Supporting Early Learning in America: Policies for a New Decade

Bornfreund, L., Franchino, E., Garcia, A., et al, Supporting Early Learning in America: Policies for a New Decade (February 2020). Washingtron, DC: New America Foundation.

Over the last decade, there has been increased attention on early education, but real progress for children and families has remained out of reach. We want America’s children to become lifelong learners who are able to think critically and inventively, manage their emotions and impulses, and make smart decisions by drawing upon a rich knowledge base about how the world works. To make this goal a reality for all children, New America makes eight recommendations, suggests specific actions, and pinpoints which actors — federal, state, and local policymakers, as well as educators and administrators — should help move the work forward.

Big Ideas, Little Learners: Early Childhood Trends Report 2019

Big Ideas, Little Learners: Early Childhood Trends Report 2019 (January 2019). Redwood City, CA: Omidyar Network.

How do we close the gap between the growing demand from a new generation of parents, educators, and policymakers who recognize the importance of early childhood education and the relative scarcity of scalable solutions that would allow each and every young child to thrive? This report showcases the megatrends driving new demand and supply in early childhood education. In addition increasing public funding for evidence-based solutions, such as quality pre-K programs, Early Head Start and home visitation programs, and increase the compensation and stature of the early childhood workforce, this report states that we need to attract entrepreneurial and leadership talent to the early childhood field along with innovation-focused capital to ultimately increase the supply of quality solutions.

STEM Starts Early: Grounding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in Early Childhood

McClure, E. R., Guernsey, L., Clements, D. H., Bales, S. N., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M. H. (2017). STEM starts early: Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Tomorrow’s inventors and scientists are today’s curious young children — as long as those children are given ample chances to explore and are guided by adults equipped to support them. This report aims to better understand the challenges to and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning as documented in a review of early childhood education research, policy, and practice and encourages collaboration between pivotal sectors to implement and sustain needed changes. The report provides key recommendations for education leaders, researchers, and policymakers across the country to improve opportunities for children to become confident learners in science, technology, engineering and math.

Unlocking ESSA's Potential to Support Early Learning

Bornfreund, L., Dichter, H., Calderon, M., and Garcia, A. Unlocking ESSA's Potential to Support Early Learning (March 2017). Boston, MA: BUILD Initiative and Washington, D.C: New America.

The authors offer an introduction to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA), exploring major provisions that have implications for our nation’s youngest learners — to enable the early childhood community to better understand how ESSA can be a resource. The new law both strengthens and expands allowable uses for early learning, birth through third grade. As with the previous version, it remains up to state and local authorities to decide whether to invest. This paper looks at key opportunities for state and local leaders in: Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged; Title II: Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Educators; Title III: Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students; and Title IX: Preschool Development Grants.

Education inequalities at the school starting gate

Emma García and Elain Weiss. Education inequalities at the school starting gate: Gaps, trends, and strategies to address them. September 2017. Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute.

Extensive research has conclusively demonstrated that children’s social class is one of the most significant predictors — if not the single most significant predictor — of their educational success. Moreover, it is increasingly apparent that performance gaps by social class take root in the earliest years of children’s lives and fail to narrow in the years that follow. That is, children who start behind stay behind — they are rarely able to make up the lost ground. The positive news is that the gaps have not grown, even as economic inequalities between these two groups of students have grown. The negative news is that the gaps have not narrowed, despite the fact that low-SES parents have substantially increased their engagement in their children’s early education.

Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform

International Literacy Association (2016) Frameworks for Literacy Education Reform [White paper]. Newark, DE

The central tenet of the white paper is that classroom literacy instruction should be grounded in rigorous, peer-reviewed research — not politics, ideology, or speculation. Rather than settling on a specific reform strategy, the white paper offers frameworks for use in drafting or evaluating reform proposals. The frameworks address four key education sectors: literacy learning and teachers; schools and schooling; student support; and families and communities. For each sector, the white paper offers a list of research-validated approaches to literacy advancement, which is designed to function as a rubric to inform, refine, and assess reform proposals. In addition, each framework includes a detailed list of supporting sources to facilitate exploration into the underlying research base.

Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader

Hansel, L., Pondiscio, R. (May 2016) Job One: Build Knowledge. ESSA Creates an Opportunity— and an Obligation — to Help Every Child Become a Strong Reader. Knowledge Matters, Issue Brief #4.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), policymakers have the flexibility to incentivize districts and schools to make long-term investments in building students’ knowledge and vocabulary. This brief offers seven flexible, adaptable recommendations that will lead to better reading comprehension. With ESSA, states have the flexibility to rethink how reading test results are used, and to support schools in developing children with both strong word-reading skills (e.g., decoding) and a substantial foundation of academic knowledge and vocabulary. Given the large knowledge and vocabulary gaps that already exist when children enter school, systematically building skills, knowledge, and vocabulary throughout the elementary grades is our best hope for closing the reading achievement gap.

The Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Lessons from the States

Wechsler, M., Kirp, D., Tinubu Ali, T., Gardner, M., Maier, A., Melnick, H., & Shields, P. (2016). The road to high-quality early learning: Lessons from the states. Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute.

This report describes and analyzes how four states — Michigan, West Virginia, Washington and North Carolina — have built high-quality early education systems. These states share a common commitment to advancing foundational elements of a quality preschool education and have relied on common overarching strategies. Their experiences provide important insights into how best to leverage resources and develop policies and practices to improve and expand early learning opportunities. Key lessons include: prioritize quality and continuous improvement; invest in training and coaching; coordinate the administration of birth-through-grade-3 programs; combine multiple funding sources to increase access and improve quality; and create broad-based coalitions and support.

The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA

Haynes, M. (August 2015). The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA. Alliance for Excellent Education, Washington, D.C.

Noting that 60 percent of both fourth and eighth graders currently struggle with reading, this report urges the U.S. Congress to focus on students’ literacy development from early childhood through grade twelve as it works to rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As part of a solution, the report highlights proposed federal legislation, the Literacy Education for All, Results for a Nation (LEARN) Act, which would encourage schools and educators to use research-based strategies to teach reading and writing within subject areas and across grade levels. In addition to its legislative recommendations, the report examines why students struggle to read and measures the success of other federal efforts to improve literacy, including Reading First and the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program.

Mapping the Early Attendance Gap

Chang, H., Jordan, P., Davis, R., Bishop, M., and Mays, A. (September 2015). Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for School Success. Attendance Works (San Francisco, CA) and Healthy Schools Campaign (Chicago, IL).

This report shows how disparities in school attendance rates starting as early as preschool and kindergarten are contributing to achievement gaps and high school dropout rates across the country. The report also highlights connection between health and attendance and the power of states to tackle absenteeism by tapping key champions, leveraging data, and learning from places that have improved attendance despite challenging conditions.

Building Strong Readers in Minnesota

Lieberman, A., Bornfreund, L. Building Strong Readers in Minnesota: PreK-3rd Grade Policies That Support Children's Literacy Development (September 2015). New America Foundation: Washington, D.C.

An examination of state policies and local initiatives in Minnesota that aim to improve literacy outcomes for all students by shaping their learning trajectories from a young age. Intentional alignment of education systems from pre-K and into the early grades of elementary school — a ‘PreK–3rd grade’ framework — can help narrow opportunity and achievement gaps. In this report, the researchers explore how Minnesota’s early learning policies are helping or hindering the ability of school districts, schools, and teachers to ensure that all children are on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade.

From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth-3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers

Bornfreund, L., Cook, S., Lieberman, A., and Loewenberg, A. (November 2015) From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth-3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers. Washington, D.C.: New America Foundation.

This comprehensive report ranks states on 65 policy indicators in seven policy areas that promote strong literacy skills by the end of third grade. States are grouped into one of three categories that indicate the relative strength of their policies and programs across all seven policy areas combined and within each individual policy area. The report evaluates states’ third grade reading laws on eight criteria related to assessment, intervention, communication with parents, and retention. At the time of this report, only six states stand out due to their promising third grade reading laws: New York, Virginia, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Colorado.

