Category Archives: Pre-K

Governor plans to pump $50 million into Georgia’s pre-k programs

Gov. Nathan Deal wants to spend $50 million next year to start reversing changes he engineered to a lottery-funded early-childhood program aimed at keeping HOPE programs from going bankrupt that also led to waves of teachers leaving pre-kindergarten classes and tarnished its national reputation.

The governor said in an interview that the specifics are still in the works but that the funding would reduce class sizes in pre-k programs and increase the salaries for teachers and assistant teachers.

“We all know the statistics indicate a good pre-k program is the best starting point we can have for children in schools,” he said. “Class size and teacher compensation are critical components for being able to have an effective and responsible pre-k program.”

The governor pushed lawmakers in 2011 to restructure pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs to keep them financially afloat as they struggled increasing demand. The pre-k school year was cut by 20 days, and the maximum size of classrooms was raised from 20 to 22 students.

A 180-day calendar has since been restored, but class sizes remain the same. And advocates have long called for smaller classrooms and higher teacher pay to improve the quality of early childhood education.

Deal plans to get the funding to increase teacher pay and cut class sizes from an enticing pot of money known as the unrestricted lottery reserve fund. The fund had roughly $350 million by the end of 2014, after growing about $60 million a year the past three years. It is separate from the $460 million in lottery reserves that, by law, cannot be touched.

A reserve retreat

The governor has resisted calls to dip into the fund in the past — he said during his 2014 re-election campaign that “it’s not wise” to take from the fund in case of an economic downturn — but he’s changed his tune ahead of a new debate over lottery-funded education programs.

“The scare we’ve seen just this past week with the stock market is a reminder that we always should err on the side of being cautious,” he said in the interview Friday. “But when we do have the money available, we need to do what we can to spend it wisely.”

The shift comes as lawmakers prepare to debate a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling, which supporters say would infuse a new surge of cash into Georgia’s scaled-back pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs. Deal opposes the expansion of gambling, but he said he may not veto the legislation if voters support it in a referendum.

The specifics of his plan for a $50 million pre-kindergarten infusion will be honed by an education reform commission that he appointed after his re-election. The panel’s members have already begun to debate whether to boost the pay of pre-k teachers with advanced college degrees.

Early childhood education experts welcome Deal’s decision. Steve Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said the state’s national reputation as a leader in early education was “severely damaged” as days were cut, class sizes were increased and experienced teachers fled.

The program has yet to recover while early childhood education systems in states such as Alabama, North Carolina and even Mississippi held steady or moved forward, he said. But he said Deal’s proposal to add an additional $50 million would “help restore Georgia’s reputation, and, more importantly, restore quality so that children and taxpayers gain from this investment.”

The pre-k program still has trouble holding on to its teachers. The program keeps about 75 percent of its teachers, down from 83 percent in fiscal 2012, when the brunt of the cuts took effect.

Early childhood education advocates have long urged Deal to find money in the reserve fund to increase pre-k teacher pay and decrease class size to help needy families who don’t have access to quality early care.

“I am agnostic on where the funding comes from,” said Mindy Binderman, the executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students. “But using lottery reserves is the logical choice.”

Tech students

Some Democrats want Deal to tap the lottery reserve for a different purpose.

Changes to the HOPE grant program in 2011 hiked the required grade-point average for technical college students to keep the tuition award and reduce the payments. Nearly 6,000 students who lost their grants bolted from schools in the years after the change.

Lawmakers approved a new grant named after former Gov. Zell Miller two years ago to cover the full tuition of tech students who earn at least a 3.5 GPA, which is awarded to about 14,500 students. That leaves an additional 67,000 students on the HOPE grant, and many get roughly 75 percent of their tuition covered by the program.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, wants the state to cover the rest of the gap. She’s met several times with the governor and his aides about taking roughly $23 million from the unrestricted reserve fund to restore full tuition funding for the grant recipients.

The new funding would only amount to a matter of a few hundred dollars a semester for most tech school students, she said, but that could be the deciding factor for many students struggling to make ends meet.

“The difference in funding is sometimes only $400 or $500, and it’s the difference between completing a program and someone not completing it,” Evans said. “And anything we can do to drive more people into the doors of a technical college is going to result in more people in unfilled jobs.”

She pointed to strong lottery proceeds – the program’s profits for state education programs recently set a record for the fourth consecutive year – as a sign that Deal doesn’t have to choose between the two programs.

“With the lottery posting record proceeds, we can responsibly do both,” said Evans.

The governor, though, signaled in the interview that he was wary of dipping deeper into the reserve funds for the HOPE grant program. He pointed to a workforce development initiative that pays the full tuition for grant recipients pursuing high-demand fields, such as welding and movie production.

