Children’s Alliance Hiring Early Learning Policy Staff

I just got the following mail from Jon Gould, the Deputy Director at the Children’s Alliance about positions there.

Children’s Alliance is hiring an Early Learning Policy Director and a Pre-K Policy Associate. Our early learning policy advocacy focuses on expanding access to high-quality, affordable, culturally responsive early learning and care for Washington’s youngest kids, as a key strategy to close the opportunity gap facing children in low-income families and children of color.

  • The Early Learning Policy Director leads the organization’s public policy advocacy related to early learning. The position reports to the Deputy Director.
  • The Pre-K Policy Associate will focus on growing and improving the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance program. This is a new position.

Both positions are full time at 37.5 hours a week.

Check out our jobs page for more information on both positions and how to apply. 

Hard to imagine…

In the Chronicle of Social Change Jerry Milner, Donald Trump’s appointment to the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees federal child welfare funding and policy, speaks about his priorities in running the agency and improving outcomes for kids. The hard to imagine part is that I agree with almost all of his proposals, at least as they are described in this article..

He starts with an observation about how child welfare systems work today and how we have to get ahead of the game.

Right now, we typically respond only after families have lost much of their protective capacity and children have been harmed. We need to strive to create environments where they get the support they need before the harm occurs, which, in my mind, calls for a re-conceptualization of the mission and functioning of child welfare systems. Tweaking what we already have in place won’t solve the problems.

I totally agree, and the design of the new agency I head (The Department of Children, Youth, and Families) is structured around the same idea – that we should focus on preventing children and families from experiencing the kind of trauma that leads child welfare agencies to need to remove children for their own safety.

It’s worth reading the short interview. In his former life he ran Alabama’s foster care system and did interesting work in President Bush’s Children’s Bureau.

His level of oversight is narrower than I envision our agency embarking on – we are also responsible for the early learning system in Washington. This lets us invest in some of the key experiences in a young child’s life that build resilience and the ability to deal with some trauma, and in many cases actually reduces the trauma a family may experience by providing supports.

I’m also interested in his take on efforts at the federal level to re-structure the funding stream used for most child welfare work so that it more stable. Currently if we’re successful in reducing the number of children in foster care (say, by spending money on programs that provide support for them…) our level of funding goes down. This is super complicated to address, but something that needs to happen. I look forward to working with our federal delegation on this effort, and it’s good to know we have support from the administration.

Flexible funding, thoughtfully applied, will allow us to be a proactive rather than reactive system, which is key to preventing maltreatment, and key to strengthening families.

McCleary Almost Done

The latest decision from the court is available here.

The slide deck this particular image is from is available here. This was used in the November 16, 2017 House Appropriations Committee meeting and is another excellent product from Jessica Harrell, the education expert serving Appropriations – someone I depended on for many years.

It’s pretty exciting to see the progress being made towards adequacy and equity in the education funding system. This isn’t an optimal solution from my point of view, but it’s vastly better than what the system looked like in 2002 when I got peeved enough about it to run for office.

It was worth 13 years of my life to get this done. We now have full-day Kindergarten in every school in the state, not just the ones in rich suburbs that could afford it. Class sizes in K-3 are much more reasonable. Schools have enough money to cover reasonable transportation costs and the cost of materials and supplies they need to run a school. Most particularly, salaries are addressed so that there isn’t a huge disparity between districts.

I have quibbles about the details. It’ll need tweaking over time. It’s half of the state budget, so the Legislature should pay attention.

A new department to better serve children, youth, and families

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Thursday to restructure how the state serves at-risk children and youth by creating the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The governor also appointed Ross Hunter, director of the state’s Department of Early Learning, to lead DCYF.

The new agency, after a yearlong transition period that begins this month, will oversee several services now offered through the state Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Early Learning. These include all programs from the Children’s Administration in DSHS such as Child Protective Services, the Family Assessment Response program and adoption support, as well as all DEL services, including the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program for preschoolers and Working Connections Child Care.

Starting in July 2019, the new department also will administer programs offered by the Juvenile Rehabilitation office and the Office of Juvenile Justice in DSHS. Those programs include juvenile rehabilitation institutions, community facilities and parole services.

