“The launch of Pre-K for All led to improved health outcomes for low-income children. That’s according to researchers at New York University who analyzed Medicaid data for New York City children who were eligible to enroll in free pre-K versus those who just missed the cutoff because of their age.
In a report released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, using data from 2013 through 2016, researchers found that the children eligible for pre-K were more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with asthma or vision problems after the rollout of Pre-K for All. They were also more likely to have received immunizations or be screened for infectious diseases, both of which are requirements for enrolling in the city’s program.
Proper medical screening could have implications beyond physical well-being, the researchers suggest. Diagnosing and treating chronic health problems earlier could help students ‘cope with challenges, feel less frustrated or overwhelmed in the classroom, and communicate with peers and educators more effectively,’ the study found.”
This post updates a theory of action and 7 associated principles that I first posted last year. I’ve revised a few of the principles, and the principles line up with the graphics much more clearly now. I also draw attention to three distinctive features of the theory of action. According to the blogging platform Medium, this post is a 12-minute read. See this page for an overview of the core ideas. Many thanks to friends and colleagues for all the helpful feedback. ¹
Over the last 10 years, research, policy, and expert opinion have converged on the idea that addressing achievement gaps requires a comprehensive focus on the first 8-9 years of life, beginning with prenatal care and continuing with high-quality supports through third grade (P-3). The goal of this work is to improve the teaching and learning of cognitive and academic skills while deepening supports for physical and mental health, social-emotional learning, and family partnerships.
Community partnerships of elementary schools, community-based preschools, and other organizations serving young children and their families have great potential for achieving this goal and addressing achievement gaps. When these organizations take concerted action around a common set of goals and strategies, they are among the most effective and powerful ways of improving educational outcomes for lower income children.
Quality Within, Continuity Across
In order for early childhood education and early elementary school to be most effective, communities need to address two obstacles. The quality of both early childhood and early elementary education is highly inconsistent, and the mixed delivery system is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation. Addressing these twin obstacles–inconsistent quality within organizations and fragmentation across organizations–requires a collective response on the part of communities, efforts that require state and federal support as well.
Communities need to raise the quality of education and care in the various community-based organizations and public elementary schools that serve young children and their families in their locale; they also need to create meaningful linkages that align and coordinate the work of these organizations. Developing this capacity requires partnerships of schools, community organizations and families focused on quality and continuity–what I call P-3 Community Partnerships.
I’m pleased to announce that EDC has received a grant from the California-based Heising-Simons Foundation. The grant is funding a study of place-based approaches to improving early learning outcomes for young children. I will work with my colleague, Kyle DeMeo Cook, to investigate three types of community partnerships for early education:
Cradle-to-Career partnerships that bring together community leaders and community organizations around a common vision and common benchmarks,
Community approaches to wrap-around services for preschools and schools, and
P-3 Partnerships that support prenatal through third grade alignment
Cradle-to-career, wrap-around, and P-3 partnerships are all part of a new wave of educational collaboration for education. They each have a place-based dimension in that they attempt to concentrate their impact within defined geographic areas, and the early years figure prominently in all three. Yet they have developed as three distinct reforms, each with its own principles, priorities, and learned experience. Typically these partnerships have been implemented separately from each other. The new study will investigate how leading edge communities across the country are drawing from the three partnership models as they design integrated approaches to best serve young children and their families. The aim of the study is to inform—through recommendations, guidance documents and presentations—the work of communities interested in implementing effective community partnerships for early education.
This research study is part of a broader project to develop the P-3 Theory of Action, the associated 7 principles, and related practical implementation guidance. See in particular Principle 4 on integrating vertical and horizontal alignment strategies and Principle 5 on strengthening neighborhoods and communities by linking P-3 with cradle-to-career initiatives.
David Kirp’s recent New York Timesop-ed on community schools in Tulsa is getting a lot of attention. Kirp is also the author of Improbable Scholars, which tells the story of how Union City, NJ has achieved remarkable educational results, including its well-known P-3 work.
Here are a few select quotations from the NYT article on Tulsa:
“The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.”
“The truth is that school systems improve not through flash and dazzle but by linking talented teachers, a challenging curriculum and engaged students. This is Union’s not-so-secret sauce: Start out with an academically solid foundation, then look for ways to keep getting better.”
“Union’s model begins with high-quality prekindergarten, which enrolls almost 80 percent of the 4-year-olds in the district. And it ends at the high school, which combines a collegiate atmosphere — lecture halls, student lounges and a cafeteria with nine food stations that dish up meals like fish tacos and pasta puttanesca — with the one-on-one attention that characterizes the district.”
“Under the radar, from Union City, N.J., and Montgomery County, Md., to Long Beach and Gardena, Calif., school systems with sizable numbers of students from poor families are doing great work. These ordinary districts took the time they needed to lay the groundwork for extraordinary results.”
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.”
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.”
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.”