Back to School...for Some Kids

Office of Early Learning September Newsletter 2015 

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Message from the Deputy Assistant Secretary Libby Doggett

Libby in Africa

Back to School…for Some Kids

Visiting other countries makes me appreciate the accomplishments of our country as well as reinforces my determination to do better by our own children.  A trip to Tanzania did just that for me.  In Tanzania 40 percent of the children are stunted due to malnutrition.  On a visit to a school I found quality extremely low.  Children rarely have textbooks, are often punished with a rod, and in some schools teachers don’t consistently show up. In driving around I saw many preschool aged children playing along the roadway, caring for younger siblings and even working to pick sunflower seeds off the flowers.


Yet even with severe poverty and an incredible lack of basic sanitation, food and health care, early learning services are beginning to be provided. Some private schools advertise pre-primary classes and a young mother at Off Grid Electric has a two year old in a child care center. Tanzania, like so many other countries is paying attention to the research and what we are doing to get children off to an early and strong start.


This fall, in the United States more 4-year-olds than ever will start school in publically-funded preschool programs.  Children in Mississippi, Indiana, Hawaii, and Montana will attend new early learning programs, increasing the total number of states that offer state preschool to 44 and the District of Columbia.  The governors of these states – across both parties -- recognize the urgency of reaching our most vulnerable children early, when learning is optimal.  Two of the four states– Hawaii and Montana – are starting new high-quality programs funded through Preschool Development Grants. Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming are the last six states that do not have state-funded preschool programs, though schools and districts have been smart and used Title I funds to support preschool.  New Hampshire, by the way, did apply for a Preschool Development Grant, but we didn’t have enough funding for the 35 states and Puerto Rico that applied. 


Even with this historic increase in preschool enrollment, less than half of 3- and 4-year-olds in this country are enrolled in preschool; 2.4 million of the 4.3 million 4-year-olds don’t have access to publically-funded programs.  Large racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic gaps still exist in enrollment. Over the last six-and-a-half years, the Obama Administration has worked to close these equity gaps in access to high-quality early learning opportunities for young children from low- to moderate-income families.  Congress has supported these efforts to some extent, but far too many children who need early education are left waiting!


Compared to Tanzania we are doing well.  But compared to our economic competitors we are not.  The United States ranks 31 out of 39 OECD countries in four-year-old enrollment, raising economic productivity and security concerns.  When Congress returns after Labor Day to take up the budget for the next year, they will be deciding on the fate of the Preschool Development Grants, which is currently on the chopping block. Eliminating this program would result in 100,000 children in over 200 communities without high-quality early education opportunities and no way to go back to school.  


Voices From the Field

Lisa Guernsey photo

“Right now the general public agrees and applauds the push for more preschool, but does not necessarily understand the work that needs to happen before and after preschool.”

Interview with Lisa Guernsey,

Director of the Early Education Initiative and Learning Technologies Project at New America

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Lisa Guernsey is director of the Early Education Initiative and director of the Learning Technologies Project, two projects in the Education Policy Program at New America. Guernsey leads teams of writers and analysts to examine policies and generate ideas for new approaches to help disadvantaged students succeed. Read the interview here

Preschool Development Grants

Louisiana state flag


As a result of groundbreaking state legislation, Louisiana is unifying preschool, Head Start, and child care programs through local early childhood networks (Community Network Pilots) that ensure at-risk children have equitable access to high-quality preschool. In seeking to increase access through choice, this strategy looks to utilize the opportunity of Louisiana’s Preschool Development Grant to expand existing preschool programs through a parent-choice model. This model would build a technology system to consistently measure program quality using program-based report cards and provide useful information for families and providers to make informed decisions. Read about Louisiana and the other Preschool Development Grant states here.

RTT-ELC:  Program Spotlight

US map highlighting Delaware

Delaware Asks Community Stakeholders for Input on Early Learning Priorities


This spring, Delaware’s Office of Early Learning launched a series of Great Starts Sustainability forums and an online survey to engage Delawareans in shaping the future direction for the state’s early learning work.

More than 600 early learning professionals, parents, K-12 teachers and administrators, and business, philanthropy and community leaders from across the state participated – and showed their strong support for early learning as a key strategy for creating a more prosperous Delaware! As one participant eloquently put it: “Invest now for success, or pay for failure later.”   Read more here.

Technical Assistance

ELC TA logo

ELC TA Creates New Webpage on Inclusion

This topical page on Inclusion is designed to help State early learning leaders, TA providers, and Federal staff address the systems-level challenges related to assuring that programs that offer services to children with Individual Family Service Plans (IFSP) and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are of high-quality and that the services they offer are provided in natural settings where these children would be if they did not have disabilities.  This page will be updated regularly with new resources and State examples related to inclusion in early childhood.


