Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

In Oregon, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Grants (KPI) fund a diverse range of programming that supports early school readiness and family engagement, as well as professional development for early childhood and early grades educators. Data shows that KPI programs are especially impactful for children and families from historically underrepresented communities.

-But as COVID-19 began working its way through the state in March and state budget projections have plummeted in its wake, those who work on behalf of young children are facing a challenging new reality: some KPI programs may not have the funding to continue.

That’s unfortunate for thousands of kids and families who benefit from such programs and contrary to the equity goals that the state has laid out for itself. Spanish-speaking children and families are among the historically underrepresented communities that have benefited most from KPI programming.

“We rely on KPI funds to provide a number of our culturally specific early learning and parent engagement programs,” says Sadie Feibel, early childhood director at Latino Network. “These programs are critical for supporting Latinx children and their parents to become confident learners and engaged advocates in our schools.”

On a scale of 1 [definitely disagree] to 5 [definitely agree] all families surveyed reported increased benefits of participating in KPI-funded family engagement programming, but Latinx families showed the greatest levels of growth across a range of school readiness indicators. Source: Early Learning Division, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation Grants, Outcomes Survey Summary, 2018

A Systems-Change Strategy, Embedded with Equity

KPI’s vulnerability in the budget may partly be due to the fact that it’s part of a larger effort to drive systems change in early education and early grades learning.

Improving the alignment between what have traditionally been two separate systems of care and support for children and families is the overarching goal of “P-3,” or prenatal to third grade work.  That shift in thinking and approach is a key strategy for closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

“We know that opportunity gaps are evident before children ever step foot in a kindergarten classroom,” says Brooke Chilton-Timmons, early learning coordinator for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System. “So the work to address them really needs to begin much earlier than age 5, and to be truly effective and lasting, it needs to be woven into other supports in the early health and social service sectors.”

Molly Day, director of Multnomah County’s early learning hub, worries that because KPI-funded programming is so innovative, that the big picture, long-term benefits can be hard for some to grasp. She fears that the positive momentum gained over the last seven years of the program will be lost if funding is interrupted.

For those struggling to understand the nuance and complexity of this multi-system, multi-pronged approach, she offers a simple distillation: “KPI work is equity work.” 

Nurturing Family Engagement in Multnomah County

Chau Hunyh, a former P-3 coordinator with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) worked at Lincoln Elementary in the David Douglas School District. The surrounding neighborhood includes a number of Bhutanese and Nepalese refugee families.

Hunyh served as an important cultural broker between families, the school, and the community, hosting relationship-building parent education events and by connecting families to available food, health, and other resources. She is particularly proud of her work with two Bhutanese parents who are deaf. She was able to connect them to interpretation and other assistance that gave them the confidence to converse with school staff and participate in school-based activities and events like a play and learn group and Bingo night.

Prior to Hunyh’s involvement, no Bhutanese families had registered for a SUN after school program or for summer program opportunities. Afterwards, ten families signed up.

Photo Courtesy of Youth and Family Services Division, SUN Service System, Multnomah County

The work of P-3 coordinators often goes beyond supporting kindergarten readiness, as parent Charmaine Worthy shared in a letter she wrote about Ventura Park Elementary’s P-3 coordinator, Jacqui MacDougal. It reads in part: 

“Jacqui expertly led a week-long program that built a great foundation for those lucky kids – from familiarizing them with their new school environment, to practicing the routines and expectations that their kindergarten teachers would have of them in the weeks to come.

[Her work] has been especially meaningful to us because of financial challenges we’ve experienced in the last few years. From [connections to resources like] Backpack Buddies to food pantries and food boxes offered to us, Jacqui has been a dependable source of comfort, encouragement, and relief at times when we did not have the means to fully provide for ourselves.

We are humbled by the kindness and respect that she has always treated us with. We are so grateful for “Ms Jacqui” and the tireless work that she does for the Ventura Park community.”

From Participants to Parent Leaders 

“P-3 work not only benefits families who receive services, but it also empowers the parents to serve as leaders and advocates for their own communities, from within their own communities,” said Mani Xaybanha, a program specialist for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System.

Xaybanha notes that four former P-3 program participants are now serving as P-3 coordinators in elementary schools. 

