Early Childhood Edu Reading

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation authorizing family childcare providers who receive state subsidies to bargain collectively. The legislation would also allow providers to negotiate collectively with health insurance companies for lower cost coverage, and could affect up to 40,000 family childcare providers in the state. More background here.

The Administration for Children and Families is seeking public input on strategies to improve access to quality, affordable childcare in the United States.

Early childhood programs are more segregated by race/ethnicity than public elementary schools.

It’s in the 90’s today in D.C. but they tell me fall is coming. That means it’s almost time for stuffed acorn squash.

–Guest post by Sara Mead 



Education Reading

It’s been 30 years since the Charlottesville Education Summit, but we still haven’t achieved the ambitious goals that emerged from it. Kelly Robson argues it’s time for another National Education Summit.

Over at EdPost, Brandon Lewis describes how Crossroads Academy Charter School, one of the rural charter schools profiled in Bellwether’s recent research on lessons from rural charter schools, partners with Florida A&M, an HBCU, to support its students’ success and build a pipeline of diverse teachers.

Speaking of charter schools, an interesting new report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers looks at the pipeline of new charter applicants in Georgia and finds lots of interest in STEM and inquiry-based school models.

Max Marchitello looks at how pensions exacerbate funding inequity between rural and suburban school districts.

A new report for the Minneapolis Fed looks at the childcare market in Montana, underscoring the complex challenges facing the field: parents can’t afford to pay for care, but childcare centers struggle to stay afloat financially, and lack of affordable and accessible childcare creates workforce challenges for business.

Recently published research finds that children randomly assigned to full-day pre-k programs learn more than children in part-day options.

Bittersweet chocolate and pear cake.

–Guest post by Sara Mead


Edujob: Chief Talent Office, UP Education Network

UP Education Network, a rapidly growing non-profit school management organization focused on school turnaround (and a Bellwether client), is looking for a Chief Talent Officer to develop a vision and strategy for talent across both UP’s central office and schools as the organization scales. Great opportunity to play a critical role in helping a great education organization address one of the greatest obstacles to scaling successful education orgs. More information here.

The Pre-K–Charter disconnect

This fall, charter schools in New York City will offer pre-k for the first time. Charter schools were previously barred from offering pre-k, but legislation earlier this year expanded the state’s investment and allowed charter schools to offer pre-k.

This is good news for New York City, and for places, like Indiana and Seattle, that are looking to offer pre-k to additional students. One challenge with with opening or expanding a state pre-k program is ensuring that there are high-quality providers with enough slots to serve the newly-funded children.

Charter schools seem like an obvious source of additional slots, particularly in states or cities with robust charter sectors and rigorous quality monitoring systems. But it’s complicated. State charter school policy and pre-k policy generally developed in two distinct streams – so even though the two align well in theory, the result in practice is often conflicting policies.

In Ohio, for example, charter schools effectively cannot offer pre-k. The state charter school legislation says that charter schools’ admission criteria can only be open to students between the ages of five and 22. As a result, charter schools receive state funding for K-12 students, not pre-k students. There is a demand for pre-k, however, so charter schools will often co-locate a space with a pre-k program. Yet once children complete that pre-k program, they are not guaranteed spots in the charter schools’ kindergarten programs, but have to enter the school’s lottery, despite having spent a year just yards away.

This disconnect also occurs in states that explicitly permit charter schools to offer pre-k. Up until recently, Georgia students enrolled in charter school pre-k programs couldn’t automatically pass into kindergarten. Legislation* now allows charter schools to give enrollment priority to students who completed the charter school’s pre-k program. While it’s an improvement, there are unnecessary complexities for both schools and parents; assuring enrollment priority is not the same as seamlessly moving students from 1st to 2nd grade. Students are not guaranteed entrance, and schools must orchestrate a new pre-k lottery each year, with the right students at the right weights. New York City takes a similar approach for its charter schools offering pre-k this fall.

Sara Mead and I have learned about these challenges and more while researching the Byzantine world of pre-k and charter sector policy for a paper that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute will publish next year. With recent data showing the appeal of early ed across party lines (slide 11 here), the time is right to prioritize high-quality slots for more pre-k students.

*Links to O.G.C.A. LexisNexis database – search 20-2-2066 for appropriate legislation.

–Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

Head Start Round 2 Designation Renewal Results Announced

Late on a Friday afternoon, the Administration for Children and Families released the list of 114 grantees selected in the second round of Head Start designation renewal. HHS also released the names of winners from several Cohort 1 competitions in which no award was made, as well as two unrelated competitions. These grantees will begin serving Head Start students under their new grants next month.

