Latino. Students with disabilities. Students who are English language learners.”

(Very) early education

Bank Street heads to East New York to help child care providers play to their strengths

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Sherease Alston sings along with children at her child care center, Little Minds at Work.

One little girl would simply repeat anything that was said to her, rather than answer basic questions like, “How are you?” Another toddler seemed more active than the other children — maybe too active. But Sherease Alston, who has run a child care center from her living room for the past six years, was often met with skepticism when she would share her observations with parents.

The hard part isn’t noticing when a child may have a developmental issue, she explained. It’s getting the child’s parents to recognize it, too.

“It’s hard for parents to see sometimes because they’re in denial,” she said.

A cold call from a leading education school helped change that. With the help of the new Guttman Center for Early Care and Education at the Bank Street College of Education, Alston came up with a strategy to help parents see what she sees. Now, she asks them to log their children’s behavior at home, so those logs can be compared against ones kept by the daycare, Little Minds at Work.

“It was easy to see once it was all documented,” Alston said. “It was an easy tool to use to open that door for our parents.”

New York City is in the midst of a massive push to expand access to early childhood education — and to make sure quality keeps up. Site evaluations and teacher training have been a centerpiece of the city’s free pre-K program, which now serves 70,000 4-year-olds and is expanding to enroll 3-year-olds, too.

The city is slated to bring its pre-K model to children as young as six weeks old, with plans to transfer responsibility for publicly funded childcare programs from the Administration for Children’s Services to the education department. Making that shift will require the city to turn its attention to a vast network of providers like Alston — those who are already working with infants and toddlers in their communities.

That’s where the Guttman Center is focusing its attention. Working with providers on the ground in low-income neighborhoods, the Center wants to help them solve problems and improve their care.

“We really wanted … to have the input of the community, acknowledge the exceptional range of abilities that already exists, and partner with them,” said Director Robin Hancock. “The beauty of having all these perspectives in the classroom is people are constantly hearing from other corners in the field.”

Across the country, early childhood advocates have taken a similar approach, working to meet providers where they are — and build on their strengths. In Colorado, for example, community organizations have trained the aunts, neighbors and other caregivers who form an often invisible network of care. The state has also paid special attention to helping Spanish-speaking providers earn early childhood credentials.

In New York City, the scale of the challenge is huge. ACS currently oversees programs that serve about 20,000 children ages 3 or younger. A recent report by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs found that home-based providers especially struggle with a labyrinth of safety and compliance requirements, understanding what is developmentally appropriate for very young children, and enduring long hours for low pay.

Guttman’s work represents one step in helping child care workers navigate those issues. The first cohort of providers was drawn from East New York — one of two neighborhoods (along with the South Bronx) where the city is launching its pilot for free pre-K for 3-year-olds this fall. The Guttman program was created for even younger children, from infants to 2-year-olds.

Providers meet on Saturdays every other week for a semester, and coursework centers on topics like building partnerships with families and caring relationships with students. Group discussions are paired with on-site coaching.

“The goal really is for them to be able to look at their own practice and to understand what’s working and what is not,” said Margie Brickley, a program director for the Bank Street Graduate School of Education, who helped develop the Guttman curriculum.

Ultimately, the program hopes to create a community of support for providers who often find themselves working in isolation. Already, some have opened up their sites to visits from other providers to observe good practices in action and share ideas.

“The first 36 months of life are critical for cognitive development and we’re building the foundation for learning,” said Johannah Chase, then an associate dean at Bank Street. “It’s part of the reason why we’re putting so much of our energy into child caregivers.”

Kiara Dash, an assistant at Little Minds at Work, reads to Thravis Ealey. (Photo: Christina Veiga)

On a recent morning at Little Minds at Work, five squirmy toddlers and an infant gathered on a rug made of giant foam puzzle pieces. Sunlight streamed in through two windows facing a quiet residential street. The group sang about their feelings and assistant Vanesha Mayers playfully wiggled one boy’s fingers and toes as they counted to 20.

Before joining the Guttman program, Alston said she took a more academic approach to working with the very young children in her care — which often led to frustration for both her and the kids. Guttman helped her refocus her curriculum around play and building relationships.

“That was an eye-opener,” she said. “They helped me understand their needs.”

Brickley said Alston’s struggle is common. Often, providers simply “water down” programs meant for older children even though infants and toddlers have very different needs.

On the other hand, Alston said she is adept at juggling the business and regulatory aspects of her business — something she can help other providers learn.

Hancock, the center’s director, said the program was built to recognize providers’ different abilities and fill gaps as needed. That tailored approach respects the knowledge providers already bring to the table, she said, and helps create a culture of trust.

“We really want to make sure to help providers build confidence that they are experts,” she said. “They know their environments and they know their children best.”

Correction: This post has been updated with the correct spelling of Johannah Chase’s name.