“The impact those parents have is amazing,” she said. 

Learn more about the power of parent leadership in this story from our Early Childhood Coalition partner, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). (Click image to view)

Child Care Reopen Survey Reflects Concern for Health, Financial Instability

Child Care Reopen Survey Reflects Concern for Health, Financial Instability

Oregon’s child care providers are feeling strong financial pressure to reopen, but are unsure of their ability to effectively implement health, safety, and other requirements outlined by the state.

That’s according to more than 1,600 providers who responded to a survey conducted in April by Oregon’s Early Learning Division. The ELD says that the responses helped to update standards for child care in mid-May, and promises more detailed analysis and additional surveys to come.

More than half of providers responding to the survey were open, mostly as emergency care providers (62 percent).

Respondents represented a wide range of setting types, demographic and geographic backgrounds.

In addition to English, 128 respondents took the survey in Spanish and 16 took the survey in Russian. There were no respondents in the other languages offered (Vietnamese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese).

eld survey child care 5.20

Provider representation by zip code. Source: ELD

Social Distancing Requirement Considered Impossible

Licensed and regulated child care in Oregon can take many forms, from smaller, home-based settings to large, center-type facilities. Regardless of setting type, providers overwhelmingly cited the ability to maintain six feet of social distance as one of the most difficult requirements to implement.

A number of providers felt that doing so with infants and young children was a practical impossibility. Maintaining stable groups of 10 or fewer is also very difficult for all but those registered as family providers, who usually care for just a small number of children.

 

Source: ELD

Reopening Barriers

Health and safety concerns are the biggest barrier to reopening for respondents who are not currently operating, presumably due to COVID-19 related issues (49 percent). Providers expressed concern about their ability to keep themselves, their staff, and the children under their care healthy without a significant reduction in cases or a widely-available vaccine. Some did not feel it would be safe to reopen until the coronavirus is eliminated and others said that reopening was not an option due to their own or family members’ health status.

Source: ELD

Financial Support Needed

The cost of operating with lower or limited enrollment was the second most-cited barrier, especially for providers who usually serve larger numbers of children. All types of providers felt that financial stabilization or tuition replacement assistance will be necessary to reopen. Many providers who are currently operating said that they are doing so at a financial loss or barely covering costs. Offering hazard (recognition) pay for staff and additional training for staff was also named as a top priority.  

The full report is here and includes more detailed information about providers’ responses and comments on the survey’s open-ended questions.

supports to reopen child care

Source: ELD

Child Care Crisis Not Limited to Oregon

Oregon’s survey results echo those from similar surveys conducted in other states like CaliforniaNew Jersey, and Nebraska.

In addition to state-level efforts to support child care, there is increasing awareness that federal investment is necessary to keep the child care industry afloat.

Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Ron Wyden have called for $50 billion in emergency funding for child care in the next coronavirus stimulus package. 

 

Protecting the Building Blocks of Early Learning: An Urgent Priority.

Protecting the Building Blocks of Early Learning: An Urgent Priority.

For those who missed it on May 26, here is the webinar recording and slide deck for Protecting the Building Blocks of Early Learning: An Urgent Priority. 

Hosted by The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, this webinar features our own Elena Rivera, senior health policy and program advisor at Children’s Institute.

Here’s the summary from GLR:

In this special GLR webinar, Dr. Jacqueline Jones of Foundation for Child Development moderated a conversation exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young children and strategies and resources that can help support children’s emotional well-being.

Dr. Pamela Cantor, the Founder of Turnaround for Children, discussed the “COVID paradox” in which the physical distancing that keeps us and others safe can threaten the social connections that help us manage stress and build resilience. She explained the impacts that stress — and the resulting cortisol — can have on brain development but emphasized that positive relationships — and the resulting oxytocin — can protect children and help them manage stress and build resiliency. Cantor underscored the importance of context on brain development and explained how, to be effective, our education system needs to support the whole child and the learner inside that child. She outlined the five non-negotiables for whole-child design: Positive Developmental Relationships; Environments Filled with Safety and Belonging; Integrated Supports; Intentional Development of Critical Skills; Mindsets and Habits; and Rich, Instructional Experiences for Children. She discussed the Building Blocks for Learning framework and explained how the three R’s — Relationships, Routines and Resilience — can support healthy development, learning and stress management, both while children are at home and when they return to school.