Since I’ve been following designation renewal closely, I’ll be taking a closer look at these results in the near future. Two quick takeaways for now: 1) As in the first round of designation renewal, many of the agencies that were required to compete appear to have managed to keep their grants. 2) ACF’s list released today does not name a grantee in the competition for Orleans Parish, Louisiana, a particularly complex re-competition situation. Given that the list of grantees released today is shorter than the list of those required to compete, there are likely additional communities where no grantee was announced today–I’ll update with more info later.

Five Totally Doable Things to Improve Head Start

A lot of what’s needed to improve early childhood education costs money–lots of it. These costs are one of the major barriers to progress in improving access to quality preschool. But there are several things that policymakers could do now to help improve Head Start that wouldn’t cost much. Not all of them would make a huge different, but they offer some ways to move now on improving early childhood outcomes even without additional money:

1. Make Head Start Performance Monitoring reports available online–and make them useful to stakeholders. Every three years, Head Start conducts and on-site monitoring report of each Head Start grantee’s compliance with the Head Start performance standards. Because the performance standards are so extensive, they produce a wealth of information about the quality of Head Start providers–and the most recent reports also include measures of the quality of teaching in Head Start classrooms. HHS has recently started posting these reports on its website, but they are hard to find, only available for some grantees, and the reports themselves are mind-bogglingly bureaucratic and hard to understand even for wonks like me. HHS should make all the reports available on its website, and include in each report and user-friendly cover page that outlines key strengths and weaknesses of each Head Start program, as well as any serious findings, in a way that is easy for parents, community members, and local policymakers to understand. By making Head Start grantee strengths and weaknesses more transparent to the people who care most about them, this would help spur improvement.

2. Analyze data collected by the Head Start enterprise system to learn about what program features correlate with improved quality. HHS collects a wealth of data on Head Start grantees, from budgets, to staff qualifications, the curriculum and assessments they use. But it doesn’t currently do much to analyze that data or generate lessons for the field. With the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Head Start now has a common, agreed upon metric of program quality that is supported by research (although it also has limitations, which I discuss here). Researchers could use CLASS and other data collected by Head Start to analyze the curriculum, budgets, and other features of the highest performing grantees, or to analyze relationships between quality and these same factors, in order to generate lessons for the broader field and help other grantees improve.

3.Make the designation renewal process more transparent. In contrast to high-profile, highly transparent Department of Education grant competitions like Race to the Top and i3, the Head Start designation renewal process, in which providers who fall short of quality standards are required to compete to retain their grants, is highly lacking in transparency. While HHS published a list of winners of the first round of designation renewal, it did not share information about who else applied for grants, guidance given to reviewers, or the scores received by winners and other applicants. This time around it hasn’t even publicly released a list of selected grantees. Making the process more transparent would increase accountability and ultimately encourage more high-quality providers to apply.

4. Allow grantees to seek performance standards waivers. Head Start’s 2,400 performance standards limit grantees’ flexibility to innovate and make it hard to strategically focus resources in ways that are likely to have the greatest impact for kids. Federal policies should enable grantees to receive waivers from performance standards requirements if they can present a compelling argument that increased flexibility would enhance their ability to serve children and families. Waivers could be limited to grantees with good CLASS scores and a track record of strong performance and should be offered only for a limited number of years (possibly in conjunction with 5-year grant renewals) with extension contingent on performance. Ideally, HHS could collect information on they types of waivers that grantees request, to inform future revision of the performance standards.

5. Revise the performance standards. Ok, this is not exactly an easy lift. It’s, well, a Joe Biden quote. But it doesn’t cost money, it can be done with existing regulatory authority and doesn’t require Congressional action, and it’s the number one thing that is necessary to help improve Head Start.

–Sara Mead

10 Questions To Ask Anyone Proposing to Block Grant Head Start

Proposals to block grant Head Start are much like Lamar Alexander’s long-running “Pell Grants for Kids” proposal—a perennial conservative education policy idea that can be used year after year because it never goes anywhere politically. The idea of giving states a greater role in Head Start is not without merit—after all, states are responsible for K-12 education and have significantly ramped up their role in early childhood education over the past 20 years. But block granting is only one—highly simplistic—approach to doing this—and one that’s nowhere near as simple as it sounds. Here are a few key questions that any policymaker who supports block granting Head Start should carefully think through—and that journalists should ask any legislator offering a proposal to shift Head Start to the states.

