Preschool for kids, training for moms

Low-income mothers in Tulsa are encouraged to send their children to Head Start — and train for better jobs, reports NPR’s Eric Westervelt.

WESTERVELT: Two dozen students, all women, settle into long white tables and stiff metal chairs in a classroom at Tulsa Community College’s downtown campus. . . . It’s a required monthly seminar for the program Career Advance. Topics include resume building and basic finances. This week: Workplace Etiquette 101. Be on time, eye contact, firm handshake, basic hygiene.

Career Advance, run by the nonprofit Community Action Project of Tulsa or CAP, links low-income parents with education, career training in health care fields.

Consuela Houessou came to Tulsa from Benin about a decade ago. She works weekends as a nurse’s assistant, but hopes to become a registered nurse. She compares her grades with her children. “I get A’s today, what did you get?”

Helping parents helps children, says Steven Dow, CAP Tulsa’s executive director.

WESTERVELT: It’s heading for 8:30 a.m. at a bustling headstart center in East Tulsa and 32-year-old Tiffany Contreras is late to drop off her 4-year-old daughter. The on-time kids play with blocks, puzzles and books on the carpet while a teacher prepares a cereal breakfast.

8:45, still no Tiffany Contreras. Her daily juggle is on – four kids, a commute, classes, homework and meetings. Her husband, the father of her two youngest, works the night shift coating gas pipes and airplane parts at an industrial paint shop. 8:50, she finally arrives. Adding to Tiffany’s hectic mix this week, a dinner gone wrong nearly torched her kitchen.

TIFFANY CONTRERAS: A pan of grease caught on fire. It ruined my stove a couple of my cabinets. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The story of my life. Always something.

Many women in Career Advance go from one crisis to another, says staffer Megan Oehlke. “It’s my car died. I had a house fire. We had an unexpected stabbing in our family last week. My mom is hospitalized. She does all my child care. It’s all of those things together that they’re trying to figure out how to finagle, and still be successful in school.”

Accountability comes to Head Start

Head Start, Meet Accountability, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic. After years of debate about Head Start’s value — are there any lasting benefits? — federal lawmakers want proof the program prepares children for kindergarten. For the first time, providers will have to meet quality and effectiveness measures to retain funding.

Many Head Start and state-run prekindergarten programs aren’t high quality, writes Quinton.

National studies of public pre-K programs have found that children spend most of their time playing, eating, and waiting around, and that instructional quality is generally low. A federal impact study, released in 2012, found that while Head Start children experience initial gains in health, language, and reading skills, those gains usually disappear by third grade. House Republicans use that study to argue that Head Start is a failure and not worth the $8.6 billion taxpayers will spend on the program this year.

Head Start providers that perform poorly on federal audits will have to compete for funding against other preschool providers.

“Providers must abide by some 2,400 federal standards that dictate everything from how toilets are cleaned to the size of facilities,” writes Quinton. But few programs have lost funding, no matter how poorly they perform.

In the future Head Start providers will have to set goals for preparing children for kindergarten and show they’re taking steps to achieve them.

. . . Programs(must) meet minimum thresholds on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, a privately developed tool that assesses how teachers and staff interact with children. CLASS doesn’t measure learning outcomes, per se, but high scores are correlated with better learning.

. . . Monitors use the CLASS tool to rate emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. Teachers get high scores for instruction if they seize on teachable moments all day long: asking children questions, responding with more than one-word answers, and introducing new vocabulary words even in casual conversation.

Evaluating preschool quality isn’t easy, reports Education Week. A commonly used preschool evaluation tool doesn’t correlate with better outcomes, according to a study published in the spring 2014 edition of  Education Finance and Quality. The Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised, which is used by many states to evaluate quality has little connection to the academic, language, and social functioning of children evaluated at age 5, researchers found.

What high-quality preschool looks like

Tulsa spends $7,500 per child to provide “high-quality” preschool, reports NPR.

All teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and be certified in early childhood education.

$33,500 per year to teach ‘napping’

Manhattan school for babies will charge $33,500 per year to teach “napping” and “play,” reports the Daily Mail. Explore+Discover is designed for babies and toddlers three to 23 months old.

The school day starts at 8am and finishes at 6pm. The schedule include morning explorations, music, story time, outdoor play, napping, the development of self-feeding skills and Spanish.

All of the teachers have master’s degrees in early childhood education. There will be three for every class of eight to 12 infants.

I assume it’s for two-career parents who’d otherwise hire a nanny, but 10 hours a day in “school” for babies?

When pre-k is too late

New York City is adding prekindergarten seats to public schools, but pre-k may come too late to change the trajectory of disadvantaged children,writes Ginia Bellafante in a New York Times blog.

Last year, when I was visiting a public school in Sunset Park in Brooklyn for teenagers with boundless difficulties, my host, a poet who teaches at various city schools, mentioned a student who had become pregnant. Hoping to start a library for the child soon to arrive, the poet told the young woman embarking on motherhood that she would like to give her some books — books of the kind her own grandchildren growing up in a very different Brooklyn had by the dozens. The offer was met skeptically. “I already have one,” the girl said.

A young, single mother “who thinks one book is enough” isn’t likely to expand her child’s vocabulary or knowledge of the world through talking, reading or exposition, writes Bellafante. “We should concentrate our energies on helping the most vulnerable parents and children beginning at, or before, birth,” she concludes.

