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Why Early Learning Matters

Pre-K teacher Julia Brady uses handmade rekenrek’s with her students during a math lesson at South Shore Pre-K. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

By Kristin DeWitte
Principal of South Shore Pre K-8
Guest Blogger

On my first day of first grade, I stood up and said that I wanted to become a teacher. I never wavered from that goal. As I got older, I had the opportunity to work in a school for children with disabilities about the time that PL 94-142 (the first special education law) went into place. I went to Central Washington University and earned my degree in Special Education with an elementary minor. Later in my career I went on to complete two Master’s degrees, the first in Curriculum and Instruction, and the second in Educational Leadership.

I worked most of my career In the Marysville School District, about half the time in special education and the remainder of the time in general education. I have taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, resource room, elementary, middle school, and high school EBD (Emotional and Behavioral Disorder) classrooms. I have also worked on the core education faculty at Antioch-Seattle, the adjunct faculty at Western Washington University at Bellingham, Everett, North and South Seattle satellite campuses. I was the original developer of both distance and online learning components of continuing education for Seattle Pacific University. And I have consulted on a variety of topics in an eight-state region of the Northwest and Southwest US.

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An Early Learning Perspective on the House and Senate Budget Proposals

Jennifer Jennings-Shaffer, Children's Alliance - League of Education VotersBy Jennifer Jennings-Shaffer, Early Learning Policy Director at the Children’s Alliance
Guest Blogger

Early learning is the foundation of the education continuum; it supports a child’s progress in school and in life. The House and Senate budget proposals each address early learning—but differ markedly in their approach to three key areas of interest to education advocates. Here’s how:

First, both budgets recognize the value of access to high quality pre-kindergarten. The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is quality pre-kindergarten for income-eligible children who all too often face barriers to success in K-12. When poverty and other barriers tip the scales of child development toward the negative, ECEAP tips them back toward a good education, a good job, and a good life. Eligible families earn less than 110 percent of the federal poverty line—for a family of four, that is less than $26,730 per year. Despite delivering proven results in academic achievement, lawmakers fund ECEAP for fewer than half of our state’s eligible families—leaving approximately 23,000 children eligible but unserved. This is a missed opportunity.

The Senate budget proposes to provide access to ECEAP for an additional 1,200 children and increase the rate paid per ECEAP slot to more accurately support our early-childhood educators. The House budget proposes to provide access to an additional 2,043 children and also increases the slot rate. The House budget builds upon the proposal from the Senate; it is good progress toward ensuring that children who stand to gain the most from access to high quality pre-kindergarten get it.

Second, neither budget proposal responds to the crisis we see in child care, where lawmakers are giving working families inadequate support to meet rising costs. Washington is already one of the least affordable states in the country for families to find child care. The rates paid to center-based child care providers serving tens of thousands of children in the Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) program are far below the nationally recommended benchmark of 75 percent of market rate. When lawmakers try to offer assistance at these inadequate rates, child care providers face a difficult choice: serve families at a loss, stop serving them, or pass the cost on to (often only slightly) more affluent families to make up the difference. Lawmakers need to respond by raising rates for Working Connections Child Care paid to center-based providers. Neither the House nor the Senate budget adequately addresses this issue. The Senate budget includes $8.1 million for rate increases and the House budget includes $20.3 million. Advocates estimate that $40 million is the minimum investment necessary to protect access to child care.

Beyond failing to adequately address child care rates, the Senate budget includes deep cuts to child care access and quality. The Senate budget proposes a cut of -$31.9 million in access to WCCC. This cut includes eliminating 12-month authorizations for families and decreasing the number of families who can be enrolled in the program. If enacted, these cuts would mean that enrolled families could lose care in the middle of the year due to minor changes in their circumstances. Families who need and qualify for care would find themselves on a waitlist. Additionally, the Senate budget proposes to cut the Early Achievers program by $16.6 million. Early Achievers supports child care providers to improve their quality. These cuts put the brakes on our steady progress to ensure that Washington kids enter kindergarten ready to learn.

Third, evidence-based home visiting programs and paid family leave are both proven strategies for supporting parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. Both the House and Senate budgets protect access to home visiting services but only the House budget includes funding to implement paid family leave. Quality time at home with one’s newest family members is associated with improved maternal and infant health outcomes and increased employee retention. State and local governments across the country are increasingly implementing this smart policy.

We all have a stake in making sure that ALL our kids get a great start. As the House, the Senate and Governor Jay Inslee prepare to finalize a two-year state budget, we are calling on lawmakers to sustain and enhance their early learning investments. Children’s brains develop more rapidly in the first five years of life than at any other time. We cannot hope to close the achievement gap in K-12 if we ignore the early years.

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The Value of Early Childhood Education

South Shore PK-8 Teacher Matthew O'Connor - League of Education VotersBy Matthew O’Connor, Guest Blogger

I came to teaching at South Shore because of previous experience with Teach for America, working in a Head Start classroom in Houston with 3- and 4-year-olds. This inspired me to become an Early Childhood Education teacher.

I am a pre-K and kindergarten teacher at South Shore PK-8 in Rainier Beach. This is my seventh year teaching (fourth year at South Shore) and I work with five other colleagues, three lead teachers, each partnered with a full-time classroom teammate. Our vision for students begins with the belief that every student can be at grade level when they move on to first grade.

