Jeremy Manier does a good job covering the debate over early childhood education in an article and sidebar in the Tribune.
The zero-to-3 period is not necessarily a magical and irreplaceable window for teaching children. But studies show that babies raised in poverty get fewer of the early experiences that spur vocabulary growth and good social judgment, making it harder for them to catch up later on.
For example, toddlers whose parents speak more words to them develop bigger vocabularies than children who hear less speech, studies have found. One University of Kansas study concluded that kids from upper-income backgrounds hear 30 million more words by age 3 than those from welfare families.
Early intervention with enrichment programs can narrow that gap, researchers and advocates say.
“The basic science of brain development says you need to start as early as possible for kids in the greatest danger to get the best outcomes,” said Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
That involves more than just listening to adults read stories. At the Educare Center on Chicago’s South Side, which serves infants and toddlers from low-income families, caregivers engage the children in a constant dialogue about their activities—a type of interaction kids cannot get from television or even books.
The staff also talks to parents, often first-time teen mothers, about how to give consistent rewards and punishments, which can foster a child’s emotional development.
“If you can’t regulate your emotions you can’t get anything done,” said Diana Rauner, executive director of the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention Fund, which runs the Educare Center.
One criticism–citing a incompetent fool like Murray is not about balance. He’s a hack who does not understand statistics and entire work is thoroughly refuted. There are plenty of actual social scientists to quote who are rigorous and skeptical of being able to develop a national plan such as the Minneapolis Fed’s Art Rolnick. Murray hasn’t written anything substantial on the issue and doesn’t know anything about the actual programs so his argument is faith based. Rolnick is helping to spearhead a fairly reasonable private-public sector partnership in Minneapolis.
Progress Illinois does a good job and links to summaries of the plans by Obama and Clinton. I have a fair amount of experience analyzing these issues as an evaluator and while I pretty much wanted to hit my head on the wall because of both the crappy job and the intractable nature of the problem, it’s still something I follow fairly closely.
Clinton’s plan is perfect for Hillary Clinton. It is exactly what one would expect in 1996 and not 2008. It is as if she exists in a policy timewarp focusing on big programs organized by the states’ deparment of education.
The problem? State Education officials don’t have much to do with early childhood education and nearly all of the programs are based in Human Services or other area and dividing 4 year olds off from 0-3 instead of dividing 5 years olds continues a really stupid paradigm that was created years ago and as Manier points out, the most good is done the earliest in a child’s life.
Even better, look at the initial Pre-K plan by Clinton and then look down at the 0-5 plan. Who gets the well educated early childhood education teachers? Pre-K. Dandy.
I can see why Clinton would want to deal with this issue this way–it avoids a very messy problem she doesn’t want to address. Largely we don’t have an early childhood education system for poor people in this country–we have marginally safe (sometimes) babysitting by staff who have virtually no training in child development and often lack a GED or HS Diploma.
Why is that? Because welfare reform made it that parents of young children had to get work and so they had to have someplace to drop their kids off as they went to work. Nevermind that most child care is available first shift and much of the work is 2nd, 3rd, or swing shift work. Nevermind that quality child care is largely absent from rural and urban areas. Never mind that most states don’t meet subsidy rates that the federal government has identified as what is needed to provide quality care (Illinois isn’t bad in this measure and actually has been ahead of the curve).
The first Clinton administration largely created a system of rotating uneducated workers who form an unstable workforce because of life challenges related to family care issues and then rotate between menial service jobs that include being a child care worker. Women are often essentially working to watch others kids while they both attempt to work while obtaining virtually no job skills or chance for career development. The fine folks of the Clinton administration brought us a virtually permanent underclass to perform these crappy jobs with little chance for improvement in their lives. Her plan largely continues that problem instead of alleviating it.
Allow qualified low-income parents to receive Child Care and Development Block Grant funding to stay home with their children. Right now, low-income parents can only receive CCDBG funds if they place their children in childcare. This proposal would let low-income parents receive payments to care for their children at home.
Apparently she thinks is a feature even! This only makes sense in the case of home child care providers, but even then, it’s very problematic as it assumes such a person has the ability to do two things that are not natural:
- Run a small business
- Create an environment healthy for child development.
Using CCDBG funds to simply pay for these types of centers and saying states will be able to do a variety of functions avoids the basic problems in the system. Many of the state CCDBG funded programs don’t deal with creating functioning businesses and so the ‘centers’ come and go repeatedly. Something the literature finds troubling for development because changing centers with regularity reduces both staff quality and child development. If you only focus upon the idea of ratings systems and licensing, you’ll never achieve a sustainable system. Furthermore, setting up such a system reinforces the problem.
Obama’s plan takes a very different approach. Instead of reinforcing a failing system, it encourages the states to actually develop a strategic plan that identifies statewide needs and challenges as well as strategies to best address those.
- Increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which has stagnated under the Bush administration, resulting in the loss of services for 150,000 children. Obama would double quality funding within CCDBG, and would encourage states to use their quality set-aside funding to develop strategic plans that better coordinate all birth-to-five services.
The impetus for many of the state programs to provide child care in the 1990s was welfare reform and the plans were largely imposed ad hoc to simply meet the federal requirements of having child care options so people could be required to work.
The advantage of the Obama plan is it allows the states to adapt to their particular needs. Some states have more family taking care of kids and in that case much of the effort may focus upon teaching best practices to the parents and relatives who are caregivers. In other cases, it may well be training providers in small business practices and ensuring quality care. In other cases it might be providing training and scholarships to child care workers that gives them both the tools to handle children correctly and the chance for career advancement.
What both fail to address is the amount of money it will require to create a comprehensive system that delivers quality child care to those who need it. Finally, the fetishization of the quality care rating systems needs to be altered. The problem for parents isn’t that they cannot evaluate the quality of provider–it’s that the parents are desperate for care that fits their schedule and transportation needs. A quality provider that takes 40 minutes extra on the bus isn’t helpful.
Parents are going to choose care that they can afford and get to. It is up to the state to then regulate that care to ensure it’s safe, appropriate, developmentally helpful. That is often not the case for much of state subsidized child care.