  1. Why? This may sound like a flippant question, but it’s not. There are a variety of reasons one might want to give states a greater role in running Head Start. For example, one possible reason to increase the state role in Head Start might be to enhance collaboration and coordination between state-administered childcare and preschool programs and Head Start, or between Head Start and the K-12 education system, which is the responsibility of states. Another reason might be to allow states to combine funds from Head Start, childcare, state preschool, and other early childhood funding streams to create a more integrated system, improve quality, or serve more children. Another reason might be a belief that 1,400 Head Start grantees are too many for the federal government to oversee, and that shifting responsibility to the states would lead to better oversight of Head Start. Yet each of these potential reasons for shifting more responsibility for Head Start to the states has its own, distinct policy implications—some of which are in conflict. And it would be possible to design a Head Start block grant policy that would address none of these issues. So, if someone wants to block grant Head Start, they need to be able to first explain what they hope to accomplish by doing so.
  2. How would you ensure that states use Head Start funds to improve early learning rather than supplant existing funds?  Perhaps the greatest objection to block granting Head Start is the concern that states, given control of Head Start funds, would use them to reduce their own investments in early learning rather than better serving kids. Given many states’ track records of under-investing in early childhood education, and of cutting early childhood funds dramatically whenever fiscal times get tough—as happened in many states during the most recent recession—this concern seems well-founded. There are ways to design federal policies to reduce the risk that states would use Head Start funds to reduce, rather than supplement, their own resources, but designing effective policies here is challenging. Any one proposing to block grant Head Start needs to outline a clear policy to prevent states from using federal Head Start funds to reduce their own.
  3. What kind of flexibility would states have to set their own performance standards?  Head Start is a famously bureaucratic program: the Head Start Performance Standards include some 2,400 distinct requirements grantees must meet. Reducing these burdensome requirements should be a policy goal. But that doesn’t mean that states should be left entirely to their own devices to set Head Start standards—many states have set standard for preschool teacher credentials and other key quality factors that are lower than those in Head Start, and research suggests that the average quality in state-funded pre-k is somewhat lower than the typical Head Start classroom. Policymakers who propose transitioning Head Start to states need to be clear about what elements of the program standards states will need to maintain, and where they will have flexibility. In addition, states should be prevented from imposing their own sets of burdensome additional requirements on Head Start grantees.
  4. What about comprehensive services? In addition to quality standards for early learning, the performance standards also include requirements for Head Start grantees to offer services—such as health, nutrition, and family supports—that address the comprehensive needs of poor families. Typical state pre-k programs do not provide all these services. Would state-administered Head Start programs still be required to ensure Head Start-eligible children received these comprehensive services? Would states simply be accountable to ensure that children received comprehensive services through existing state health, mental health, nutrition and other programs (but not necessarily through their preschool program)? Or would comprehensive services cease to be part of Head Start?
  5. How would the federal government hold states accountable? If the federal government were to transfer Head Start to the states, it would need a mechanism to monitor how effectively states were administering Head Start funds and to hold them accountable for how they served young children. Head Start has an existing monitoring system, but that system is designed for grantees, not entire states. Two factors would make federal monitoring of state use of Head Start funds particularly challenging: First, one of the major reasons to provide states greater control of Head Start funds would be to enable them to combine these funds with other state funding streams to serve more kids, lengthen the day, or improve quality. But states were to combine funds in this way, it would create a question about  who the feds should hold states accountable for: just children served with Head Start funds? Just Head Start eligible children? All children served with state or federal early childhood funds? The overall quality of early learning in the state? Second, measuring outcomes in early childhood education is more challenging in K-12 education, which would make accountability more challenging, and potentially require the use of other, harder to assess, measures such as classroom instructional or environmental quality.
  6. How would the transition work? Block granting Head Start would create an enormous logistical challenge. Head Start isn’t simply a program or a funding stream: it’s a network and system of providers and centers. Block granting Head Start would require terminating the contracts of existing grantees, transferring their funds and other real assets (such as buildings and buses, which in many cases were purchased with federal funds and may be federal property) to the state, reallocating those funds and assets from the state to providers, and maintaining services for eligible children over the course of this transition. Currently, this process happens in microcosm whenever a current Head Start grantee is terminated or loses its grant to another organization in designation renewal—and it’s hugely complicated and painful for the providers, educators, and families involved. Now multiply that times 1,400. Explain how you’d do it.
  7. Who would be the providers in state-administered programs? The really crazy thing about the transition process outlined above is that, in many cases, existing Head Start grantees would continue to be the providers serving children in a state administered program. Many current state pre-k programs rely on existing Head Start grantees as pre-k providers, and this would continue to be the case if states gained control of Head Start funds. Even if states wanted to engage new providers, the supply of high-quality early childhood providers is limited, and other providers might not exist in many places. Ultimately, the quality of early learning services children receive is far more depend on the quality of the provider than whether it’s under state or federal oversight, so the onus is on block grant proponents to explain what change would occur at the provider level as a result of their proposals—and, if it’s not much, why such massive disruption is necessary at all?
  8. How will we learn from inter-state variations? One of the major arguments for decentralizing social services to the states is the opportunity for the states to serve as “laboratories of innovation,” who, by taking a variety of approaches, enable the field as a whole to learn what works, what doesn’t and to replicate different practices. If Washington were to delegate control of Head Start to states, and give them greater flexibility in how they run the program, how would federal policymakers ensure that we capture the lessons of states’ varied experience in order to identify effective and ineffective approaches, replicate what works, stop doing what doesn’t, and improve overall knowledge and quality?
  9. Which states do you expect will do the best job? Proponents of block granting Head Start should be able to offer at least one example of a state that they believe would use greater control of Head Start funds well, and to explain what that state would do/change if it had control of Head Start funds, and how those changes would result in better early learning outcomes for more kids. If they can’t offer an example, why should anyone believe this is a good idea?
  10. What do you think is the appropriate federal role in early childhood education generally? Currently, the federal government provides about 10% of funding for K-12 education, but a much larger percentage of public funding for early childhood (as well as postsecondary) education, due to federal funding for Head Start, as well as the fact that the federal government provides the majority of funding for state childcare subsidies. Ultimately, any case for block granting Head Start should be part of a larger, coherent narrative about the appropriate federal, state, local, nonprofit sector, and family roles in early learning, and how/why those roles should be different from or similar to the roles in K-12 and postsecondary education.