Dr. Philip Fisher of the Center for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Oregon shared how he launched Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development – Early Childhood (RAPID-EC) to gather and share real-time information about the challenges facing families of young children during this crisis. A weekly survey of a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 households with at least one child under age 5, RAPID-EC has uncovered significant increases in caregiver stress and decreases in family income with many respondents also reporting difficulties in paying for basic necessities and delays in seeking health care services. While the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are widespread, Fisher shared how low-income households and those in which a child has a disability are reporting much higher rates of mental health difficulties. Survey reports are posted each week to help inform public and private responses to the crisis. While many of the issues underlying the survey responses predate the pandemic, Fisher suggested that the findings can help leaders transform the early childhood system, making quality care and supports more accessible.

Elena Rivera of Children’s Institute shared her reflections on the presentations, highlighting the themes of the importance of families and relationships, the existence of disparities that must be addressed and an urgency to act now. She explained that this crisis offered the opportunity to “build back better” by holding families at the center, focusing on equity and taking action now. She encouraged webinar participants to lift up both stories and data to make the case for change, to connect with people through action and to build a movement to advance systems change for young children and their families.

A Growing Presence on Opinion Pages: Early Childhood

A Growing Presence on Opinion Pages: Early Childhood

If you’re struggling to keep up with the sheer number of recently published opinion pieces relevant to early childhood, you’re not alone. The coronavirus pandemic is bringing more attention to a number of longstanding issues that affect children’s healthy development, including our growing child care crisis and ever-widening opportunity gaps in education.  

Here’s a selection of some of the best we’ve seen lately. Catch up when you have a moment.  

 

opinion round up image

A selection of opinion headlines from across the country

Today’s Children are the Pandemic Generation. For Millions, the Future is Now Grim

Writing in the Washington Post, Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician, and Karen B. Redlener, co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund, outline a bleak future for the world’s most vulnerable children in the wake of the pandemic.

“There is no doubt that persistent lockdowns and school closings have affected children everywhere. UNICEF reports that more than 91 percentof the world’s children are impacted by school shutdowns, and at least 117 million children are at risk of missing vital health care, including critical vaccines. Extensive surveys conducted bySave the Children also found that nearly half of all children said they were ‘worried’ and a third reported feeling ‘scared.’

These challenges only add to the serious adversities many children already face—from poverty and homelessness to food insecurity and suboptimal schools. A new report from Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy projects that if unemployment reaches 30 percent, child poverty could rise from 13.6 percent as of February 2020 to nearly 21 percent by the end of the year.”

 

I’m Sick of Asking Children to be Resilient

In a fierce call to action pediatrician, author, and advocate, Mona Hanna-Attisha in the New York Times argues that if we truly care about children, we need evidence-based investments and policies that support their healthy development and wellbeing. 

“This is how we begin to transform the concept of resilience from an individual trait to one that describes a community—and society—that cares for everyone. Rather than hoping a child is tough enough to endure the insurmountable, we must build resilient places—healthier, safer, more nurturing and just—where all children can thrive. This is where prevention and healing begin.”

Want to Reopen the Economy? Bail Out Child Care Providers

The Los Angeles Times endorses public investment in child care as a necessary step towards economic recovery. While none of the arguments will be new or surprising for early childhood advocates, this board editorial presents them to a general audience in an accessible and pragmatic way.

“Child care is too often an afterthought for the nation’s political leaders. It’s treated as an optional expense. A lifestyle choice. A woman’s problem. But you can’t have a strong, prosperous economy if a significant portion of the population can’t work. And parents of children too young to be left home alone can’t get back to work as long as schools, summer camps and day-care centers are closed.”

Repairing the Broken Child Care Market

Closer to home, the Bend Bulletin’s editorial board makes a similar argument while also praising local efforts to help.

“Before the pandemic, registered child care centers and in-home providers had enough openings only for one in three children under the age of 5. Then the pandemic drove many child care facilities to shutdown. Others couldn’t keep as many children.

