Q&A: Research Shows Federal Early Years Policy Proposals Could Have Significant Impact

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In Washington, DC, this week, congressional leaders are pushing for a compromise on a $ 1.75 trillion domestic policy proposal and climate budget deal. The proposals include significant investments in child care, universal kindergarten and early childhood workforce.

In a recent remark published in Brookings, scholars from the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia discussed this their research could be the impact of these investments. “The results are clear,” they write. “Registration [in pre-K programs] contributes to the learning and development of students in the year they enroll, and they enter the following year with better results than their peers without these prior experiences.

The research team includes Bob Pianta, Dean and Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education, Jessica Whittaker, Associate Research Professor, and Virginia Vitiello, Assistant Professor, as well as co-author Arya Ansari, Assistant Professor at the ‘Ohio State University.

We sat down with Pianta to discuss the policy proposals and what the team’s research says about their potential success.

Q. What about the proposed early childhood education plans that you find most effective?

A. Each of the proposals will have a significant advantage, but the one that seems to me the most likely to make the biggest difference for children is the one focused on pre-kindergarten for 3 and 4 year olds. This proposal essentially extends the country’s public education system up to the age of 3. And if we are successful in ensuring that these programs use up-to-date curricula with well-trained and supported teachers, the ability to provide two years of high-quality preschool education is a game-changer. Think of it as doubling the dose of a beneficial nutrient in your diet.

The proposal to increase the remuneration of child care providers will also make a major difference for families. The incomes of these staff will increase and will likely lead to more stable staffing in classrooms and the ability of teachers to stay in the profession (and support their own families). With a more predictable workforce, child care services will be more available and parents of young children can be hired.

It’s hard to overstate the potential benefits of these investments.

Q. What are the benefits of enrolling 3 and 4 year olds in kindergarten?

A. There is ample evidence that even the typical pre-K program will speed up learning for the average 4-year-old so that the child begins kindergarten with skills far superior to those of their non-school peers. pre-K. The magnitude of this advantage is about half of the “achievement gap”. These benefits are evident in all areas – reading, math, language skills, cognitive functioning, social skills. We and others have shown that signing up for two consecutive years further bridges this gap.

These advantages relate to “average” preschool education programs. What is really exciting is that I believe the quality of these programs can and will be dramatically improved with policies that also advance the use of new programs and with the support of teachers. Ultimately, the potential here is for children to receive two consecutive years of an effective, high-quality early education experience.

Q. Do these effects last over time?

A. Good question. Some effects are and some are less, so it is important to pay attention to the different skills children learn and the “dose” of early education they receive.

For skills that are the product of targeted instruction, such as literacy and math, we find that children who did not receive pre-kindergarten catch up with their pre-kindergarten peers during the kindergarten year. . But this “catch-up” effect is not present for cognitive skills in the area of ​​executive function, nor for language and conversational skills which are stimulated simply by being in a stimulating environment.

When considering whether the effects of preschool education ‘last’, it is important to remember that while some children catch up with those who received preschool education, the skills learned in preschool do not fade. not or do not disappear, but rather the accelerated learning that takes place when children first enter school (as would happen in pre-kindergarten), slow down a bit. This is why it is so promising to increase the length of time that children have access to early learning programs and to ensure that these programs are as stimulating as possible.

Q. How can we ensure that these classrooms provide effective learning?

A. We have great examples of policies in states that have led to improved quality of classrooms and learning for children. My colleague Daphna Bassok, for example, showed in Louisiana, where policymakers have made targeted investments in quality improvement, the quality of interactions between teachers and children has improved dramatically. We also have good examples in cities like Dallas that show that a similar focus on teachers’ classroom practices has led to increased student performance on state reading exams in third grade.

Policies and professional development that target teachers’ classroom practices can be a powerful and positive combination. And we know that the use of effective curricula, especially in reading and math, combined with supports that improve teachers ‘implementation and knowledge in reading and math, directly benefit students’ skills in the field. these areas.

Q. Your study also revealed some interesting insight into the impact of teachers’ emotional well-being. What did you find?

A. Basically, we found that teacher stress and sense of well-being was directly related to the quality of their interactions with students in their classes, in ways you might expect. This is of great importance now that we are working on the consequences of the pandemic, in which teachers have reported even higher stress levels and decreased well-being. Our findings, and we are also seeing this in national surveys, suggest that our school systems should invest in ways to reduce teacher stress and provide supports for their mental health. Interestingly, going back to our first question, the biggest stressor for teachers during the pandemic has been child care for their own children. They look after their own children at home while teaching virtually.

Q. What do your research findings say about how policy makers should approach early childhood education?

A. We should view early childhood education and child care as a public good, a good that benefits not only the children served directly by these programs, but also their families and society in general.


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