Does Preschool “Crush” Children?

Erika Christakis’ article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids” has generated a lot of attention in the blogosphere. Slate’s Laura Moser asks “what’s the alternative” in her response in Slate this week.

Both articles are well worth reading. Christakis’ argument, that pre-school that is too focused on curriculum and “table tasks” is bad for kids is probably true, but just like the velocity of an object is only interesting when you consider the frame of reference of the observer (Einstein, “Special Relativity”, 1905) Moser points out that 75% of families have all adults working and don’t have much option but to use childcare of some kind or another.

Low-income families face an even tougher problem. According to Kids Count, a national effort of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, about 2/3 of families with children under 18 are headed by a single-parent. Since 1996, the federal welfare system has effectively required parents to work in order to receive benefits.  Washington provides childcare to about 50,000 – 70,000 kids as part of this system. If we’re going to require parents to work, we have to provide safe, reliable, and effective childcare in order to make that possible.

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Only 56% of low-income kids get enough well-child visits

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington almost all (95%) of children have medical insurance. ALL low-income (below 300% of the federal poverty level) children have access as part of Apple Health for Kids.

This chart shows the performance of all the Apple Health plans at actually getting low-income kids to visit the doctor on the recommended schedule. 56% of infants received the typical schedule of well-child visits. As you can see we are both significantly below the national average (61.55%,) and more importantly totally pathetic in an absolute sense. You can read the full report here.

Why is the early learning guy writing about this you ask? Well… if our goal is to have all kids being ready for kindergarten by age five, then the earlier we can provide appropriate care for a child who’s experiencing a developmental delay the more likely we are to be able to have the best possible outcome. The pediatrician is the person most likely to discover a concern and provide the family with free options, but this won’t work if the kid doesn’t appear in the office.

As part of our Essentials for Childhood effort to coordinate the activities of the Department of Health and the Department of Early Learning we’re looking into problems like this and finding ways to work together to coordinate services for children in Washington.

I’m particularly frustrated by this one because we pay the managed care organizations to coordinate this care. My personal thought is that we don’t pay the plans at all if they don’t get the kids to show up, but there is probably a more nuanced approach to solving the problem that will work better. We’re working on this.

DEL is Hiring!

The Department of Early Learning is hiring to build an internal research and analysis team. We are spending way too much on consultants to do statistical analysis and research on proposals that we should be able to do in-house. DEL is building a small team of analysts to help us focus our work on the data about what works. We posted a job for a research team manager. Click here to see the details. You should have a background in statistical analysis of social service or education programs and be super-smart.

The listing is for work in Olympia, but we are considering location the research team in King County if that makes more sense. I agree that the commute is painful.

Please forward this to anyone you think would be interested and competent.

DEL Presence at Young Child Expo in Spokane

The Young Child Expo in Spokane was another opportunity to meet more of the participants in the wildly diverse early learning field in Washington. Also a great opportunity to practice speaking extemporaneously, which is what happens when you show up and the sponsors of an event have you on the agenda without you knowing it…

Last week, DEL licensing and members of the ECEAP team represented DEL at the Young Child Expo in Spokane. The table received a lot of attention and exhibitors feel it was a great success. Photographed left to right is Director, Ross Hunter, Liliya Aleksandrov (Regional Administrative Assistant-Spokane), and Nicole Lor (ECEAP Pre-K Specialist).

Other helpers at the expo include Sonya Stevens, Kim O’Brian, Lisa Hall, Judy Davis, Karen Cole, Susan Nelson and Karen Christiansen (Spokane Licensing team members).

Tennessee study on preschool – interesting?

Preschoolmatters.org: An Early Look at Early Education in Tennessee

There are important lessons for Tennessee and the nation here.  If Tennessee is to get value for its pre-K dollar, it must ensure that programs are of sufficient quality.  An accountability and continuous improvement system is a prerequisite for quality, as is adequate funding for those being held accountable.

Nice article about my new gig on Thrive’s website

Thrive LogoThrive Washington is a public-private partnership focusing on ensuring very young children in Washington get the best start possible. Their web site is a great resource.

They wrote a nice article about my new job as the Director of Washington’s Department of Early Learning.