What has been impressive is the way people in Central Oregon responded even before the pandemic hit. There are many groups to credit, including Central Oregon chambers, Governor Brown’s Regional Solutions team, Better Together, The Early Learning Hub, NeighborImpact, Central Oregon Health Council, TRACES, OSU-Cascades, COCC and more. They created a Central Oregon child care accelerator position to coordinate the efforts to improve child care in the region. The effort now has a new website, centraloregonchildcare.com.”

Working Parents Could Face Lack of Child Care as the Economy Restarts

In political news outlet, The Hill, Cindy Cisneros, former special assistant for elementary education at the Department of Education, lays out a number of specific actions that the federal government should take to support child care in the next stimulus package. She maintains that the economy cannot fully recover from the pandemic without serious and substantial support for working parents. 

“Congress can provide states temporary funding to programs to stabilize and continue operations during the next year while the economy moves to more parents going back to work. Congress can provide grants to child care programs that are now closed so they can reopen and meet community needs. Public private partnerships can be encouraged to help programs reduce costs and operate in a more efficient manner.”

Looking for a more irreverent take on the same topic? Also in the New York Times, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy and Katie Mayshak illustrate a stark, post-COVID reality for working parents in a country without increased public funding to support child care in, Say Hello to That New Spin Studio and Goodbye to Your Child Care

Turning a Blind Eye Toward Pre-K is a Mistake

Writing in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Chris Gentilviso argues that concerns about COVID-19-related opportunity gaps in education need to include consideration of our youngest learners. 

“As we think about education in a post-pandemic world, turning a blind eye toward pre-K is a mistake…Early childhood education should be a top-of-mind concern, and there is no distance learning bandage for our kids’ critical development before age 5.” 

A Preschool Watering Hole… Evaporated

For an early educator’s perspective, please read Teresa Ashford’s thoughtful piece on her struggle to honor best practice in the classroom alongside new health and safety standards brought on by COVID-19. 

“Children are hands-on, sensory learners. They learn by exploring, moving, and physically engaging with their environments. I understand that developmentally appropriate practice must be sacrificed in the midst of staying alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Our lives are more important… But what will be the long-term outcomes on children’s development?”

Early Childhood Investments are Even More Critical Now

Last but not least, here’s our own Swati Adarkar’s response to the latest state revenue forecast and why she believes that now, more than ever, is the time to hold fast to public investments in early childhood.

“Now is the time to hold firm on Oregon’s commitment to young children and their families and to protect and expand our early childhood investments. This will take moral courage and clarity about how to best address long-standing inequities in Oregon while considering the state’s future economic health.

We are inspired by Oregonians coming together to create solutions, and we know that centering our most vulnerable children and families when decisions are made will give us a stronger and healthier state. We stand ready to work with our elected officials, partners, and families to ensure a brighter, healthier future for us all.”

Q&A with Karen Twain: Why I Believe in Early School Success

Q&A with Karen Twain: Why I Believe in Early School Success

Karen Twain is the director of programs at Children’s Institute, overseeing our Early Works initiative in Yoncalla, Oregon and Southeast Portland, and CI’s newly launched Early School Success program.

A career educator, Twain was most recently the assistant superintendent at Tigard-Tualatin School District. Here, Twain shares more about her passion for early learning, and her perspective on what it means to connect the early years and early grades.

Karen Twain reading with child


Tell us a little about your background as an educator and why you joined Children’s Institute as director of programs.

I was a peer tutor for kids with disabilities when I was in elementary school and absolutely loved it. I was a babysitter, camp counselor, and youth coach and always knew that I wanted to work with kids. I began my teaching career in first grade, then special education, and I was a school counselor.

After teaching and counseling, I went into administration and held several roles at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. All but my first year of teaching was in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

After 33 years in public education, I felt in my heart that it was time for a change. I knew that if we wanted to work on really closing opportunity gaps, we needed to focus on what happens from birth to age 5. I am passionate about several things in education—inclusion, equity, and early learning. As director of programs, I have a unique opportunity to improve things at the district or system level, so that families and students are truly set up for academic and lifelong success.

