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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 08/ 2/2010

Ed policies ignore science on how/when kids learn

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.


By Lisa Guernsey
Our education system starts at age 5, pays little attention to children’s development and achievement until third grade, and is strewn with remedial programs to get older children back on track.

Meanwhile, studies keep pouring forth that highlight the importance of children’s earliest years – birth to age 8 – in developing the mental capacity that enables life-long learning.

In short, our education policies don’t align with the latest science on how and when children learn. American public education is out of whack.

Two new books drive home this point: Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills All Children Need and Britain’s War on Poverty. A third piece of reading -- a landmark study in the journal Child Development published this spring – also makes the argument for getting smarter about policies that affect young children and their later achievements in school.

Now, I don’t mean to get too heavy. I know summer is for beach reading about the girl with the dragon tattoo, not education and child policy. So let me summarize as quickly as I can:

Mind in the Making is, in essence, a parenting book. But author Ellen Galinsky, the president and co-founder of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in New York City, doesn’t talk about diapers and baby food.

She bases her arguments on dozens of experiments on how and when children form ideas about the way the world works and what they need to learn. The science makes clear that children need adults in their lives who recognize that abilities are not preordained by genetics. When parents and caregivers engage in one-on-one conversations with toddlers, for example, they help children develop the language skills needed to succeed at reading, writing and communicating in their later years.

Britain’s War on Poverty, by Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University, is a book for policy wonks. It tells the story of a country getting it right.

In 1999, the United Kingdom pledged to halve the poverty rate among the nation’s children. At the time, 26 percent of children lived in poverty – a number that was higher than any other European country and mortified many Brits. Ten years later, the rate is 12 percent, while the rate in the U.S. is on track to hit 22 percent, according to recent data from the nonprofit Foundation for Child Development.

How did Britain do it? Waldfogel goes into rich detail about the multitude of policies that were changed to help families with young children. These included generous paid maternity leave, better benefits for single parents on welfare, improvements in the quality of child care, universal access to preschool and improvements in elementary schools.

The Child Development article, led by Greg Duncan of the University of California at Irvine, showed that babies, toddlers and preschoolers who grow up in poverty are more harmed by its effects than older children.

Other studies have shown that the effects of poverty on brain development are linked to cognitive ability in later years. But Duncan demonstrates that the impact of being poor is still evident, 37 years later, in incomplete schooling and jobless rates.

The harm starts at birth, with poverty elevating the stress parents feel, which can cause an increased likelihood of harsh parenting practices. These have the greatest impact during the early childhood years when the mother-child relationship serves as the foundation for a child’s ability to regulate his emotions.

That regulation, in turn, has an effect on children’s achievement, behavior, and health.Meanwhile, with little money to spare, parents cannot afford to financially support emergent literacy with books and high-quality child care or preschool.

All three readings lead to one conclusion: It’s beyond time to give all American children – especially those in poor circumstances -- exposure to language-rich and cognitively stimulating environments in their earliest years. This doesn’t mean just increasing access to preschool, though that would help.

(More than 5 million children under age 6 live in poverty, according to Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Head Start, the federal preschool program for poor kids, is available to about a million children birth to age 5. State-funded pre-k, where it’s available, covers another million. That means we’re leaving more 3 million children out – and that’s not including families with moderate incomes who still find preschool and child care unaffordable.)

An education system aligned with the latest science would help poor parents increase their incomes so they can provide for their children. It would create better parental leave and “extended time off” policies to help parents find time to care for their children and learn along with them.

And it would offer a comprehensive early childhood system with effective teachers who help children develop and learn, starting at birth and including preschool if parents wish, and extending all the way up through the early grades of elementary school.

Yes, the recession and the federal budget deficit make this difficult. But there’s no better time to revamp public policies to match up with our new understandings.

Cognitive and social development starts in the womb and requires sustained, high-quality nurturing throughout childhood. We can keep waiting for more books that make us feel like we live in a backward country. Or we can start transforming policies to revise our education system with children’s earliest years in mind.

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By Valerie Strauss  | August 2, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Early Childhood, Guest Bloggers, Reading, Research  | Tags:  Lisa Guernsey, New America Foundation, early childhood development and reading, early education, early education initiative, literacy development  
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Next: Willingham: What’s missing from Common Core standards plan (Part 2)

Comments


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Posted by: jeffronald | August 2, 2010 6:21 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: fiorejames31 | August 2, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

The author states: "An education system aligned with the latest science would help poor parents increase their incomes so they can provide for their children. It would create better parental leave and “extended time off” policies to help parents find time to care for their children and learn along with them.

