Meeting of the Board of Regents | January 2010
TO: EMSC Committee
FROM: John B. King, Jr.
SUBJECT: Early Childhood Education
DATE: January 5, 2010
STRATEGIC GOAL: Goal 1
Issue for Discussion
What policy directions are needed in early education to support the P-12 strategic vision?
Reason for Consideration
Update on early childhood policy and discussion of needed policy directions.
This item will come before the Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Committee for discussion at the January 2010 meeting.
In January 2006, the Board of Regents adopted a comprehensive policy on early education. This policy has been the basis of many initiatives and advocacy which have reshaped early education in the state. A central component of the policy was the expansion of prekindergarten and advocacy for full day kindergarten. Over the past five years, there has been a 135% growth in the number of districts implementing prekindergarten and a 72% increase in funding. There has also been steady growth in the number of districts implementing full day kindergarten. (See Attachment 1.) Currently, 96% of districts operate full day kindergarten. In the 2008-09 school year, there were a total of 228,318 students attending kindergarten in New York State in public and nonpublic schools. Of that number, 92% (210,455) attended full day programs.
The Regents’ policy also addressed using the USNY system to focus on early childhood education. There are now preschool programs in museums and a wide array of programs for infants and toddlers, as well as summer and after school programs for school age children in libraries. Our public broadcast programs provide excellent educational programming for children of all ages.
The policy called for a higher degree of coordination with other agencies and external groups that offer early childhood programs. The Department works closely with the Executive Offices’ Children’s Cabinet and Advisory Group. These two groups have focused much time and attention to children’s health and prekindergarten. The Department has worked closely with the Office of Children and Family Services on many initiatives, including the most recent design and plan for field testing Quality Rating System for early care and education settings.
Within the Department, initiatives have been coordinated with many offices consistently. Combined work with VESID on preschool special education standards, expanded use of UPK for young students with disabilities and Response to Intervention have been excellent partnerships. This supports the organizational goal to integrate special education into the P-12 structure.
Having increased access to programs, New York must push forward to ensure high quality programs regardless of setting. The service delivery system for early learning is diverse and extremely varied in New York. School readiness and transitions between preschool and kindergarten must be improved by building on current initiatives and policies. As we enter into a new decade of reform, renewed policy directions are needed to ensure that early childhood education is the foundation to academic success and a strategic component of school improvement initiatives.
New federal initiatives for 2010 have been proposed which will build on school reform programs currently underway. We anticipate that each initiative will include an integrated early childhood component. Some initiatives propose increased flexibility of Title 1 funds for early education, a new reading initiative entitled Literacy Education for All, Results for a Nation (LEARN) will include an early literacy component and Teacher Quality Partnership grants are targeted to strengthen pre-service early education programs. Other proposed initiatives will be focused solely on early education. These initiatives include the Early Learning Challenge Fund and Promise Neighborhoods. It is probable that these initiatives will require states to address standards, data, workforce preparation, service delivery improvement and assessment/accountability as applied to early childhood. Each of these components needs the consideration of the Board of Regents in order to determine policy directions and required actions.
Discussion Area #1 – Standards
The development of prekindergarten standards was begun in August 2007 as a requirement of Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007. As the review of the ELA standards was also required by Chapter 57, it was important to ensure that both development projects were aligned. An expert panel of early childhood advisors was established to help guide the Department’s work and there were many public meetings with practitioners throughout the development work.
Development of the draft prekindergarten standards was a unique and multi-faceted endeavor. Prekindergarten has become a bridge between the birth - age 4 service delivery system and the kindergarten – grade 3 educational system. The prekindergarten standards needed to consider both the content areas (math, science, technology, English language arts and social studies) of kindergarten – grade 3, and the early childhood domains (socio-emotional, physical, approaches to learning, cognitive and communication) used within the birth – age 4 delivery system. A balance between these systems was important because these standards will be the basis for building a system to evaluate program quality across settings (See Attachment 4) Therefore, it is important for the Board of Regents to review these draft standards in order to determine whether the:
- prekindergarten standards establish a basis for academic success;
- the standards are of sufficient rigor to meet the challenges of the 21st century; and
- the prekindergarten standards achieve an integrated approach to social emotional, physical and language and content areas.
- What further steps does the Board want the Department to take to ensure that the prekindergarten standards meet world class benchmarks?
- What further steps need to be taken to finalize the draft prekindergarten standards?
- Do the standards provide a basis for working on birth through age 3 learning standards, using the draft prekindergarten standards?
Discussion Area #2 – Data
Current Department initiatives to establish a comprehensive data system include goals to include prekindergarten data. Data systems become very complex when considering the data to be included for young children. Collecting individual child level data has been the basis of much energetic professional dialogue and research for many years. Many current data bases are rich with program or environmental data, but not student level information. The development of early childhood data also becomes very complex when including data from programs under the auspices of many different service delivery agencies. Despite the complexities, there is an ever increasing requirement and expectation to establish data bases to improve the early childhood service delivery system. The requirement to coordinate data systems and design data systems will be a focal point of potential federal funding. Moving forward, the Board of Regents will need to guide the work of the Department by considering:
- What are the most critical data components to collect for young children?