Tax Policy and Financing Early Education

Tax Policy and Quality This annotated bibliography identifies selected resources on using tax policy, especially refundable tax credits, as a financing strategy for early childhood programs

Retention in the Early Years

Retention in the Early Years: Is Early Retention an Effective, Research-Based Strategy for Improving Student Outcomes? This FastFact reviews literature on research and practice about the effects of early retention, and highlight considerations that make retention a nuanced rather than definitive research based approach to enhancing student outcomes.


Roundtable Resources

2015 Roundtable Summary This summary provides a high level overview of the 2015 Roundtable (Leading for Excellence), a list of resources shared by presenters and attendees, and outlines the sessions in the meeting.

Early Learning at ED

Office of Communication & Outreach

Helping Your Child Series Gives Parents Tools

The Helping Your Child publication series aims to provide parents with the tools and information necessary to help their children succeed in school and life. These booklets feature practical lessons and activities to help their school aged and preschool children master reading, understand the value of homework and develop the skills and values necessary to achieve and grow.

IDEA's Work

The 2015 Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Leadership Conference

The conference was held July 27-29th in Washington, D.C. and it included State Directors of Special Education, Part C and 619 Coordinators, Parent Training Centers, and IDEA Data Managers.  The agenda included sessions for early childhood participants on program improvement, personnel development, implementing recommended practices, data quality, and family engagement.  You can find the full archived agenda, including presenter materials, at this link.

Washington State

The Department’s Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) program awarded 21 grantees representing 68 districts four-year grants in 2012 and 2013.  The program provides an opportunity for LEAs to implement comprehensive plans for personalizing the learning experience for students.

Using their Starting Strong Institute, across 7 districts, the Puget Sound, Washington grantee uses three components to improve early learning: 1. Providing Jumpstart programs for special populations that allow early placement into Kindergarten; 2. Creating professional development opportunities between Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers for seamless information flow; and 3. Ensuring each district has an Early Learning Director to cultivate a structured program. Puget Sound partners with the University of Washington, among others, that offer training and coaching.  Read about Puget Sound and the other RTT-District grantees here.

International News

Association for Childhood Education International


The world population has increased by one billion people over the last 12 years, reaching 7.3 billion, according to the latest United Nations report, "World Population Prospects:  The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables." As the population grows, greater stress will be placed on the planet, its resources, and communities. What challenges must we consider and how can we invest in children so that we can ensure a sustainable future for all? 

Federal Agencies at Work

Administration for Children and Families

HHS Awards $660K for Tribal Early Learning grants

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development Linda K. Smith recently visited the Flathead reservation in Montana. During the visit, they announced $600,000 in awards to a new cohort of Tribal Early Learning Initiative (TELI) grants to enable more tribal communities to do the innovative work necessary to coordinate their early learning and development programs and boost the quality of services offered to children and families from pregnancy-to-kindergarten.


Early Childhood Screenings Ensure a Healthy Start in Life

On Thursday, July 23, First Focus hosted a briefing to congressional staff entitled Early Childhood Screenings Ensure a Healthy Start in Life: What’s Happening in the States to Improve Screening Rates? Katherine Beckmann from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development at ACF was one of five presenters. Dr. Beckmann discussed the HHS initiative called “Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive,” a coordinated public outreach campaign to promote awareness of child development and developmental screenings, referrals, and follow-ups. To find out more about the briefing, the speakers, and their presentations, clickhere.

STAM logo

A Busy Week for Early Childhood Development

Hundreds of people attended the Office of Child Care’s 2015 State and Territory Administrators Meeting (STAM) with folks from the Regional Offices, State Advisory Councils (SACs), Head Start Collaboration Offices, Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grantee representatives and national organizations. Check out information from many sessions by clicking here.

Research and Reports


Building a Better Future for Our Children-SP

Building a better future for our kids begins with access to nutritious food at home and at school. But we know it takes more than proper nutrition to make sure our kids grow up healthy and strong. Making investments in housing, roads, electricity and broadband, as well as in community facilities, like schools, police departments and hospitals, all work to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life in any community and pave the way toward healthy families from childhood to adulthood.  Read more here.

Child Trends

Roots of Bullying Starts Young

On August 18th, Child Trends released a report, Bullies in the Block Area: The Early Childhood Origins of “Mean” Behavior, which summarizes the factors that appear related to later bullying, and what can buffer these factors. With the report comes a guide for practitioners, outlining programs and resources that may support children’s developing empathy and compassion.  The report is the result of a review of existing research on the subject and a convening of national experts in early childhood development and media for young children, which included Miriam Lund, education program specialist for the Department of Education.