And it would offer a comprehensive early childhood system with effective teachers who help children develop and learn, starting at birth and including preschool if parents wish, and extending all the way up through the early grades of elementary school."

Michelle Rhee says: "Poverty? Schmoverty! Just throw a couple of Teach For America kids at them, and they'll do just fine."

Valerie, I hope you keep your job finding great information for the education beat. I wish the editorial board was willing to read what you find and what you write with an open mind.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | August 2, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Another valuable article that I can forward to other education wonks like me. Keep up the great work, Valerie!

Posted by: lacy41 | August 2, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

"The science makes clear that children need adults in their lives who recognize that abilities are not preordained by genetics."

This is quite true. However, environmental insults affect ability as well and the need for interventions, generationally, will reap ample rewards.

The kitchen sink, a little of a lot thrown into the picture revealing why some children have more of an uphill battle than others:

1. smoking mothers (and others in home)
2. poor indoor and outdoor air quality (see link on how outdoor air pollution can adversely affect child's IQ)
http://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/EnvironmentalHealth/15209
3. the racial gap in breasfeeding
http://www.blacktating.com/2010/03/racial-gap-in-breastfeeding-rates.html
4. poor have higher preterm and low-birth weight infants, often due to factors relating to diabetes, maternal weight, smoking, age, nutrition, infections, lack of prenatal care, stress, number of abortions, number of children, etc.
5. exposure to lead, mold, other type insults
6 oh, so many more.....

Certainly, poverty alone is a prime reason for less than stellar school performance, and the observations and suggestions noted in the article are worthy; richness of learning experiences can do much for the building of the mind. Now isn't the time for cutbacks in the local libraries either. Story time for young children should be well attended. Education rooms stocked with books and great toys in government owned housing developments can stir cutiosity. Pipe dream? Maybe. This would be a great place for the Teach for America wannabe types to truly make an positive impact. Let them team staff these education rooms for several hours a day and provide vibrant learning experiences for the young children that don't have Head Start or other similar setting. The foundations that so "generously" give money to charter schools can divert some money to develop education rooms in "the projects."

Posted by: shadwell1 | August 2, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

"Ed policies ignore science on how/when kids learn"

No kidding!!!!!!

That's what has been wrong with public education reform for at least the last 15 years....especially NCLB and now, RttT. Isn't anyone listening?

When I was in college, we had to take a basic human development course. This is why people who don't know squat about education should stay out of public education policy, curriculum design, and setting standards.

Not all 8th graders are READY for algebra. Not all 5 year old's are READY to learn to read.

Another characteristic being left out is, "type of learner." We pile all of these kids with all of these problems, with all of this baggage, and all of levels of interest into one class and expect one teacher to ensure that EVERYONE is at the same knowledge level with little or no help or support from the administration and/or parents.

Amazing!!!!!

Posted by: ilcn | August 2, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

One of the most damaging aspects of our education system is the craze for early testing of literacy skills. Policy makers should pay attention to how and when children in many parts of Europe, especially Scandinavia, learn to read. Early childhood is for developing overall cognitive skills, with little or no formal literacy training. Children are not expected to begin formal reading education until they are 6 or 7. By then, they have a developmental advantage that many kids in the US do not have. They learn to read quickly, with fewer incidences of learning disabilities reported. The advantages really show up in later years, when their reading ability levels are sustained and continue to strengthen.

So, they learn to read later, but are much better readers in the long run because their overall cognitive development is stronger.

In the US, we subject our children to ridiculous, time consuming, incessant measuring that is very expensive and takes time away from more worthwhile activities. But politicians and administrators like it because it is quantifiable.

Posted by: aed3 | August 2, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Poverty plays no part in the problems of public education. We have an achievement gap and not a poverty gap. Everyone knows that.

We are Racing To The Top. The problem is not poor children that have difficulty in learning. In this nation there is no such thing as poor children that have difficulty in learning. This would be un American.

The problem is instead inefficient teachers in classrooms that are NOT dealing with the problem of the children of the poor that do NOT have any difficulty in learning.