“Rather than just using our money across the board,” he said, “I think it’s more appropriate to focus on areas where they can get jobs.”

By Greg Bluestein
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


 

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Deal’s education commission considers pre-K teacher pay

Teachers of Georgia’s youngest students might get more money for advanced college degrees while those in regular K-12 schools might not, according to ongoing discussions in Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission.

Subcommittees studying topics from teacher pay and retention to student choice and charter schools reported their progress to the full commission on Wednesday. Many, including the crucial funding committee, have reached no conclusions, but the group studying early childhood education had solid recommendations. They recommended tying pay to the level of college attained and to the amount of job experience. Pre-K teachers with a bachelor’s degree would get a $1,200 bump under the recommendation, with their annual pay rising to $26,000, while teachers with a master’s degree would earn a base amount of $38,400.

Meanwhile, the group studying what is arguably the most important topic — state educational funding — has discussed removing the long-existing requirement that school districts pay K-12 teachers more if they hold advanced degrees. The group made no formal recommendation about that or anything else Wednesday, but commission chairman Charles Knapp said specifics should start to emerge next week. That’s when the funding subcommittee will consider new ways to channel state money to school districts.

Currently, districts earn money based on a complicated formula that requires their compliance with state-established rules for everything from salary scales to attendance calendars. Deal has said he wants to simplify the formula so that districts get a set amount of money per student, with the flexibility to spend it as they see fit, Knapp said.

The commission members have been meeting since winter with a deadline by next winter for most. But the funding subcommittee has a July deadline to give Deal time to incorporate the proposals into his next budget.

Knapp warned that the funding formula that begins to emerge next week will likely produce winners and losers, with some districts getting proportionately more, or less, money than they do today.

“We’re getting into the real important stage where we’re going to be talking about specific numbers and specific allocations,” he said.

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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What’s the Point of Teaching Math in Preschool?

Drew H. Bailey | Brookings

Twenty years ago few preschools (or parents, for that matter), paid much attention to teaching mathematics to four-year-olds.  In 1998, for example, only four percent of a nationally representative sample of American children entering kindergarten could add or subtract.  Today, math is firmly entrenched in the pre-K curriculum.  And the Common Core State Standards, which are the new instructional guidelines for K-12 math instruction in 40+ states, and which require kindergartners to engage in algebraic thinking, are being extended downward into pre-K in many locales.  New York state, for example, has pre-K standards aligned to the Common Core that require four-year-olds to “demonstrate an understanding of addition and subtraction by using objects, fingers, and responding to practical situations (e.g., If we have three apples and add two more, how many apples do we have all together?).” Thus, in about 15 years we’ve moved from virtually no preschoolers being able to add and subtract to the goal of all four-year-olds being able to do so.

There is a scientific basis for the growth in the emphasis on math in pre-K, as researchers in early mathematics have followed previous work by early literacy researchers by investigating the longitudinal associations between early skills and later development. As a result of these efforts, we now know that early math skills are the strongest early predictors of children’s math achievement years later (Aunola, Leskinen, Lerkkanen, and Nurmi, 2004; Duncan et al., 2007; Geary, Hoard, Nugent, and Bailey, 2013; Jordan, Kaplan, Ramineni, and Locuniak, 2009; Siegler et al., 2012).  This finding, in turn, provides an empirical basis for devoting a considerable chunk of the pre-K curriculum to math instruction, since math skills and course taking during the high school years are related to important life outcomes such as college success (Lee, 2013). Unfortunately, the effects of early math interventions found in experimental studies clearly diminish over time. My recent work suggests that differences in children’s math achievement are influenced by a combination of differences in both earlier math achievement and the relatively stable factors affecting children’s math achievement across development— with the effects of stable factors being several times larger than the effects of children’s earlier math achievement. This suggests that pre-school level math instruction alone will not be sufficient to substantially boost long-term math achievement outcomes, and raises important questions about what kinds of interventions are likely to produce the longest lasting effects on children’s math achievement.

Examining the relation between early and late mathematics skills

The strong association between children’s measured math skills in preschool and later, during the school years, is only a warrant for an emphasis on math instruction in pre-K if the relationship between earlier and later skills is causal, e.g., teaching children to add and subtract as four-year-olds leads directly to increased math learning for those children in elementary school.  If the correlation between early and later math skills is fully driven by other variables that affect both early and later math skills, such as children’s intelligence or interest in learning, then teaching preschoolers to add and subtract would not have a direct impact on later math skills.

