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.

2019 NIEER Report Lauds SSA, Sounds Warning for COVID-19 Impact

2019 NIEER Report Lauds SSA, Sounds Warning for COVID-19 Impact

What We’re Reading

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released its annual State of Preschool Yearbook, lauding recent developments in Oregon and raising the alarm about impacts from COVID-19.

The report cites the 2019 passage of Oregon’s  Student Success Act, which would provide $200 million in annual funding for expansion of early care and education programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. According to the report, “This increased investment, paired with current programs, should reach approximately 15,000 children (including 2,565 children in Preschool Promise), or 15 percent of children living in low-income families and approximately 60 percent of families in poverty, in the coming years.”

Oregon’s Early Learning Division (ELD) was also awarded a $26.6 million Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five renewal award (PDG-B–5) by the federal Administration for Children and Families to improve and expand early learning programs. These funds will be distributed over three years and are designed to build the infrastructure and quality supports needed to impact child outcomes through improving preschool quality, specifically targeting development of programs that reach children from historically underserved populations.

However, NIEER’s report, which outlines enrollment, spending, and quality of state-funded preschool programs across the country, comes at a time when state budgets are reeling from the effects of coronavirus closures. In Oregon, plans impacting early care and education are likely to be radically upended in the context of the pandemic. While Oregon’s complete budget forecast won’t be released until May 20, state agencies have already had to make 8.5 percent cuts in their allotted general fund spending­—a budget reality representing a worst-case scenario for this current two-year budget cycle. According to a press release from NIEER, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic problem likely to have negative long-term impacts on state budgets. That translates into negative impacts on state-funded pre-K.”

State-Funded Preschool Programs are Needed to Close Gaps

Oregon’s state-funded preschool programs are targeted to serve children from low-income families to help close gaps in school readiness that begin long before kindergarten entry. 

Cuts in state spending often hit preschool programs, and the effects are long-lasting. According to the report, many states have still not reinstated quality standards that were eliminated in response to the country’s previous 2008-2009 economic crisis. With the U.S. already serving far fewer three- and four-year-olds than comparable countries around the world, NIEER cautions against policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis that would further gut early learning across the country.

It is on this point that the State of Preschool Yearbook finds some hope: quality early education is a widely popular, bi-partisan issue, with the most robust programs occurring in both blue and red states.

With this type of broad support in mind, NIEER has made five policy recommendations summarized in the box on the left.

Results in Oregon

State-funded preschool programs enrolled 9,360 children in 2018-2019, a small decrease from the previous year. State funding was down three percent, and spending was down $183 per child from 2017-2018.

Oregon’s two state-funded preschool programs, Oregon Pre-kindergarten (OPK) and Preschool Promise, met an average of 7.5 of 10 quality standards benchmarks.



What’s missing from NIEER’s quality benchmarks?

According to Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy for Children’s Institute, there are some shortcomings to the benchmarks NIEER uses to assess program quality.

“A program earns points for mandating that all teachers hold a bachelor’s degree, for example,“ she says, “but does not earn points for paying teachers well, having a high percentage of teachers with bachelors degrees, or for achieving a diverse teacher workforce.”

Oregon has prioritized a comprehensive approach, including efforts to achieve parity in salaries with local kindergarten teachers and retaining, recruiting, and creating pathways for teachers of color to earn degrees and become preschool teachers. Additional limitations to the benchmarks include:

Full-day programs are not a NIEER benchmark.

Growing evidence indicates that a longer preschool day can help close opportunity and achievement gaps in young children at kindergarten entry and beyond, and increases economic stability for families. Full-day programs are shown to improve  social-emotional, language, physical, and cognitive development, and are tied to reductions in chronic absenteeism. Preschool Promise is a full-day program, and increasing the number of full-day Head Start programs has been a priority in the SSA budget.

Inclusion of three-year-olds is not a NIEER benchmark.

Research also shows that two years of preschool makes the largest impact for children who face barriers to success. Inclusion of three-year-olds is a strength of Oregon’s preschool approach.

Competitive and fair teacher compensation is not a NIEER benchmark.

Low wages for preschool teachers undermine quality for children. In Oregon, Preschool Promise and Head Start have increased educator wages.

NIEER does not measure supports for quality from a resourced system.

States like New Jersey have seen success by taking a comprehensive approach to investing in preschool, workforce, and infrastructure. States that invest in preschool slots without supportive resources to ensure success are less successful.


Support Our Work!

Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

Soobin Oh Discusses Anti-Bias Education in Early Childhood

Soobin Oh Discusses Anti-Bias Education in Early Childhood

In this week’s episode, we speak with Soobin Oh about the importance of anti-bias education in early childhood. Soobin Oh is the senior education advisor at Children’s Institute. He is a committed social justice educator and is well-versed in anti-bias education, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and critical pedagogy. Soobin holds a master’s in early childhood inclusive curriculum and instruction from Portland State University (PSU) and is working towards his Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction at PSU with a research focus on social justice in early childhood education.


Institutional Bias is the tendency of institutions to advantage and favor certain groups of people while other groups are disadvantaged or devalued.

Explicit Bias is attitudes and beliefs of individuals about other people or groups of people on a conscious level.

Implicit Bias is attitudes and beliefs of individuals about other people or groups of people on an unconscious level. Implicit bias is a problem for educators because it can come into play in a classroom without intent.