As my recent paper on Head Start argues, there are good reasons to think about increasing the state role in Head Start, but block granting Head Start is not the only—and probably not the best—way to do that. Unfortunately, the specter of poorly thought through calls to block grant Head Start has made it difficult to have any kind of thoughtful conversation  about how federal policies might more productively and effectively engage states in Head Start.

–Sara Mead

Shortchanging Teachers

Shortchanged, a TNTP report released last week, takes a harsh look at current “lockstep” teacher pay systems, which reward teachers for time in the classroom and advanced degrees rather than actual performance. The report argues that these practices pushes out high performers and incentivize poor performers to stay in the classroom—with costly consequences: TNTP estimates that last year alone, districts spent $250 million on automatic pay increases for ineffective teachers.

TNTP proposes new teacher compensation systems that focus less on years of experience and master’s degrees and instead focus on actual teacher performance. Research on teacher quality peaks offers other reasons to support this argument.

Research shows that teachers develop the most in their first few years of teaching. After three to five years, though, most teachers peak. So to a certain extent, schools can predict early on how effective a teacher is going to be for the rest of his or her career. Yet under current policies schools must continue paying ineffective teachers the same automatic raises as highly effective teachers, year after year. This creates an incentive for poor performers to stay and for high performers to leave – which they do. TNTP’s own research shows that 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years’ experience are not as effective as the average brand new teacher.

Compensation structures in most other professions are designed to reward employees for logarithmic growth – they assume that employees will make large gains in the beginning of their career then taper off later on. Doctors and lawyers, for example, quickly ascend to peak earnings in the first ten years of their career, then plateau at that salary level for the next ten to 25 years. With teaching, it’s the opposite. Teachers’ growth is ignored when they’re actually improving, and they’re rewarded after they’ve plateaued. As TNTP points out, that creates a whole host of problems.

–Ashley Libetti Mitchel

Renewing Head Start’s Promise

Today, Bellwether and Results for America are releasing a new paper I wrote on Head Start. The paper looks at the results of the reforms made to Head Start in the 2007 reauthorization–specifically the designation renewal process that requires underperforming grantees to compete to retain their grants, and the use of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System as a quality measure for Head Start grantees. I find that, while there has been real progress, and there are also places where the 2007 reforms have come up short. This isn’t primarily an indictment of the 2007 reforms, however, but a reflection of more fundamental issues in Head Start–such as a lack of clear goals and over-focus on compliance rather than performance. The paper offers recommendations both to increase the effectiveness of the 2007 reforms, and to address the more fundamental challenges facing Head Start. Check it out here.

–Sara Mead