Researchers have tried to rule out other variables that might explain the correlation between earlier and later mathematics ability by controlling statistically for some of the factors that might affect children’s math learning both early and later in their development, including: family characteristics; children’s cognitive abilities such as intelligence and working memory; and reading achievement. These statistical controls are used to reduce bias in the estimates of the effect of early math achievement on later math achievement.

To the extent that we are able to make causal inferences from these studies, the implication is clear: improving children’s early math skills should produce sizable effects on their much later math achievement. This would be good news, as we know of some effective ways to increase children’s math achievement in preschool; for example, Doug Clements’s and Julie Sarama’s early math curriculum produces impressive effects on children’s early math achievement (Clements, Sarama, Spitler, Lange, and Wolfe, 2011; Clements and Sarama, 2008).

Further, there is a promising logic underlying the idea that effective early math interventions will have long-lasting effects. In math, earlier skills are often repurposed as subroutines of later skills. For example, children use counting when they learn single digit arithmetic, they use single digit arithmetic when they learn multi-digit arithmetic, and they use whole number arithmetic when they learn fraction arithmetic. Failing to learn earlier skills disadvantages children trying to learn later skills. Additionally, sometimes knowing one mathematical principal can help children learn another. This phenomenon is known as transfer of learning and has been demonstrated in many studies of children’s math learning. For example, having an accurate understanding of where numbers fall on a number line facilitates preschoolers’ learning of simple addition (Siegler and Ramani, 2009).

To summarize, there are strong empirical relations between children’s school-entry math achievement and their math achievement many years later, and there is a sensible theoretical framework for understanding how differences in early math skills might cause differences in later math skills. But what do experimental studies on the effects of early childhood interventions on children’s later math outcomes—those that compare children who received some early math intervention to those who did not—find? Unfortunately, these studies show a different pattern. Effects of early interventions on children’s math achievement reliably diminish over time, a finding known as the “fade-out” effect.

Explaining the discrepancy between correlational and experimental findings

What can account for the apparent discrepancy between results from correlational analyses of longitudinal datasets and results from experimental studies? The answer is likely to be that correlational studies do not adequately control for all of the relatively stable factors underlying children’s math learning throughout development. Because of this, correlational studies will over-estimate the effects of improving children’s early math achievement on their later math achievement. There are two reasons to favor this explanation:

1) Many child characteristics are statistically associated with and may plausibly cause children’s math outcomes. These characteristics include commonly used statistical control variables, such as socioeconomic status, working memory, and intelligence. Deary, Strand, Smith, and Fernandes (2007) found that children’s intelligence measured at age 11 accounted for 59 percent of the variance in their math achievement at age 16. Further, other characteristics, such as children’s motivation, attention, processing speed, and particular facets of working memory, may also influence children’s math learning. Longitudinal datasets often contain measures of some of these stable characteristics, but do not contain complete, high-quality measures of all of them for the same children and therefore cannot statistically control for all of them. Therefore, causal estimates generated from these datasets may yield upwardly biased estimates of the effect of early math achievement on later math achievement.

2) Critically, the association between early and later math achievement remains surprisingly stable as the time between the “early” and “late” measurements increases. If the correlation between early and later math achievement primarily reflects the causal effect of the former on the latter, then this correlation should diminish over time. As an analogy, if a dog is walking around a field, we should have a more accurate idea of where he is at any given time the more recently his previous location is known. As this time interval increases, we will become less and less sure of where in the field the dog is located. To the extent that the correlation between measures of math achievement is stable as the distance in time between the measurements increases, relatively stable factors that influence math achievement similarly over time are likely responsible for the correlation between early and later math achievement. Again using the analogy of the dog in the field, if the dog is leashed to a post somewhere in the field, then knowing his location at any previous time should be similarly helpful for predicting the dog’s subsequent location (the dog will be by the post).

Children’s math achievement is likely both influenced by previous knowledge and stable factors (the dog is leashed to a post, but the leash has some slack), but there is reason to think that stable factors might account for a substantial part of the correlation between early and much later math achievement: Though the correlation between early and later math achievement does not remain completely unchanged as the distance in time between the measurements increases, it remains surprisingly stable. For example, in a longitudinal dataset containing data from 1,124 children, the correlation between children’s first grade math achievement and their third grade math achievement was .72, and the correlation between children’s first grade math achievement and their math achievement at age 15 was .66. If these correlations primarily reflect the stability of factors underlying math learning throughout children’s development, and secondarily reflect smaller effects of early math achievement on later math achievement, then effects of early interventions that affect early math achievement but not the stable factors influencing learning across time will fade out.