Early Works began in 2010 as a learning laboratory for innovative practices in early education and a lot of that work informed the development of Early School Success, which is described as an initiative to better connect or align the early years and early grades. Can you describe, in simple terms, what that means for students and families?

When I talk about alignment or instructional alignment, what I’m trying to convey most simply is the idea that instead of two separate systems—preschool and elementary school—we need to think and act more holistically, so that children and families have a more seamless early education experience.

So first, consistency for children and families is important. Transitions from grade to grade can be the most challenging aspect of moving through the educational system. Classroom or instructional expectations can be different and students can find it unsettling and intimidating.

For example, a preschool teacher might allow students to finish their work and then move on to another activity. The next year’s kindergarten teacher may ask them to wait quietly at their desk until everyone is done before transitioning to the next activity.

These misaligned expectations may cause behavioral problems for some students. And because we know that student engagement is a strong predictor of later school success, it’s critical that we not underestimate children’s abilities to think, reason, and grapple with complex materials.

So, the more instruction is aligned, the less repetition there is in content, the higher level of engagement we will see for children. It’s also important to understand the role that social emotional and family engagement play in helping students reach their full potential.

Let’s talk about family engagement for a bit. I know that the Early School Success pilot districts [Forest Grove and Beaverton] have both chosen to focus on family engagement this year. Why?

Yes, right now, all the schools we are working with in both districts have identified family engagement as an area of focus. Family engagement is part of the DNA of early learning because it is a widely held belief among early educators that a huge part of student success comes when schools and educators have strong partnerships with families. We need to find a way to engage families in a more authentic way that builds on their existing assets, skills and knowledge, so they have a true voice in their children’s education.

Can you share more about what that looks like in the classrooms and at the school level?

At one school, they are using dialogue circles to get more input, help families feel more welcome in the school setting, and work through differences. This approach can serve as an example of aligning practices from preschool to fifth grade. We are looking for more opportunities like this to share these best practices with our school partners and bring more parents to the table to help shape what they think family engagement and their own children’s learning at school should look like.

At another school, they have been working to align developmentally appropriate practices with play and inquiry across their school. They have seen third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers asking for materials to promote these practices as they teach math, science, etc.

Another thing we are seeing is more vertical teacher collaboration, or collaboration across grade levels. We have heard some teachers say that this is the first time they have been invited to engage in these types of conversations. Just to be invited to the table to help co-design and create teaching and learning experiences is novel for many educators.

What should school leaders know about the way ESS operates that is different from other educational initiatives or professional development that their staff or communities may have been involved in in the past?

Children’s Institute serves as a facilitator and supports schools and districts in many ways. We are integrating human-centered design, improvement science, and equity to identify problems of practice. By using this in our professional development with districts, we have identified a process by which educators can become more aligned in their every day practices.

A less technical way to describe it is to say that this is a ground-up, rather than a top-down strategy. We want to work in partnership with learning communities, and really be driven by collaboration—to honor the existing strengths and expertise of local communities—rather than to come in and say, “I have a solution!”

We believe that’s going to offer a more enduring and effective path forward.

What do you hope to achieve with ESS? What is the ultimate vision?

Well, I think it’s important to be honest and say upfront that transforming the early learning experience for children, families, and communities will take time.

It’s a really tall order and we have many equity-related, engagement-related, instructional, and structural barriers that we need to overcome in order to be successful. But I believe that if we stay diligent and collaborate, we will have students, families, and educators feeling good and successful about their work in the schools. Ultimately, the dream is to make serious progress in closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

The COVID-19 pandemic has really turned the education world upside down. What are some of the challenges that have come up for P-5 work as a result? Do you see any opportunities?

This is a time to work closely with families. There is an opportunity to build on relationships as we work together to educate children while they’re home. How can we support our schools to support their families to support their children? If we can do this, then children will continue to learn in some way.

Clearly, online learning is a challenge, so we are making suggestions of appropriate ways to help families in their current situation. Not everyone can get on a computer or do packets so by understanding the context for each child and family, we can help them during this difficult time.

 

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Video: Early School Success

Video: Early School Success

We're excited to share our newest video, a birds-eye overview of Early School Success. If you are new to the program or want to learn more about how a community-driven process can improve connections between preschool and elementary school, take a look! Click here...

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