Archive for the ‘Early Learning’ Category

Digging Deeper: The Dangers of Falling Behind Before Kindergarten

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Another year, another urgent message to be found in state-level data about kindergarten readiness. This year marks the second annual release of the Delaware Early Learning Survey (DE-ELS), which measures how well prepared preschoolers are for kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers observe and record their students to determine what they know and can do in areas such as math, language, literacy, and social and emotional development, to a name a few.

 

Much like last year, the 2017 DE-ELS shows that we still have a ton of work to do to ensure preschoolers are ready for the next level. We know that much of a child’s brain develops before they reach kindergarten, making preschool years the most essential time to build a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional intellect. But we don’t always think about how this critical time sets the stage for a child’s academic career and life success. Which is why this data paints a scary picture:

 

Between one-third and half of Delaware preschoolers are not prepared for kindergarten.

 

Most alarmingly, more than half of preschoolers aren’t ready for kindergarten-level math and just about half struggle with cognitive and social and emotional learning.

 

 

A student that struggles in early school years is not likely to be on a positive track later in their academic career. DE-ELS results offer a worrisome preview of what may be in store for students as they move into elementary, middle, and high school.

 

Delaware students’ academic performance data are an indicator of why we need strong investments in early learning.

 

Only half of students in third grade across Delaware are reading and doing math on grade level. As grade levels progress, we see less middle schoolers succeeding in math by eighth grade. Less than 30 percent of our high schoolers are ready for college level math, and only half are reading and writing on grade level in eighth grade.

 

We see the trend continuing as students graduate from high school. More than 40 percent of students graduating in the class of 2015 weren’t ready for college-level English or math, and were required to take remedial courses.

 

A successful academic career starts with robust, high-quality early learning programs.

 

Our earliest learners are being underserved, and it’s showing throughout their academic careers. What can we do about it?

 

  • Join a Delaware Readiness Team. Families, early childhood providers, educators, and community leaders can make a difference and help children from birth to third grade build focused action plans.
  • Advocate for expanding pre-k for four-year-olds. We know that investments in quality early learning benefit children and society. By ensuring at all children have fair access to pre-K programs, we all can reap those benefits.
  • Increase quality across all early learning programs. Support high-quality early childhood programs by raising standards, increasing Stars quality levels, and requiring that programs receiving childcare subsidy reach a minimum level of quality.

 

To see last year’s survey, check out this brief on 2016 DE-ELS Key Findings.

Continuing to Appeal for Early Learning Investments

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As this recent News Journal article summarized, due in part to a budget shortfall, Delaware will not fund tiered reimbursements for new early learning programs entering the Stars quality rating program this fiscal year. The same is true of existing programs that are attempting to move up in Stars rating.

 

Already, we in the early learning community are hearing about programs considering dropping out of Stars. Today there are 35,457 Delaware children in 495 ‘Stars’ programs statewide. Eighty-two percent of Stars programs have undertaken the necessary and difficult work to reach a Star level 3 or higher, with 66 percent of all programs at Star 4 or 5. These programs depend on tiered reimbursement to serve children from low-income families.

 

Financial challenges could lead to the unraveling of Stars, which supports and incentivizes the quality we know produces the best results for children. Most programs cannot shoulder the financial reality of providing service for Purchase of Care children (those who qualify for state subsidy) without tiered reimbursement.

 

[Click here to get a sense for how tiered reimbursement works in Delaware]

 

This means that access to quality options will decline. The stability of working families will be threatened. Programs may close altogether. We need to do more for our youngest citizens and their families.

 

And, we know our young population is growing: three- to four-percent growth of children in families qualifying for Purchase of Care each year means tiered reimbursements need to grow with them.

 

We urge you to support the $5.9 million door-opener that was recommended by the Delaware Department of Education.

 

Remember that even with this level of funding (based on the 2011 market rate), one-third to one-half of kindergartners are arriving unprepared and about half of third graders cannot read on grade level—a predictor of high school graduation.

 

Join us to advocate for continued investment in young children’s learning: Reach out to legislators and the governor encouraging them to support the $5.9 million door-opener to improve long term outcomes for families.

Delaware Still Lagging Behind in State-Supported Pre-K

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According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Delaware ranks 35th among states for pre-K enrollment, with only seven percent (845) of four-year olds enrolled in state-sponsored pre-K.

(To see more on pre-K enrollment across the country, check out NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook.)

Despite Delaware’s laudable progress in early childhood education, the fact remains that we’re below most other states when it comes to state-sponsored pre-K. Why is that figure important? As we’ve noted before, as we continue to align the pre-K and K-12 systems, we need to ensure as many kids as possible are coming to kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed. Right now, Delaware pre-K offerings are scattershot: Some providers are funded through the state, some are private businesses, while others receive a mix of private and public funding. There is little coordination or alignment between various programs.

In other states, government-funded pre-K typically carries higher standards than other childcare options when it comes to academics, staff (BAs for teachers and Child Development Associate degrees for assistants, as recommended by NIEER), and expectations on the students.

A 2002 study showed that children in Delaware participating in state-sponsored pre-K performed at a higher rate than their peers on 3rd and 5th grade state tests. Meanwhile, district-level initiatives like Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E. (Verbally Intensive Literacy and Learning Activities for Growth in Education) in Indian River School District have proven successful at providing comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and quality early childhood programming for economically challenged families in Delaware.

The stark reality is nearly half of Delaware students are entering kindergarten behind the curve, signaling the need to increase access and quality of state-sponsored pre-K—and all early learning environments that support young people from birth.

In Delaware, pre-K for four-year-olds takes many forms:

  • Delaware’s state-funded pre-K for four-year-olds is the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP), which was established in 1994 and has not been expanded since. It currently serves 845 four-year-olds with a program that is three and a half hours a day for nine months a year in district, Headstart, and early childcare settings
  • Headstart (federally funded)
  • District programs (funded by Title I, Purchase of Care, 21st Century funds)
  • Community-based programs (family pay, Purchase of Care)

As Delaware considers expanding and improving pre-K in the years to come, some principles we would suggest:

  • Maintaining and increasing quality, including staff qualifications, meaningful dose and duration, curriculum, and assessment
  • A mixed delivery system (of district and community settings)
  • Alignment with K-12 standards and expectations

In order to consider expanding, we may need to better understand our current performance standards, staff qualification requirements, and funding available—and needed—for these programs.

As we’ve said many times on this blog, investments in quality early learning yield enormous returns, for students, families, and society as a whole. And Delawareans agree that getting our students off to a great start is crucial.

The 2016 Vision Coalition of Delaware Statewide Survey of Public Opinion on Education in Delaware showed that a majority of Delawareans believe in the power of quality early learning.

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