The left is squeamish about telling poor people how to behave, Bellafante concedes. “No one wants to live in a world in which social workers are marching through apartments mandating the use of colorful, laminated place mats emblazoned with pictures of tiny kangaroos and the periodic table.”

But perhaps paternalism can be sold as “compassion,” she concludes.

The Harlem Children’s Zone includes a Baby College, a parenting workshop for expectant parents and those raising a child up to three years old. There’s an intensive preschool program to prepare three- and four-year-olds for kindergarten. It’s not clear the “pipeline” concept is effective enough to justify the costs.

What does ‘quality’ preschool look like?

The State of Preschool, which airs tonight on the PBS NewsHour, asks what “quality” preschool looks like and costs.

Suspension disparity starts in preschool

Graphic by Bill Kuchman/POLITICO

Yes, it’s possible to be suspended from preschool — especially if you’re black. Black children make up 18 percent of preschoolers but 48 percent of students suspended more than once, according to the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Across K-12 schools, black students represented 16 percent of the student population but 42 percent suspended more than once in the 2011-12 school year.

Latinas learn to be ‘first teachers’

In an immigrant neighborhood in Chicago, Latina mothers are learning to be their children’s “first teachers,” reports Sara Neufeld in the Hechinger Report. Then they’re expected to spread the word about early learning by organizing playgroups and classes for their friends, relatives and neighbors.

Laura Barrios (left), leading activities for babies during an educational playgroup with Lorenza Pascual. (Kim Palmer / Hechinger Report)Many Latino immigrants think “their role is to keep their babies safe, clean, well-fed and loved,” say researchers. Parents think learning doesn’t start till kindergarten and happens at school. 

In a 2012 survey, 26 percent of young Latino children had been read to in the previous week, compared with 41 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of whites.  

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association is training “early childhood ambassadors.” Most are stay-at-home mothers with limited formal education.

Trainers from Countdown to Kindergarten ran a “two-day workshop focused on easy and affordable activities, from turning toilet paper rolls into imaginary binoculars to helping children write their addresses on a drawing of a house to observing nature and the outdoors.”

Over the summer, the women began weekly playgroups outside their neighborhood YMCA.

One sticky August Tuesday, the playgroup attracted about 40 parents and children. Some embarked on a “wonder walk” around the building, looking for plastic animal and plant figurines placed strategically in the grass and visiting trees they had “adopted” by placing ribbons on them. Others practiced learning shapes and colors by painting potatoes cut into triangles, squares, circles and rectangles. Babies explored puzzles and books spread out on a blanket while older kids worked in a garden. 

Isidra Mena, 31, there with her 2-year-old nephew and 5-year-old daughter, said the children were starting to recognize real vegetables at home because of what the playgroups were teaching them. Rosa Tafoya, 22, who had been coming all summer with her 3- and 5-year-old daughters, said the girls were doing better taking turns with each other, and sometimes they were choosing to draw with chalk on the sidewalk instead of playing video games.

Over the winter, the ambassadors helped to run a 10-week class for families with children 5 and under called Abriendo Puertas or “Opening Doors.”

If I ran a foundation, I’d fund the creation of a TV show — maybe a soap opera or telenovela — that would show people parenting well and coping with family problems. How do you read a book aloud to a small child? Not everyone knows. Show ‘em.

Study: Kindergarten is too easy

Kindergarten may be the new first grade, but kids learn more when teachers expose them to advanced reading and math content, instead of sticking to letters and numbers, concludes a new study. Students don’t benefit from “basic content coverage,” researchers write. “Interestingly, this is true regardless of whether they attended preschool, began kindergarten with more advanced skills, or are from families with low income.”

Mrs. Lipstick, a first-grade teacher, has mixed thoughts on Organized Chaos.

When we “teach up” kids do tend to learn more, often because we are giving more meaning behind the basic, rote concepts we want them to learn. This is why I saw so much progress in my intellectual disabilities class last year. Not knowing another way to teach I simply taught the class the way I would run a general education classroom- and the kids responded by soaking it all in.

I still had to provide small group work and individual, direct instruction that worked on basics like what is a word vs a letter, or even what is a picture vs a letter.

Cramming academics only isn’t the answer, writes Mrs. Lipstick. Children can learn through play. 

Snowfall vs. the Grinch


A portrait of Mr. Noble by one of his students.

Arthur Noble II was in “full Grinch mode” on Dec. 23. A Head Start teacher with Teach for America in Chicago, he had to work through the holidays so parents could work. He missed his family. Determined not to teach, he turned on Dora the Explorer. Then it started to snow.

We watched the snowfall in silence until Ella, a precocious Ghanaian three-year-old, started telling a story about holidays at home: “We don’t have snow at Africa where my family is, but we all go to church and eat together.”

Two Mexican students chimed in excitedly about staying up late for church, and a Nigerian boy proudly broke out in a church processional.  A student from Spain bubbled over about her grandpa, who loved her all the way from his village, and showed me a letter full of hearts she had been working on intently during Dora.

Gianny said with a growing toothy grin, “Dude! My uncles are gonna watch football and take me fishing. I like fishing, and they always teach me how!”

Then Rihanna hugged my shin, “Don’t be sad Mr. Arthur. You can come to my house … my mom makes chocolate cake for my uncle when it snows. She is the best cook and you are just sweeter than piece of chocolate.”

His preschooler family “laughed and shared stories of love, family, and snow for the rest of the day.”