We need state standardized tests and computer systems to evaluate teachers and fire them if they are not dealing with the children of the poor that do NOT have any difficulty in learning.

Remember it is the teachers and not the the children of the poor that do NOT have any difficulty in learning.

Our public schools for the children of the poor that do NOT have any difficulty in learning are great and the problem is the teachers.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Great article - and great comments here!

I'd like to add a quote from an early childhood specialist I met early in my career: "A child's play is his/her work."

Some examples:

1. Activities like puppetry & playing dress-up - these offer valuable role-playing & verbalization skills and use of the imagination

2. Tool-based ('manipulative')lessons (NOT computer)such as those in arts & crafts and simple science & cooking experiences that help to develop observational,fine motor skills & hand-eye coordination: variety of writing & drawing tools, scissors for cutting,simple looms & yarn for weaving, pouring & measuring, etc.

3. Singing with others - develops language,ear for pitch, communal sense

A very sobering recent comment from an art therapist I know:
"We have no childhood anymore".

Children deserve a real childhood; what's more, they need it to become well-equipped adults.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | August 2, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"Remember it is the teachers and not the the children of the poor that do NOT have any difficulty in learning.

Our public schools for the children of the poor that do NOT have any difficulty in learning are great and the problem is the teachers."
_________________

This is NOT a great comment........

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | August 2, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Education rooms stocked with books and great toys in government owned housing developments can stir cutiosity. Pipe dream? Maybe. This would be a great place for the Teach for America wannabe types to truly make an positive impact. Let them team staff these education rooms for several hours a day and provide vibrant learning experiences for the young children
Posted by: shadwell1
..............................
This would be an admission that poor children have difficulty in learning when they enter the public schools.

This is the type of thought of the despised liberals leading to the waste of government spending.

Remember all American children are the same, and the children of the poor do NOT have any difficulty in learning. This is why it is not necessary to waste government money on the insane ideas of the liberals.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

What is 'poverty'? Income? Environment? Ethic? I always return to my grandparents who grew up under the boot of Jim Crow, had barely high school educations, yet raised children who graduated from college. PARENTS are responsible for providing 'language-rich and cognitively stimulating environments.' If the government assumes this responsibility at a younger and younger age, what incentive is there for parents to be parents? Do 'poor' parents become only birthing vessels for which society is mandated through taxes to raise their children? Who decides what is a 'language-rich and cognitively stimulating environment' for such a diverse population?

How responsible can adults be if they are bringing children into poverty? You're unmarried, undereducated, underemployed or unemployed, and you bring a child into the world; very few, if any, pundits and 'researchers' confront this. Either they're ignorant of it, which I refuse to believe, or they refuse to confront it publicly because its harsh truth weakens their arguments for the government assuming more control of peoples' lives.

Any teacher that's been through any teacher training program has been Piaget-ed and Vygotsky-ed to death, and knows the importance of a child's early cognitive development. The people who will read Galinsky's book are NOT those who need it. Do we mandate parenting classes for people under the poverty line? Do we mandate pre-school for newborns? 'Offer an early comprehensive childhood system' is a simple statement that carries a Pandora's box of consequences not matter how noble its intention. You don't need money to not bring a child into the world into poverty; wisdom and responsibility are often more difficult to acquire than a government check.

Posted by: pdfordiii | August 2, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

For a starting point, Duncan and Co. should spend a few minutes reading some of what the CDC has to say about preterm birth and learning disabilities. It should propel them to make a scholarly examination of their ill-conceived initiatives such as RttT. No, the head-in-the-sand-mentality is working just fine for Duncan and Co. With big bucks and big power, medical research is a non-issue.

http://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showRbPrematureBirthEnv.action

Posted by: shadwell1 | August 2, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Children deserve a real childhood; what's more, they need it to become well-equipped adults.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large
.................................
If parents of the children of the poor where well-equipped adults there would be no problem.

What is required is recognition of the problem, and old time liberal thought that poverty is expensive for the nation. Even in this age of globalization, America can not ship prisoners to low cost prisons outside the United States.

Poverty in the United States is growing and the children of the poor that have difficulty in learning will not become well-equipped adults.

The government should have programs to prevent an increasing poor population. Public education in the past has been one of the most effective method with this problem.

The government should set up programs for younger children to address the problem of poor children that arrive at the public schools with difficulty in learning.

The government also needs to deal with problems of the public schools of the poor to ensure that these schools provide safe schools and classrooms where teachers can teach and children can learn. This by itself could probably lower the rate of poor children that can not gain any benefit from public education since the environment in these schools are so substandard.

But this requires a nation that will recognize the problem. This requires well-equipped adults that so far have been lacking.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

"In 1999...26 percent of children lived in poverty Ten years later, the rate is 12 percent"

I find this dramatic reduction wholly incredible. Citation please?

Here are some I found in the British press:

"22% of children still live beneath the poverty line."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/may/20/poverty-coalition-government

"The growth of single-parent families has led to a quarter of children growing up in the poorest fifth of homes"
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1095802/One-British-children-living-poverty-breakdown-traditional-families.html

"At the time Mr Blair made his pledge, the number of children in relative poverty – defined by the Government as living in households whose income was 60 per cent below median earnings – stood at 4.4 million (or 3.4 million before housing costs). By the end of March 2007, after nine years of economic prosperity in which incomes rose for most households, the number of children living in relative poverty stood at 3.9 million"
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article4102673.ece

Posted by: qaz1231 | August 2, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

PARENTS are responsible for providing 'language-rich and cognitively stimulating environments.' If the government assumes this responsibility at a younger and younger age, what incentive is there for parents to be parents?
Posted by: pdfordiii
..............................
Yes and the old state orphanages were incentives for parents to abandon their children.

This is the same argument for not extending unemployment benefits since it supposedly lowers the incentive for these Americans not to work.

Government has the responsibility of dealing with problems and not pretending that they do not exist.

Increasing poverty is costly and the government needs to deal with this problem.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

PARENTS are responsible for providing 'language-rich and cognitively stimulating environments.' If the government assumes this responsibility at a younger and younger age, what incentive is there for parents to be parents?
Posted by: pdfordiii
...........................
Mary: John there is new government program and we can simply totally ignore the children.

John: That is really great. Let us have a new kid. Hey now we can buy the 20 foot boat that I want and that new designer dress you want.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

End Poverty.

http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/p/tfts-end-poverty-chiclet.html

Posted by: tfteacher | August 2, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"In 1999...26 percent of children lived in poverty Ten years later, the rate is 12 percent"

I find this dramatic reduction wholly incredible. Citation please?
Posted by: qaz1231
.................................
You might want to reread the article since a link is given to the source of the claim. Press on "Britain’s War on Poverty".

"In 1999, one in four British children lived in poverty—the third highest child poverty rate among industrialized countries. Five years later, the child poverty rate in Britain had fallen by more than half in absolute terms."

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack: I am looking for a link to actual government data, not a claim by some woman that seems starkly at odds with the 3 press reports I cited.

Posted by: qaz1231 | August 2, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack: I am looking for a link to actual government data, not a claim by some woman that seems starkly at odds with the 3 press reports I cited.

Posted by: qaz1231
...............................
Do not blame Valerie Strauss she gave a links for her statements.

Please do not blame me since I am a bleeding heart liberal that believes that public abortion clinic handing out the new abortion pills in poor neighborhoods in urban areas reduces poverty instead of vows of chastity. I believe this without government studies or statistics.

By the way the 22 percent figure does not come from "some woman" but from the "nonprofit Foundation for Child Development" according to the article.

I guess that you should also question these folks. You could email the author or the foundation.

You might also want to look for the United States government measurements on the effectiveness of the chastity vow program since millions were spent on this program.

In your analysis you should also consider that there has been an effect in Great Britain of the crash. Many more people in the United States and Great Britain are poorer since 2008. So you might need to find the figures prior to the crash of 2008.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 2, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

This article and the comments posted are rational and intelligent. Of course we should be increasing resources to young children and families in poverty. Of course children's learning is significantly affected by their earliest experiences. However, our current education policies are not rational, or child-centered, and I would guess that most dedicated readers of Valerie's blog know that.

The no-excuses rhetoric is a big fat excuse to ignore and dismiss poverty, while poverty itself simultaneously increases in the general population. This is the result of market-based ideology, the reduction of taxes on corporations (and the extremely wealthy), and an ideology that firmly promotes privatization.

A market-based plutocracy, which America has become, accepts poverty as collateral damage. A band-aid of blame is placed on public education as it bleeds the results of policies that support the uber-rich while marginalizing the rest of us. Has anyone noticed how the teacher-bashing standards/accountability/slash 'n test mentality has increased as these economic policies take deeper root?

It seems obvious that both of the dominant political parties are complicit in this arrangement. The question remains, how bad will it get before working people finally get sick and tired of it and rise up?

Posted by: Incidentally | August 2, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

@Incidentally: excellent post.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | August 2, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I’m in agreement with aed3 – “One of the most damaging aspects of our education system is the craze for early testing of literacy skills.”

It’s important for parents and the public to know what’s behind the testing craziness - profits. Unethical “researchers” and others reap royalties on snake-oil. They push their commercialized intellectual property into the classroom. Uninformed educators and politicians buy-in to the “data collecting” scheme. Certain individuals, the UT-System and the Texas Education Agency collect royalties from the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) and pre-k mCLASS assessments without financial disclosure. Others collect royalties from DIBELS. It’s time to stop the harmful PK-3 testing nonsense and end the financial gain of the insiders.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | August 2, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

As a classroom teacher, poverty is not my primary problem because I cannot control it. I must teach whomever comes through the door, as best I can.
I don't want a mayor to control the school system; I want the mayor to keep the streets clean and safe, keep the libraries open and staffed, as well as the recreation centers and public parks. I'll take care of the classroom part. We've been pouring billions of dollars since the mid 60's into solving poverty, and haven't fixed it yet, especially in our most distressed neighborhoods.

Do you tithe at church? Do you donate monthly to a non-profit charity that serves the poor? Do you open your home to babysit children of the mom down the street who works? Waiting on the government to solve these problems reminds me of what my great aunt used to say: "If you wish in one hand and poop in the other, which one gets filled first?"
If you want change, YOU be the change.

Posted by: pdfordiii | August 2, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

How responsible can adults be if they are bringing children into poverty? You're unmarried, undereducated, underemployed or unemployed, and you bring a child into the world; very few, if any, pundits and 'researchers' confront this.

If the government assumes this responsibility at a younger and younger age, what incentive is there for parents to be parents?
Posted by: pdfordiii | August 2, 2010 11:30 AM

We've been pouring billions of dollars since the mid 60's into solving poverty, and haven't fixed it yet, especially in our most distressed neighborhoods.

Do you open your home to babysit children of the mom down the street who works?

If you want change, YOU be the change.
Posted by: pdfordiii | August 2, 2010 10:57 PM
..............................
pdfordiii should make up his mind.

If the government helps with problem this will make parents not deal with problems.

But then if Americans help with problems supposedly this will not create the situation of making parents not deal with problems.

So far the only consistency that pdfordiii has shown is that pdfordiii does not want the government spending money.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 3, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone else noticed that the United States usually trails Great Britain by about ten years in respect to education? This might signify good news for us because it means that when the present fads fail (and they will) we'll go for what works:

prenatal and postnatal care;

health-care and good nutrition;

infant and toddler monitoring;

parent guidance and education;

high-quality preschool;

highly successful and well-paid teachers for the most challenging schools;

public school vouchers;

fair housing;

etc.

Also, one other thing that Britain has done is to support poor families by providing public housing throughout the country (and not just in crowded cities). This gives poor children the opportunity to attend school with more privileged peers. And we all know how important that is.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | August 3, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone else noticed that the United States usually trails Great Britain by about ten years in respect to education? This might signify good news for us because it means that when the present fads fail (and they will) we'll go for what works:
Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher
................................
The programs of Great Britain that you mention have been around since after the end of World War II.

National health in Great Britain started in 1948.

I would settle for far less. I am a liberal and not a crusader.

The problems in the Title 1 poverty public schools can be fixed to benefit the majority of children in these schools.

As a liberal I believe that government should deal with problems that are important to society. This does not mean that government can address every inequality in life.

There is no reason large numbers of children in public schools should receive an inferior education when these schools are not providing the basic standards of a school. This is a problem that can be fixed by the government at reasonable costs. The costs would probably be less than the costs of Race To The Top.

Yes other cost effective poverty programs can make a difference in education but this will still not address every inequality in life.

The current administration should deal with problems that can be fixed, and not simply pretend they are not settling for the status quo with the empty promise of this President of a college degree for every American, which is simply the modern version of a chicken in every pot.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 3, 2010 1:04 AM | Report abuse

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