The Multiple Roles of School-Based Specialized Literacy Professionals

 International Literacy Association. (2015) The Multiple Roles of School-Based Specialized Literacy Professionals (Research Brief). Newark, DE:  International Literacy Association.

This research brief identifies three distinct roles for school-based specialized literacy professionals: reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators/supervisors. While responsibilities often overlap across these roles, there are specific distinctions in terms of the primary emphasis and professional qualifications required to be effective in each role. The brief provides school administrators with guidance on how to define the role of each specialty and to clarify what type of literacy professional their schools may need to hire. The descriptions aim to help those hiring literacy professionals to better understand what skill set is required and which qualifications to look for in the hiring process. Further, the new definitions will support college and university teaching programs in developing curricula to better prepare teachers for these specific literacy positions.

Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession

Guernsey, L., Bornfreund, L., MccCann, C., and Williams, C. Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession, New American Foundation, January 21, 2014.

Starting with 2009 as our baseline, the authors examined objective indicators across the birth-through-eight age span that pertain to student achievement, family well-being, and funding. We also provide subjective but research-based assessments of policies for improving teaching and learning and the creation of more cohesive systems. The aim is to provide a clearer picture of where America stands today by highlighting what is improving, in stasis, in flux, imperiled, or ignored. While bright spots are visible in some states, funding has fluctuated wildly, millions of children still lack access to quality programs, the K–3 grades have received little attention, and achievement gaps in reading and math have widened between family income levels. Meanwhile, child poverty rates have shot up.

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States (2014) The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and to be economically successful in adulthood. This KIDS COUNT data snapshot finds 80 percent of fourth-graders from low-income families and 66 percent of all fourth-graders are not reading at grade level. While improvements have been made in the past decade, reading proficiency levels remain low. Given the critical nature of reading to children’s individual achievement and the nation’s future economic success, the Casey Foundation offers recommendations for communities and policymakers to support early reading. Early reading proficiency rates for the nation and each state are provided.

Beyond "Subprime Learning": Accelerating Progress in Early Education

Laura Bornfreund, Clare McCann, Conor Williams, and Lisa Guernsey (July 2015). Beyond "Subprime Learning": Accelerating Progress in Early Education. Washington, D.C.: New America Foundation.

This report urges education policymakers to put more focus on teaching and learning in the early years and continue that work up through third grade. States and the federal government must do more to foster real teaching and learning, which means structuring policies to put a priority on promoting language-rich interactions between children and adults. The authors also proposes new policies related to Head Start, dual-language learners, elementary school principals, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

Don’t DYS Our Kids: Dyslexia and the Quest for Grade-Level Reading Proficiency

Fiester, L. (2012). Don't DYS Our Kids: Dyslexia and the Quest for Grade-Level Reading Proficiency. Commissioned by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation in partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

About 2.4 million children across the nation have been diagnosed with learning disabilities — but how successful is the U.S. education system in teaching these students to read? This new report provides a far-reaching overview of the history and progress in understanding and meeting the needs of children with dyslexia, as well as the persisting challenges that must be overcome, to ensure that all students can read proficiently by the third grade. The report also highlights best practices and examples of solutions that are already working in communities. Based on interviews with nearly 30 experts, the report includes a collection of recommended actions for advancing this movement. See Executive Summary.

Negotiating The Special Education Maze: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Hayden, D., Takemoto, C., Anderson, W., Chitwood, S. Negotiating The Special Education Maze: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (2008). Woodbine House.
For more than 25 years, this classic guide has taken parents, guardians, educational advocates, and special educators step-by-step through the special education process. The book covers all the crucial components parents and advocates need to consider from anticipating a child is not succeeding in a program or school to seeking an evaluation; from planning an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), to understanding classroom placement options and monitoring progress.

Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind

Wright, P.W.D., Wright, P.D., Heath, S.W. Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (2003). Harbor House Law Press.

The No Child Left Behind Act is confusing to parents, educators, administrators, advocates, and most attorneys. In this comprehensive book, you'll find the full text of the No Child Left Behind Act with analysis, interpretation and commentary, advocacy strategies, tips, and sample letters.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." — Frederick Douglass