The creation of the new department follows the suggestions of the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on the Delivery of Services to Children and Families convened by the governor in February 2016 to recommend a state system that focuses more clearly on preventing harm to children and youth.

Washington’s Legislature expressed interest in restructuring during the 2016 legislative session, prompting the governor to issue the executive order creating the blue ribbon commission, of which Hunter was a member.

Read the rest of the story on the governor’s Medium page.

Math in High School Matters

This slide came up for discussion today at Governor Inslee’s Results Washington meeting for the education group. We were talking about STEM enrollment in community college programs and talked about one the factors that causes students to not complete a program – lack of math preparation. A huge fraction of community college students need to do remediation in math before they can take classes for credit. Students that do remediation are about half as likely to graduate as students who don’t need it. As part of the 24-Credit graduation requirements adopted a few years ago by the Legislature students are now required to have three high-school level math classes. This chart shows the decline in students needing remediation in community college overlaid with the percentage of high school students meeting the math credit accumulation requirement.

The chart is dramatic (as charts like this go) but you should be careful with it. Typically in economic recoveries we see fewer students applying to community colleges because they are employed. This is more likely to be students who aren’t intending to transfer, so we may be seeing the effect of a slightly different student pool.

One wants to be really careful assuming causality from a correlation. I’m not really a statistician though, so I’m going to believe that the policy we fought so hard for in the hope of exactly this is actually working.

Dosage Matters for Washington’s Preschool Kids!

Our goal as an agency is to get 90% of Washington’s children to be “ready for kindergarten,”  and to have race and family income not be predictors of readiness.

About 20% of Washington’s children are in families at or below 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL,) or about $24,000 for a family of four.  These young people face many challenges in life and are a key part of any rational economic strategy for the state, as well as being part of the paramount duty enshrined in Washington’s constitution. The large gap seen in our kindergarten entry assessment between kids below 110% and their more advantaged peers persists through their entire experience in the K12 system, and the rest of their lives.

We’re looking at a number of ways to help these kids get ready for kindergarten. The most effective in national data and in Washington is high-quality preschool. Without that investment, we estimate that about 28% of this group will arrive in kindergarten meeting our benchmark for kindergarten readiness. 28% isn’t 90%.

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Say – ice cream. When it comes to high-quality preschool experiences – not so much. Dosage matters. There are three major components of “dosage,” the amount of preschool a kid gets.  Length of day, number of years, and length of year.

ECEAP today is mostly a half-day program – about 2 ½ to 3 hours. Most national research suggests that a full-day program is much more successful in getting kids ready for kindergarten.[1] There are other reasons full-day makes a lot of sense, which I’ll cover later.

We also have strong data supporting high quality preschool for both three and four year olds.

  • After one year of ECEAP, about 55% are ready when we measure in June. When we measure in the fall the number falls to about 35%. We attribute this falloff to both to summer learning loss, a problem well explored in the literature[2]and some testing differences between ECEAP and
  • A small fraction of kids start when they are three, getting two years of ECEAP. 69% of those kids are ready for kindergarten. 69% is a lot closer to 90% than 55% is.

Only a very small fraction of kids in ECEAP have summer programming, and it’s too new for us to have enough data to evaluate the effect. We’re super-interested in figuring out how to prevent the large drop of scores over the summer, and this year’s budget includes funds for a reasonable experiment to measure the effect of providing the service all summer. This would inform future investment decisions.

One of my particular concerns about ECEAP is that we’re not getting to the kids at the highest risk. Over 60% of the families below 110% of the federal poverty level (FPL) are headed by single parents, but only 42% of ECEAP families are. There are lots of potential reasons for this, but the most likely is that a half-day program is crazymaking for single parents. What are you going to do in the middle of the day – tell your boss you need time off to switch your kid from one place to the other?

