February 29, 2016

In a thoughtful piece for The Brookings Institution, Susanna Loeb, Professor of Education at Stanford University, delves into what the research has to say about programs to build parenting skills in parents of disadvantaged young children.

According to Loeb, programs that don't work are those that, "bombard parents with information and expect them to operationalize new, complex behaviors consistently over long periods of time." Indeed, she points out, effective parenting requires many of the skills that make losing weight or saving for the future a challenge for many of us, like self-control and long-term thinking.

What may work better are programs like daily parenting text messages: they "break down the complexity of parenting into small steps that are easy to achieve and provide continuous encouragement." 

Easy-to-achieve parenting wins--where do I sign up?

Two recent articles highlight concerns about Gov. Brown's plan for a new early education block grant.  

A group of education organizations wants to put the brakes on Gov. Brown's current budget proposal to consolidate preschool and transitional kindergarten funding into one $1.6 billion early learning block grant. In a statement, the California State PTA, the California School Boards Association, early education advocates, school districts, preschool providers and unions, say such a significant policy change "requires more than a few months to be fully fleshed out."

KPCC radio reports that Governor Brown's plans to overhaul California's childcare system received mixed reviews from the state's nonpartisan fiscal and policy adviser, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO.)

"We are concerned," the LAO report states, "that allowing income eligibility to be defined locally and basing funding on historical allocations would create inequities among school districts in terms of who is served and how much funding districts have for each child."

Study shows big gap in preschool enrollment by income in Silicon Valley  

A new study of preschool enrollment patterns in Silicon Valley from The Urban Institute uncovered significant differences based on family income.
  • Only 26% of kids from low-income families are enrolled in preschool at age 3, compared with 52% of kids from higher-income families.
  • In Silicon Valley, nearly three-quarters of all low-income children are the children of immigrants, compared with about a third of low-income children nationally. This can create additional barriers to preschool attendance, which the report explores.
The study identified several factors that limit preschool participation by these families, including parental language barriers (with Spanish the most common language spoken at home), concerns stemming from parents' immigration status, and the high cost of care, which can put even publicly funded programs out of reach.

A related study from The Center for Law and Social Policy found that eligible Hispanic or Latino children have sharply lower access to child care block grant funds than eligible children of other races and ethnicities.

Policymakers and researchers are turning their attention to improving kindergarten attendance.

Attendance matters, even in kindergarten

EdSource's Jane Adams reports that in what may be a first for California education, Attorney General Kamala Harris has formed a partnership with the Ad Council to bring Madison Avenue market research to the problem of chronic absenteeism. A contributor to the problem in the early elementary years is that many parents view kindergarten attendance as somewhat... optional.

As we reported in an earlier issue of this newsletter, research has linked chronic absenteeism in kindergarten and 1st grade to difficulty reading in 3rd grade, and students who are not reading at grade level in 3rd grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school. So what are the messages about student attendance that are working with parents?
One way to improve kindergarten attendance: Take the school bus
Students who ride the school bus in kindergarten are absent less often and have lower odds of being chronically absent, a key indicator of future academic success, according to a new study.

Riding the school bus has the most positive effect - a 20 percent increase in kindergarten attendance - in families where the mother doesn't work, the travel time to school is greater than average or the student has not attended preschool.
  A report in the Boston Globe looks at whether Massachusetts' statewide effort to improve the quality of subsidized preschool programs has also improved pay for teachers. According to the author, "The Department of Early Education and Care has succeeded in raising standards to professionalize the field but has not rewarded those expectations." Says one former preschool teacher, "It is a little disappointing that I currently flip burgers part time and make more than I did working full time educating children."

Erin Brownfield, editor

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