My collaborators— Tyler Watts, Andrew Littlefield, Dave Geary— and I used a statistical model to partition the correlation between individual differences in children’s math achievement measured at different times into two parts: the part caused by direct effects of children’s earlier math achievement on their later math achievement, and the part caused by relatively stable factors that affect children’s math learning similarly across their development (Bailey, Watts, Littlefield, and Geary, 2014). Using data from two longitudinal studies of children’s math achievement, our model suggests that children’s math achievement is influenced by a combination of both earlier math achievement and the relatively stable factors affecting children’s math achievement across development. However, the effects of stable factors are several times larger than the effects of children’s earlier math achievement. Further, a set of common statistical controls, such as intelligence, working memory, socioeconomic status, and reading achievement accounted for a large amount of the variance in these stable factors (approximately 2/3). This means that estimates of the effects of early math achievement on later math achievement based on correlational data over-estimate the direct effect of early mathematical knowledge on the acquisition of later mathematical knowledge, and that this bias increases with the distance in time between these two measurements. Consistent with data from experimental studies on early interventions, our model predicts that the effects of increasing young children’s early math skills on their later math achievement will fade over time.

Conclusion

The primary implication of our study for mathematics is that increasing children’s school-entry math achievement alone will not be sufficient to substantially boost their math achievement outcomes many years later.  This does not mean that early interventions cannot affect other important aspects of children’s lives (particularly for children living in the poorest environments), some of which may even affect their later academic achievement, nor does it mean that preschoolers shouldn’t be taught math.  It does mean that the yield from preschool math instruction on children’s much later math achievement will be less than is often assumed.  Investing more in later math interventions may be a more effective approach. Though nearly all older children eventually learn how to count and add single-digit numbers, many U.S. children never develop the ability to efficiently compare the sizes of different fractions (Schneider and Siegler, 2010). Further, researchers have identified effective interventions for teaching children how to do this (Fuchs et al., 2013). It seems plausible that teaching older children information they are at risk for never learning may have more persistent effects on their math achievement than teaching younger children information they very probably otherwise would have learned in kindergarten or first grade.  Finally, to the extent that effective early math instruction is implemented, our model and common sense predict that children will need higher quality later math instruction to sustain their higher math achievement trajectories into the long-term.

In the broader context of preschool policy, our results suggest that we need much more knowledge than is presently available with respect to which children need what kinds of instruction when.

 

References

Aunola, K., Leskinen, E., Lerkkanen, M.-L., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2004). Developmental dynamics of math performance from pre-school to Grade 2. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 699-713.

Bailey, D. H., Watts, T. W., Littlefield, A. K., & Geary, D. C. (2014). State and trait effects on individual differences in children’s mathematical development. Psychological Science, 25, 2017-2026.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2008). Experimental Evaluation of the Effects of a Research-Based Preschool Mathematics Curriculum. American Educational Research Journal45, 443-494.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Spitler, M. E., Lange, A. A., & Wolfe, C. B. (2011). Mathematics learned by young children in an intervention based on learning trajectories: A large-scale cluster randomized trial. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 42, 127-166.

Deary, I. J., Strand, S., Smith, P., & Fernandes, C. (2007). Intelligence and educational achievement. Intelligence35, 13-21.

Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446.

Fuchs, L. S., Schumacher, R. F., Long, J., Namkung, J., Hamlett, C. L., Cirino, P. T., Jordan, N. C., Siegler, R. S., Gersten, R., & Changas, P. (2013). Improving at-risk learners’ understanding of fractions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 683-703.

Geary, D. C., Hoard, M. K., Nugent, L., & Bailey, D. H. (2013). Adolescents’ functional numeracy is predicted by their school entry number system knowledge. PLoS ONE, 8, e54651.

Jordan, N. C., Kaplan, D., Ramineni, C., & Locuniak, M. N. (2009). Early math matters: kindergarten number competence and later mathematics outcomes. Developmental Psychology45, 850-867.

Lee, J. (2013). College for all: Gaps between desirable and actual P–12 math achievement trajectories for college readiness. Educational Researcher, 42(2), 78–88.

Schneider, M., & Siegler, R. S. (2010). Representations of the magnitudes of fractions. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance36, 1227-1238.

Siegler, R. S., Duncan, G. J., Davis-Kean, P. E., Duckworth, K., Claessens, A., Engel, M., et al. (2012). Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement. Psychological Science, 23, 691-697.

Siegler, R. S., & Ramani, G. B. (2009). Playing linear number board games – but not circular ones – improves low-income preschoolers’ numerical understanding. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 545-560.

Authors

  • Drew H. Bailey

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