A Tourist Curriculum is a superficial educational approach that does not make diversity a routine part of the ongoing, daily learning environment. Instead, it is curriculum that “drops in” on strange, exotic people to see their holidays and taste their foods, and then returns to the “real” world of “regular” life. Essentially it treats non-western cultures as “other.”

Recommended Reading

What is Anti-Bias Education? – NAEYC

Leading Anti-Bias Early Childhood Programs – Louise Derman-Sparks, Debbie LeeKeenan & John Nimmo 

Anti-Bias Education in the Early Childhood Classroom – Katie Kissinger

EdWeek: Oregon Earns a B on Early Years, C+ for Overall Education Quality

EdWeek: Oregon Earns a B on Early Years, C+ for Overall Education Quality

Education Week’s latest report on education quality gives Oregon a C+ and a ranking of 32nd in the country. When broken down into three stages of a student’s life, (early foundations, school years, and adult outcomes) the analysis finds that Oregon does slightly better on indicators of school readiness.

The Quality Counts 2020 report card uses federal data to compare states across 13 indicators it refers to collectively as a “Chance-for-Success Index.” Taken together, they are meant to offer a more holistic view of educational opportunity. In addition to metrics like elementary reading scores and high school graduation rates, the analysis is informed by a number of non-academic early indicators that predict school readiness. These include the percentage of children in families earning at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level, parents’ educational attainment level, and the percentage of parents who are fluent English speakers.

Most states, including Oregon, fared best on the early foundations category, but struggled in later years. Education Week also notes the lack of improvement overall among states. Oregon’s worst performing early indicator was preschool access—with just 46 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, slightly below the national average.


What’s the difference between Oregon and top performing states?

  • In Massachusetts, the top-ranking state on the report card, 60 percent of 3- and 4- year-olds are enrolled in preschool, 14 percentage points higher than Oregon. And 64 percent of children in that state have at least one parent with a post-secondary degree vs. 52.5 percent in Oregon.
  • All states with an overall score of B+ or higher on the index reported top-tier parent incomes. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Minnesota, and New Hampshire all reported that more than 70 percent of dependent children lived in households earning at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level vs. 63.1 percent in Oregon.

Education Week’s full report is here. It also plans to issue a second installment in June on school finance and a K–12 achievement index in September.


Report: The State of Child Care in Oregon

Report: The State of Child Care in Oregon

The Oregon Early Learning Division has released its first of three reports on the state of publicly funded child care. The reports are mandated by passage of HB 2346 last March. The State of Early Care & Education and Child Care Assistance in Oregon offers a comprehensive review of state programs and how they currently work to serve children and families.

In painstaking statistical detail, the report reinforces what many families are living every day—the availability of high-quality, regulated child care slots in Oregon has dropped to crisis levels while the costs continue to increase. The lack of available, high-quality care is especially hard on low-income families, those living in rural or non-metro areas and those headed by single parent households. Children of color are disproportionately represented among households earning incomes below the federal poverty line ($42,660 per year for a family of three).

Some highlights of the report:

  • Nearly two-thirds of children under 5 have either both parents or a single parent employed.
  • 72 percent of the $1.3 billion spent on early care and education is directly financed by parents.
  • For children birth to 2, the entire state is a child care desert—defined as a place where there are more than three children for every available child care slot. Things improve only slightly as children age. For all children under 5, 27 of 39 counties in Oregon are considered a child care desert.
  • Only 15 percent of children eligible for subsidized child care are currently being served through state and federal subsidy programs. The median price of full-time child care for an infant is $14,532, substantially more than the cost of public college tuition in Oregon.
  • More than 24,000 people worked as early care and education providers in 2018, with the vast majority employed by center-based and large home care settings (77 percent). The median wage earned for center based care workers was $12–17.05 per hour. Home based providers typically earn less.

What’s Next?

The ELD and Oregon State University’s Child Care Research Partnership are working on a demographic and geographic analysis of supply and demand, and an additional report on barriers to accessing child care subsidies. Both reports are due by June 2020 to the Legislative Task force on Access to Quality Affordable Child Care, a group tasked to review and make recommendations for changes.

Read More

What If We Expanded Child Care Subsidies?

Oregon’s Child Care Crisis





Rob Grunewald on the Economic Impact of Early Childhood Investments

Rob Grunewald on the Economic Impact of Early Childhood Investments

In this episode of The Early Link Podcast, we speak with Rob Grunewald, an economist who advocates for investments in early childhood programs and services.

Rob Grunewald is an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. He conducts research on community development and regional economic issues and co-authored a report called “Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return.”


There are 12 Federal Reserve banks in the US, and the Minneapolis Federal Reserve serves Minnesota, northern WI and MI, Dakotas, and Montana. The mission of the Federal Reserve banks is to provide the nation with stable monetary policy and a safe and flexible financial system. This includes deciding which investments will have the most positive effect on the local economy. 

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ interest in supporting early childhood development programs is important because these programs are rarely portrayed as economic development initiatives. If such programs exist they are usually at the bottom of the economic development lists for state and local governments. However, research has shown that is a mistake. Early childhood development programs should be at the top of the list. Most of the numerous projects and initiatives that state and local governments fund in the name of creating new private businesses and new jobs result in few public benefits. In contrast, studies liked the ones cited in Grunewald’s report find that well-focused investments in early childhood development yield high public as well as private returns.

Recommended Reading

“Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return”

“The Promise of Early Childhood Development in Indian County”

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