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The Current State of Early Childhood Education Programs

by Michael Higham, published

Early Childhood Education

President Obama caught the attention of educators when he offered a broad early childhood education plan in last week's State of the Union address.

Analysts have examined the effectiveness of past early education programs and how other states are taking on the issue. However, one concept drives early education policy: solving the achievement gap before it starts.

The Head Start program was established in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society movement. It was initially a six-week program for four-year-old children of low-income families. Tweet at Head Start: Tweet

Head Start is still active today and has expanded into a comprehensive child development program to increase school readiness. Federal funds are given to local agencies that administer the Head Start program.

An in-depth study, published by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in October 2012, examined the effectiveness of Head Start.

Applicants for Head Start were randomly assigned to either a group that had access to the program's services or to a control group that had non-Head Start preschool options. Children in the study were tracked in academic success from 2002 to 2008, spanning 3-4 years of age to 3rd grade.

The study was summarized:

"[T]here were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children."

The study does not indicate that early childhood education is ineffective, but instead evaluates the impact of Head Start compared to other preschool options. Since its inception, the program has served over 30 million children. Tweet report: Tweet

In addition, the U.S. Department of Education and DHHS collaborated to provide an early education version of Race to the Top.

States submit proposals for revamping preschool programs and the federal government decides which states receive money from the competitive grant. The first round of awards were given to nine states. These states will split $500 million proportionally over four years.

A second round of Race to the Top - Early Learning funds were given to five states. These states will split $133 million.

California Superintendent Tom Torlakson is looking forward to gaining assistance with early childhood education. Supt. Torlakson has been frustrated with the U.S. Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind waiver-granting process.

reports that Torlakson is "ready to cooperate" and "look forward to this new opportunity to partner with the [Obama] administration." California's latest budget proposal does contain an increase in early education funding.

However, EdSource

EdSource also contrasts California's approach to early childhood education with Oklahoma's approach:

"Oklahoma served 74 percent of its 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool programs in 2011...In contrast, California served 19 percent of its 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool programs." Tweet stat: Tweet

California was one of the nine states that was awarded a portion of first-round funding from the early education Race to the Top grant.

A study and proposed plan from the Center of American Progress (CAP) -- mentioned in a previous IVN article -- states that the federal government should provide $98.4 billion in conjunction with matching state funds in a 10-year period. The average funding for preschool would be $10,000 per child each year. Tweet it: Tweet

A few more details have been released with regards to President Obama's intentions with early childhood education. One detail points out that preschool services would be provided to families at 200 percent or below the poverty line.

A fiscal evaluation of these ideas will take time to surface. Race to the Top and Head Start have been limited in scope when compared to a full nationwide assistance plan. The ambitious ideas put forth by the president and the education department will likely be considered in Congress soon.

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