We don’t have another intervention that works this well for getting kids ready for kindergarten, and if we’re serious about ensuring that kids from low income families have the same chance to succeed in school as their friends that are born closer to opportunity then we have to design the preschool experience so that it actually works for Washington families. Governor Inslee’s ECEAP budget proposal in front of the Legislature right now:

  • Continues to expand ECEAP, but with almost all full and extended-day slots. Washington law says that all kids below 110% FPL will be entitled to a slot in the fall of 2020, and Governor Inslee’s budget calls for a significant expansion in the next two years so that we’re not scrambling to try to do it all at once in the next budget cycle.
  • Funds a substantive experiment in summer programming so we can determine which particular model works best to reach our kindergarten readiness goals.
  • Continues eligibility for both three and four year old children, because without this we are unlikely to make our 90% goal and will be living with an opportunity gap for the next generation of kids, something we think is morally repugnant.

In one of my favorite turns of phrase this year, it’s pretty clear from national data that kids really need to spend more time each day in the somatosensory bath[3] of the high-quality preschool and intervention services that ECEAP provides. Research is emerging that indicates more time in high quality preschool each day equals better results for the kids who need it most.[4]

So in short, dosage matters and more is better for ECEAP. Some questions we’re still exploring in order to best steward the public funds in our trust while getting the best outcomes for kids:

  • What is the best combination of length of day, number of years, and type of summer programming to get the most children ready for kindergarten?
  • Which children benefit the most from the three elements above?
  • ECEAP is more than just classroom time. The variety of family supports and health coordination the program provides are a critical part of its success. Not all families need every type of support available. What types and levels of services each family needs, and how to determine that efficiently, is a question we took up in our Family Support Pilot and will continue to examine.
  • What other factors are affecting kindergarten readiness: availability of dual-language instruction, family involvement in various parts of the child welfare system, seamless transitions from effective early intervention programs like Early Head Start, ESIT, and home visiting to high quality preschool programs like ECEAP?

We don’t have a perfect formula for dosage yet, but we have the tools to devise a good one. Most importantly, we need to support and expand ECEAP in a thoughtful and effective manner. I’ll be writing more about how DEL plans to implement ECEAP expansion in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that post.

[1] (Kenneth B. Robin, 2006)

[2] Wikipedia “Summer learning loss” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_learning_loss

[3] Somatosensory “of or relating to sensations that involve parts of the body not associated with the primary sense organs.” James Heckman writes about the importance of the somatosensory bath of early childhood here: http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR37.5/ndf_james_heckman_social_mobility.php

[4] RAND 2016, “Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati”, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1461.html

Town Hall Meetings Are Hard – But Politicians Should Do Them

In my 13 years in the Legislature I probably hosted over a hundred town hall meetings all over the 48th district. Sometimes they were cavernously empty. Sometimes they were like what former Rep. Israel describes below – raucous. Sometimes this was organic, like the time my Republican seatmate Rodney Tom and I hosted a joint appearance during the recounts of the hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election. Sometimes they were more like AstroTurf, with organized groups of constituents (or non-constituents) trying to turn the meeting into a rally for whatever point they were trying to make.

An angry constituent at a town hall meeting held by Steve Israel in 2009. Credit Pablo Corradi/Newsday

New York Times: My Night in Town Hall Hell By STEVE ISRAEL

I loved them either way. You got to hear what people cared about, and they got to see if you were listening. They also got to see if you had done any of the actual work of representing the district. Did you understand the issue? Had you thought about it enough to have an opinion about what ought to happen? Could you talk cogently about both sides of an issue and explain how you got to your position?

Town Hall meetings are a staple of American democracy for just that reason. You represent people. They have a right to tell you what they think, even, or perhaps especially if you don’t agree with them. Sometimes they just want to yell at you. I never felt physically threatened.

My favorite was one I didn’t even attend. I watched Congressman Brian Baird (on TVW) stand on a stage in front of hundreds of angry constituents who were upset about his vote on one of our interminable wars in the middle east or Afghanistan. He had a position, and the people in the crowd didn’t like it. He took questions for hours until the crowd ran out of talk. It was hard. I didn’t agree with him either, but I respected the hell out of him for standing up for what he thought was the right decision.

Doing staged events like the telephone town halls isn’t the same. We did those sometime. They reach more people. We would get thousands listening in. After the first one we did I remember thinking how easy the questions had been and saying something to the staff who were handling the calls. The person running it looked at me like I was out of touch and told me she had screened out the “frequent flyers” with crazy questions. It’s easy to do – there are more questions than there is time and nobody can tell you’re doing it. We tried to be more balanced in the questions we took in later ones, but I’d be astounded if politicians do that in general.

Town hall meetings are important. Talking to, and with your representatives at all levels of government about what you want is the only way you’re going to get anything close to it.

Mama Yaya meets Governor Inslee and Results Washington

Amelia Cruz, the owner and operator of Mama Yaya’s Child Care in Lacey was our guest at the Results Washington meeting yesterday. Results Washington is responsible for implementing Governor Inslee’s focus on lean management and continuous improvement. We review progress on key indicators of progress in outcomes. In this specific case we were looking at indicator 1.1b – “1.1.b  Increase number of early learning providers who achieve level 3 or above in Early Achievers (quality rating and improvement system) from December 2013 baseline of 253 programs to 1,471 programs by December 2018.”

This kind of meeting can be like watching paint dry, but it’s way more fun when we have providers like Amelia Cruz. She talked about how Early Achievers has improved her practice with the kids, and how she’s doing so much more than just feeding and making sure they’re safe now.

Mama Yaya Child Care is rated at level 3, which shows that she’s achieved our base level of quality. It’s a great recognition of the work she’s put in to help prepare a generation of kids to succeed in Kindergarten.

The actual indicator we’re measuring is the number of providers who have reached a level 3 or higher by 2018. The (graphically terrible) chart above shows our progress on this front – we are will on our way to meeting the goal. You can see the real version on the Results Washington website.

Tranparency Provides Clarity

Sorry for the worst headline ever. Click here for the video above.

This article in the Huffington Post from Allan Golston, President of US Programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation touches on an important topic – the power of the right information at the right time to help people make life-changing decisions. In this case he’s writing about education, from preschool to college. I’m involved in both ends of this spectrum right now and totally agree.

The program he writes about that we manage is “Early Achievers” the Department of Early Learning’s quality rating and improvement system. “Think of Early Achievers the same way hotels and restaurants are rated. Providers must be licensed and complete training to make it past level 2. Then they can move up to a 3, 4, or 5 rating based on several measures of quality—and they receive extra training and support to improve their rating. The goal is to boost the quality of Washington’s early learning providers, while also giving parents an easy-to-understand rating system to help them make informed choices about what’s best for their children.” Huffington Post 12/19/2016

He also writes about the need for information to help college students, particularly those from the “New majority” of first generation college-goers, students from low-income families, folks who work and go to school at the same time, etc. figure their way thru a complicated system that can sidetrack them and leave them with too much debt. I serve as a trustee for Bellevue College and we’re struggling with the same issue. We have to help provide the right information at the right time so that students can chart a path to a better economic future more easily.

Censorship for Preschoolers?

I got a letter last week from an organization opposed to censorship. They were concerned about some language in one part of our “Early Achievers” rating system for childcare quality that has led some providers to believe that we will deduct points from their score if they have the “wrong” books on their shelves. The standard in question says “books that glorify violence in any way or show frightening images are not considered to be appropriate.” The letter raised concerns that “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak would be one of the “wrong” books.

This standard is part of a national set of standards called the “Environmental Rating Scale” that is one of the two big parts of “Early Achievers,” Washington’s award-winning quality rating and improvement system. I’m not sure what the people at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (the authors of ERS) are thinking that language means, but it most certainly does not mean that any of Maurice Sendak’s books are broadly inappropriate for children. As with all literature, teachers should make sure that kids are ready for what they’re reading, but DEL is not in the business of censorship today, nor will it be in that business tomorrow. We can’t change the text in the ERS, but we are certainly not enforcing anything like this.

“Where the Wild Things Are” was my absolute favorite book as a child. My mother tells me that she thinks it was because I was something of wild thing myself, but that was a long time ago. I’ve included a link to the book at the King County Library so providers can check out a copy and read it to their kids. They have 132 copies, so it seems like it’s somewhat popular. 🙂

There may be confusion in the field about how to interpret the standard and the Department will make significant efforts to ensure that providers and teachers know that having only insipid books is mind-numbing for both children and adults. We’re thinking about a regular newsletter for providers with DEL staff favorite book picks. When I asked the Early Achievers staff about this they listed off their favorites, and there were certainly frightening images in most of them.