- How will a data system incorporate information from other data sets in other agencies?
- What data components need to be collected in order to ensure that young children and their families are able to transition more smoothly between source delivery systems?
- What data is to be collected to assess academic progress in the absence of standardized testing protocols for prekindergarten – grade 2?
Discussion Area #3 – Assessment/Accountability
Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007 and potential new funding, require a mechanism to establish a way to ensure quality programs across all settings. Currently, access to high quality early childhood settings is dependant on location and income. (Attachment 3 shows the implementation of UPK by county.) Studies show that high quality programs are not available to students in high need categories. On average, the cognitive scores of children age 4 from low income areas are as much as 60% below their more affluent peers (Newman and Celano, 2001). The provision of high quality and relevant services for students with dual languages or limited English proficiency is similar. It is crucial in the early years to make sure a delivery system is a place where closing the achievement gaps is a guarantee, not an approximation.
The challenge of assessing young children and developing accountability systems in early childhood education is daunting. Research and conventional practice does not support standardization testing for children younger than age 8. Additionally, assessment instruments and protocols are not robust in these areas. However, investors in early education (e.g. federal and state legislators, private foundations, and researchers) are requiring evidence that such investments are an effective use of funds. Not only are assessments needed for system and program evaluation, but also to improve instruction. Assessing the effectiveness of programs for preschool children with disabilities is particularly important. Developmentally appropriate assessment/accountability tools are needed to ensure that instruction is of high quality and effective in closing achievement gaps. Policy discussions for the Board of Regents will need to consider:
- What assessment protocols will align with the grade 3 – 8 assessments, yet be sensitive to developmental ranges of young children?
- Will an early childhood accountability system require program assessments and student level assessment?
- What assessment protocols will be used to ensure that the skill sets of English Language Learners are assessed fairly using their native language and English proficiency?
Discussion Area #4 – Improving Early Childhood Instruction and Leadership
In 2006, the Board of Regents’ policy identified the Department’s direction by relabeling the kindergarten – 12 system as a P-16 system. This shift sent a strong signal that early and excellent educational starts were an integral component of school improvement initiatives. Early childhood education has been changed in large part due to expansion of prekindergarten and children being in settings outside their home from birth prior to entering prekindergarten or kindergarten. It will be important for our current reform initiatives to embrace a prekindergarten – grade 3 strategy for school improvement. It is still not unusual to see a bifurcation between prekindergarten and kindergarten, elementary buildings with principals without early childhood backgrounds, myriads of unaligned instructional programs and minimal formative assessment instruments in use. Prekindergarten – grade 3 needs to become an important, comprehensive reform strategy that ensures student learning gains are sustained. This educational component must ensure that students have high quality learning experiences in every setting that enable them to be proficient in not only academic skills, but social and emotional skills to support preparedness for 21st century skills. Attachment 2 shows the wide variety of settings where UPK programs are provided.
Additionally, the Department successfully implemented a robust Reading First initiative. Much of what was learned indicates that the strong foundation in phonics and word knowledge must be deeply embedded in order for gains in comprehension to be attained. The Department created an infrastructure to support reading instruction. New federal initiatives have the potential to expand and extend components of this model. Reading First funding will end in June 2010.
In order to achieve this shift in emphasis, it will be important for the Board of Regents to guide initiatives in the following areas:
- How do we help districts build capacity to turn around low performing schools by embracing prekindergarten – grade 3 as a strategic tool?
- What type of administrative certification is needed to ensure that elementary schools have the leadership of trained professionals?
- What teacher preparation reforms are needed to ensure that early education teachers have the pedagogical skills, content, and knowledge skills pertinent to early education?
- What are the shared responsibilities between public schools, community based providers, Charter Schools and communities to improve services to young children?
- How can early childhood programs provide rich and rigorous instruction for English language learners using both native language and English proficiency skills?
- Expand the use of Title 1 funds for early childhood initiatives;
- Build an early childhood component regional network; and
- Examine the role of BOCES regionally to support early childhood professional development.
- Continue to recommend, in the Board of Regents, a State Aid proposal, that funds for UPK operate as a quasi State Aid formula rather than a limited grant approach.
The discussion of the above areas will provide the Department with a clear direction to move forward in meeting the goal to “expand access to high quality early education learning opportunities to provide the academic and social skills foundation students need for success in P–12 education, college, and the global economy and society in the 21st century”.
Prekindergarten Standards Outline
DOMAIN I: PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HEALTH
DOMAIN II: SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
DOMAIN III. APPROACHES TO LEARNING
DOMAIN IV: COMMUNICATION, LANGUAGE AND LITERACY
DOMAIN V. COGNITION/KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD