Monthly Archives: July 2011

H.R. Bill to Strengthen Student Achievement Cites Future of Children

House of Representatives’ bill 2637 aims to strengthen student achievement and graduation rates and prepare young people for college, careers, and citizenship through innovative partnerships that meet the comprehensive needs of children and youth.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu [D-CA32] (sponsor) and David Loebsack [D-IA2] (co-sponsor) on July 25, 2011, and cites the Future of Children saying “…. (5) An analysis of health problems, maternal child rearing practices, and the impact of such problems and practices on education published by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution estimates that differences in these factors may account for a quarter of the racial gap in school readiness…”

The Future of Children’s Volume on School Readiness: Closing Racial and Ethnic Gaps goes on to highlight the promising strategy of increasing access to high-quality center-based early childhood education programs for poor three- and four-year-olds. Such a step would measurably boost the achievement of black and Hispanic children and narrow the school readiness gap, a priority noted in the bill ((6)1).

What should these programs look like?

High-quality Learning Environment: The education component must be high-quality, with small class sizes, a low teacher-pupil ratio, and teachers with bachelor degrees and training in early childhood education, using a curriculum that is cognitively stimulating. Not all of the child care centers and Head Start programs that now serve low-income children meet these standards.

Teacher Training: Teachers should be trained to identify children with moderate to severe behavioral problems and to work with these children to improve their emotional and social skills. Although such training is now being provided by some Head Start and some preschool programs, it is not available in most child care programs.

Parent Training: Parent training reinforces what teachers are doing in school to enhance children’s development. Examples include encouraging parents to read to children on a daily basis and teaching parents how to deal with behavior problems.

Home Visits: Staff should be available to identify health problems in children and to help parents get ongoing health care for their children. Including optional home visits would allow staff to further screen for serious mental health problems among parents or other behaviors that are not conducive to good child development. Although some Head Start programs and child care centers in low-income communities do link parents with health care services for their children, these programs do not include a home visit.

Integration: Finally, the new programs should be well aligned with the kindergarten programs that children will eventually attend so that the transition from preschool to kindergarten is successful for children, parents, and teachers.

High-quality early childhood programs such as these exist. The challenge for policymakers and practitioners is to extend the reach of these programs and make them available to low-income children, during a time of budget restraint and entitlement cuts. The return on public investment in high quality childhood education is substantial, and that should be considered when discussing the costs and benefits of budgetary changes.

The Faces of Immigration

On June 22, 2011, Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in the New York Times about his experience as an undocumented immigrant. Recently, NPR featured a 16 year-old rookie reporter who chronicled her experiences as an American citizen born to undocumented immigrant parents. Both stories put faces on the findings of a recent Future of Children Immigrant Children volume, which show that:

–Immigrant children, particularly those born to undocumented immigrant parents, are less likely to access key services such as early education and health care, than their native born peers.

–Performance of immigrant children in K-12 education varies by generational status and national origin. Immigrant youths, even some from economically disadvantaged families, often outperform their native peers in school. Poor parental education, poor-quality schools, and segregated neighborhoods, however, pose risk factors for immigrant children generally; and

–Barriers to postsecondary education are especially formidable for youth who lack legal status despite having attended U.S. elementary and secondary schools and having qualified for admission to college. Even when undocumented youth do attend college, they face substantial barriers to entering the workforce.

Nearly a quarter of schoolchildren in the United States are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Evidence shows that three policy reforms–increased attendance in quality preschool, improved instruction in English, and increased attendance in postsecondary education–would improve their school achievement, lift their economic well-being as adults, and increase their economic and social contributions to American society.