Moving forward from that belief, my team considers the reality that the American public education system does not mirror the histories or lived realities of students of color. To respond to this truth, we try to build classroom experiences that combine content and student identity in order to develop a good foundation of academic and social-emotional skills as well as a good sense of self and family. We hope that, in the future, this will allow them to tell their story of self in order to advocate for themselves and their community, reveal truth, interrupt bias, and encourage healing.

We loop with our students, starting with them as preschoolers at 4 years old, and stay with them as kindergarteners. Because of getting to work with our students for two years, we develop deep relationships between us. The students we have are very diverse, from multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds: immigrants, refugees, communities of color, many low income.

For most of our students, it is the first experience that they have with the American education system, and it is a privilege and a burden. It is a privilege because if we do our work right, they obtain a good foundation about what being in school means. They come to understand that the quality education that is their birthright includes a teacher who cares about them and listens authentically to their needs. They also know that this education includes discussions about what is happening in their community. They hopefully come to understand that it is school that must respond to their needs and the stories they bring—not the other way around. It is a burden to know that we send them off as six-year-olds and that they have twelve more years to finish their education, because they may not receive an education that continues to support them to be the best that they can.

Some projects that we do include a unit on developing preschoolers’ sense of self – we interview students about their favorite food, color, they create body shapes and mix paints to match their own skin color, we interview students and parents about their names, why they like their names and what their names mean. We also do two family projects. One is a family tree in which they identify family members in multiple generations. The other is a genetic one about students’ hair, skin, and facial features. Students write what they learn about their families, and what they learn is compiled into a book. At the end of the unit we have a publishing party where students share their work with their families.

Parents are also actively involved in our program. One way is that we invite them to give input on choosing the top 12 priorities that they wish to see students learn. Later they assess their children’s teachers on how they have done to implement these priorities into their children’s lessons. This is done through a tool developed by the Teaching Excellence Network. My team members and I also conduct Chalkboard Chats for parents on different topics – some are academic, focused on how to do a great read along with your children.  For others, community experts were invited in to discuss issues of parenting—such as talking to young children about racial identity or what to do if you expect your student is exhibiting atypical academic or social behavior.

The value of early childhood education is that it gives children a good foundation on which to build for their succeeding years in school – besides academics, students develop a good sense of self and family, and learn that their actions, no matter how small, can help make the world better.

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An early start to success

Access to high-quality early education has been life changing for our daughter, Eva Rose.

A teacher helps her young student with work.That’s how Seattle parent Jessica Colinares describes her daughter’s experience in preschool. Eva’s success—thanks to her access to high-quality early learning—isn’t extraordinary; rather, it’s the norm.

Support has been growing for quality early childhood education throughout Washington state—and across the country.

Many studies show that children in high-quality early learning programs are more prepared for kindergarten, more likely to graduate high school, healthier, more likely to be employed, and report higher income. They are also less likely to repeat grades, be placed in special education, be involved in the juvenile justice system, and commit crimes as adults. High-quality early learning is one of the best ways to close the opportunity and achievement gaps, which are already present by the beginning of kindergarten. Much of high-quality early learning focuses on the social and emotional learning that is so vital throughout a child’s life. (more…)

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A Way Forward: We can and must do better for Washington’s students

A child’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions from early learning through postsecondary education. The League of Education Voters (LEV) is pleased to release its vision for an expanded definition of basic education.

Washington’s policymakers have spent much time, money, and intellectual capital trying to overhaul our state’s education funding system—multiple task forces, studies, work groups, legislative efforts—and yet, we lack a plan for ample, equitable, and stable funding. In addition, our definition of “basic education”—what this funding system is supposed to pay for—doesn’t go far enough to prepare our kids for college or career.

A Way Forward: We can and must do better for Washington's students. January 2015

A Way Forward

The Washington State Supreme Court found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education in the McCleary v. State of Washington funding case. Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to fix how we fund basic education. The passage of Initiative 1351 to lower K–12 class sizes statewide magnifies the intense pressure on the Legislature to determine a viable funding plan for public education. Though the 2018 deadline looms, the Court found the Legislature in “contempt of court” last fall, giving them until the end of the 2015 legislative session to make significant progress on a funding plan. While the funding issues are paramount to the Court, this time frame provides a unique opportunity to reflect on what our kids really need from our public education system to succeed. (more…)

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A definition of basic education worth fighting for

Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education VotersChris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, submitted an op-ed to The Seattle Times‘ Education Lab yesterday. It was published in The Seattle Times print edition on June 20.

In her column, Chris argues that the definition of “basic education” in Washington is too narrow—it does not include early learning or higher education. Read below for an excerpt, or read the entire column online.

At the League of Education Voters, we support an ample, equitable, stable education funding plan. While we supported the re-definition of “basic education” developed in 2009 (it includes smaller class size, full-day kindergarten, transportation, materials and supplies) upon which McCleary is based, we advocated that the definition should also include early learning and higher education.

During the past two years, we have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the current definition of basic education. It is neither ample nor equitable. And thanks to our over-reliance on local levies, it certainly isn’t stable.

We need a definition of basic education that puts students and their learning at the center.

Read the entire op-ed on The Seattle Times website.

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