Resources You Can Use

National Head Start logo

This month The National Head Start Association (NHSA) is excited to help introduce a new national initiative called Vroom to Head Start programs across the country. Vroom provides tools highlighting the science behind early brain development and empowering parents to turn everyday activities, like bath time and mealtime, into brain building moments for children. NHSA will work closely with Vroom to help Head Start programs support the families they work with by giving parents the tools they need outside the classroom to help their children succeed.  

13 Tips for Starting Preschool-SP

Is your child entering a preschool program for the first time? These tips from NAEYC may help both you and your child make a smooth transition. Link: 

NAEYC logo

National Black Child Development Institute

Ensure Children are Reading by 3rd Grade

NBCDI is collaborating with its Affiliates and national partners to focus on the particular strengths and needs of Black children and families in the broader context of a shared goal: ensuring that all children are reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. For Black children, only 15 percent are reading proficiently in 4th grade. Several of NBCDI’s Affiliate communities have signed onto the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and are doing their part to help children embrace reading and improve their academic performance.  Read more here.

Zero to three

Closing the Opportunity gap for Babies and Families

All of society has a stake in whether babies get off to a good start. Today’s infants and toddlers will be the core of the mid-century workforce, one that will need to be highly skilled to compete globally and secure our economic future. When babies and their families have the supports they need, we create future innovators, thinkers, and stronger communities. But when we don’t provide those supports, we all feel the consequences.  Read more here.

Child Mind Institute

Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature

Harvard University biologist Edward O. Wilson proposed a theory called biophilia: that humans are instinctively drawn towards their natural surroundings. Many 21st century parents, however, would question this theory, as they watch their kids express a clear preference for sitting on a couch in front of a screen over playing outside. Read more here.

Raising of America

Early Childhood and the Future of our Nation

California Newsreel released a DVD version of The Raising of America documentary series on July 31, 2015.  The goal is to promote awareness about the impact of childhood stressors on healthy brain development; leading causes of health inequities; and the importance of creating safe, stable relationships and environments to prevent child maltreatment and improve health outcomes across the life course. A full suite of video clips, interactives, discussion guides and other resources can be found at

NIEER logo

Overview of 2014 NIEER State of Preschool Yearbook Data-rends and Highlights

On September 10, 2015, join NIEER for a free public Webinar providing an overview of the results of the 2104 State of Preschool Yearbook survey. They will discuss the major cross-state trends in the 2014 yearbook and highlight major policy changes related to publicly-funded preschool. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of NIEER staff following the presentation.  Preregistration is required. Register here


Leadership in Early Learning

NIEER is hosting a blog forum on Leadership in Early Education. Please weigh in with your comments and opinions, as we explore this issue from a range of perspectives. Leadership in the Birth-3rd-grade Continuum, from July 1 on The Birth Through Third Grade Learning Hub is the first post. Continuing our series, we have a post from Jacqueline Jones of the Foundation for Child Development on leading from within the field; from Susan E. Andersen, On Leadership and Listening, and from Eleanor J. Shirley on Leadership in Early Education. Stacie Goffin, discusses early education as a profession, and Maxine M. Maloney of the Arlington County Department of Human Services in Virginia writes about her experiences building leadership in the community.

The Early Learning Read Mobile Goes on the Road

White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Program and the White Earth Nation, located in Minnesota, held a Grand Opening of the first tribal public library and Smart Play Spot, on the White Earth Reservation, called Maamigin Achigaazo which translates to the Gathering Place.  The Library is for all ages to promote reading, reading role models and language development.  For more information, visit   

Early learning read mobile

Monthly Multimedia

NAEYC logo

I’m Ready for Kindergarten! (video)

I’m Ready for Kindergarten from Boston Children's Museum follows kindergarteners through a typical day and lets you experience the wonder of this year of learning. Watch this with your child to prepare together for the upcoming school year!  Read more here.

LinkEngineering Logo

LinkEngineering:  Implementing Pre-K Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering has launched LinkEngineering , a new website to support implementation of preK–12 engineering education in the United States.  LinkEngineering aims to provide high-quality resources and build a professional community for three groups: educators working in preK–12 classrooms and out of school settings; those engaged in preservice teacher education and professional development; and school, district, and state administrators.

Last Word

OEL in Winchester

Staff from the U.S. Department of Education visit a Preschool Development Grant program at Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary School in Winchester, Virginia.