Inequality, Non-cognitive Skills, and Character Strengths

Thomas Edsall is an opinion columnist for the New York Times who often writes about the intersection of inequality and politics. His articles typically synthesize research findings and the perspectives of experts, whose commentary he frequently quotes. His latest piece, “What Does It Take to Climb Up the Ladder?” discusses the important role of non-cognitive skills and character strengths in social mobility.

Edsall draws on the work on numerous researchers to show the links between income, maternal education, and family stability, on the one hand, and non-cognitive skills on the other. As he concludes,

“The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation.”

Edsall highlights Paul Tough’s work on the importance of environments in which children feel a sense of belonging and growth and experience relatedness and competence. He challenges policymakers, and Democrats in particular, to find ways to support family stability and “capitalize on the ample supply of character strengths evident among America’s poor.”

New York Times: “What Does It Take to Climb Up the Ladder?

Combining quality child care with preschool promotes social mobility across generations

Economist James Heckman and businessman J.B. Pritzker writing in The Hill:

“The push for high-quality universal pre-K for four-year-olds, now embraced by a growing number of political and thought leaders, is strangely isolated from the movement supporting child care for working mothers. Focusing solely on four-year-old children may make for good politics, but by itself it falls short. Good policy takes into account the science of early childhood brain development, the needs of working mothers with younger children, and provides disadvantaged infants and toddlers with the high-quality child care that has been proven to promote success in school and later on in life.”

Find the article here: https://go.edc.org/ug1v

Why DeVos Should Embrace Early Childhood Education (Brookings)

See this strong statement with a helpful review of the evidence from the Brookings Institution.

“As Betsy DeVos ascends to the role of secretary of education amidst partisan rancor, she would do well to embrace early childhood education, an issue offering an oasis of bipartisan support. Ninety percent of voters, regardless of party affiliation, endorse quality early childhood education with expanded access and affordability for children from low- and middle-income backgrounds, according to a 2016 national poll by the First Five Years Fund. Early childhood education is a strong investment in our nation’s future, as cost-benefit estimates report societal savings of up to $13 for every dollar spent on quality early childhood programs. But how can we convince policymakers to increase investment in early care and education and improve life outcomes for at-risk children?

The scientific evidence offers clear direction about what works for long-term payoffs in school readiness and life beyond the classroom. Three areas are pivotal to achieving that end:  (i) early access to programs that serve children age 0-3; (ii) working with parents (direct practice of skills and intensive home visiting); and (iii) high quality programs entailing teacher-child interactions that promote higher-order thinking skills, low teacher to child ratios, and ongoing job-embedded professional development.

See the article here: https://go.edc.org/kbkq

 

New Case Studies: PreK-3rd Alignment

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a set of case studies of PreK-3rd Alignment and Differentiated Instruction. The case studies are of the Boston Public Schools, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, Early Works, FirstSchool, and the SEAL program.

The alignment efforts in these programs all emphasize developmentally-appropriate instruction and focus on building students’ vocabulary, oral language skills, and social-emotional skills. All of the programs organize their teachers in professional learning communities and support them with coaches. In addition to the findings across the five programs, the case studies at the end provide helpful detail about each model.

The New America Foundation’s Aaron Lowenberg provides a nice overview here.

Roundtable Discussion: Why Does Investing in Young Children Matter?

EDC recently published a short Round Table discussion on early childhood. Topics include the role of pediatricians in supporting social-emotional development, early childhood education in developing countries, and new research by James Heckman. I close out the Round Table with a discussion of community partnerships.

https://go.edc.org/q4ys

A Bright Year for Early Childhood Education (U.S. News)

Sara Mead’s take on some of 2016’s positive developments includes a number of interesting links to new programs and research. She sets up this article from U.S. News and World Report saying,

“But there are also lots of good things happening in our world today. And one reason I’m glad to work in early childhood education is that it kept reminding me of that this year. It’s not just that the kids are cute, or that their incredibly capacity for joy and learning fill me with wonder on an ongoing basis.

To be sure, working in early childhood is still very frustrating: Sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming. There are still too few resources; early childhood workers are paid much too little; too many children remain in childcare settings that are really not good places for them; and as a society we’re still squandering tremendous opportunities to help all of our littlest learners meet their full potential.

Yet, I also see evidence that things are getting better. It’s happening in lots of small ways we barely notice – and also in some big ones. And while they may not always be sexy or dramatic, these small steps are often the way big changes ultimately occur, and offer a path to lasting changes that really improve outcomes for kids and families.”

See the full article here.

How Social Isolation Is Killing Us

From the New York Times: “Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.”

For articles on how P-3 efforts can support positive social connections, see Mario Small’s, The Ties That Bind: How Childcare Centers Build Social Capital, this post on community networks in Washington State, and principle 4 of the P-3 Theory of Action. More to come.

NYT: “How Social Isolation is Killing Us