Feds announce Race to the Top competition for early learning programs. Georgia seems a strong contender.

 Could Georgia have an edge in a new Race to the Top program for early learning because of it pre-k program? (AJC file)

Could Georgia have an edge in a new Race to the Top program for early learning because of its pioneering pre-k program? (AJC file)

In a media conference call today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a Race to the Top initiative aimed at preschool-age children.

Duncan said the goal of the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge was to fund programs that show “courage, creativity, commitment and capacity.”

The intent is also to spread best practices in early childhood education, said Sebelius.

“It is more than teaching them colors and letters,” she said. “Children need social and emotional skills, and they need families engaged in their education. Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge takes a holistic approach to early learning,  driving innovation and focusing on what it takes to put young kids on a path to learning opportunities and success.”

Both leaders talked about the dividends from investing in early childhood. The only way to outperform the world, said Sebelius, is “to out educate them.”

“We have to get out of the catch-up business, and the best way to do so is to level the playing field entering kindergarten,” said Duncan. “If we give many more children, particularly poor children, access to great childhood programs, we can dramatically change their life chances long term.”

Georgia ought to be in a great position to win one of these grants given its early entry into universal pre-k.  A RTT early learning grant would increase the hand of the federal government in Georgia education, but that hand would come clutching new dollars.

Here are some details about the program:

This Challenge represents the Obama Administration’s commitment to helping vulnerable children and families reach their full potential,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Our collective health and financial security as a nation will depend on high quality investments during the critical early years of a child’s life.”

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development. Secretary Duncan and Secretary Sebelius also challenged the broader innovation community – leading researchers, high-tech entrepreneurs, foundations, non-profits and others – to engage with the early learning community and to close the school readiness gap.

States applying for challenge grants will be encouraged to increase access to quality early learning programs for low income and disadvantaged children, design integrated and transparent systems that align their early care and education programs, bolster training and support for the early learning workforce, create robust evaluation systems to document and share effective practices and successful programs, and help parents make informed decisions about care for their children.

Research shows that high-quality early learning programs lead to long-lasting positive outcomes for children, including increased rates of high school graduation, college attendance and college completion. Yet, just 40 percent of 4-year olds in America are currently enrolled in preschool programs. The most recent report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) indicates that, for the first time in a decade, states are reducing some of their key investments in early learning.

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants will encourage states to make the best possible use of current federal and state investments in child care and early learning.  The Obama Administration has sought and secured increased investments in Head Start and child care so that more families have access to quality, affordable care, while also pursuing important reforms such as requiring Head Start grantees to compete for continued funding.  The administration has also steered resources towards evidence-based, cost-effective home visiting programs.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

28 comments Add your comment

Clueless

May 25th, 2011
11:26 am

I would hope that the Republicans in our state government, who claim to believe in local control and local funding, would decline to participate in this. They had the chance to adequately fund Pre-K by requiring the Lottery Corp. to submit the recommended percentage, but refused to do so.

Ernest

May 25th, 2011
11:37 am

I hope Georgia and DeKalb County in particular apply for these dollars. I believe it could provide ‘transformational’ opportunities for children in low income areas, especially those recently impacted by school closings. I could foresee possibly reopening one or more of those schools as PK3 & PK4 facilities with the goal of both providing a stronger educational foundation for those children along with helping/teaching parents how to become better advocates.

another view

May 25th, 2011
1:09 pm

SO easy to be cynical and pessimistic in this state. Pre-K teachers in the public schools – with the same level of preparation as K-12 – can be paid on lower scales. Pre-K teachers in the public schools almost to a person are elementary, NOT early childhood trained. Lest ye be fooled by our mislabeling of teachers, what we call “Early Childhood” certification is everywhere else in the country Elementary (K-5) preparation – with a tiny smattering of “oh by the way 4-year-olds are a year younger than 5-year-olds.” In today’s test-prep-driven public schools that can oh so easily lead to just another year’s head start on “sitdownshutupandcounttoahundred,” teaching kids to hate school even more rapidly. Private Pre-K, last time I checked, can be staffed by people with 2-year, not 4-year preparation. In other words, what we call Pre-K, and quicker than a pickpocket haul out the “better longer faster momandapplepie” results of the Perry Preschool Study – well, in many cases just simply is not so. That’s not from an absence of desire to do it right – there are many fabulous people both in the classroom and in that state oversight office with the seemingly weekly name changes, but it will be oh so easy to talk the game but not really walk the walk – because walking the walk requires many more dollars than whatever tiny pittance the fed throws out (not the least of which is to add PK3 – results were from TWO years of PreK, NOT one), and a good deal of monitoring to keep test pass rate-driven principals from simply adding yet another year of test prep. Let’s hope we have the sense to knock on Steve Barnett’s (for example) door to help plan for Georgia’s future.

Fericita

May 25th, 2011
1:41 pm

I find it ironic that Arne Duncan explains how important PreK is, and how we need to stop playing catch up and instead level the playing field. But, when teachers try to point out the uneven playing field as a reason for being against merit pay, all we hear is “no excuses, all children can learn, blah blah blah.”

This comes just in time for Georgia since we’re cutting PreK programs. Hope we get it. It seems (so far, anyway) that there are a lot less punitive ties than with the RTTT for upper grades – no value-added/merit pay schemes.

[...] More States Bloomberg Education grants made available for nine states WXXI NJ TODAY -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Washington Times all 160 news articles » Tags: English, Top StoriesPosted [...]

Dr. Craig Spinks/Augusta

May 25th, 2011
2:50 pm

We need to fund Pre-K programs which demonstrate RESULTS in terms of academic- and social-readiness for K-12. “(C)apacity, commitment, courage and creativity…” partnered with competency are several of the enabling traits upon which successful Pre-K programs are built.

Continue to await the development and publication of a comprehensive performance review of the current GA Pre-K by a competent, disinterested, out-of-state agency.

David Sims

May 25th, 2011
2:58 pm

“It is more than teaching them colors and letters,” she said. “Children need social and emotional skills, and they need families engaged in their education. Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge takes a holistic approach to early learning, driving innovation and focusing on what it takes to put young kids on a path to learning opportunities and success.”

The only part of that which makes any sense is the first sentence. Children should learn more than colors and letters in school. But social skills can be left untaught by the school because little boys and girls will teach them to each other, one way or another. Elementary schools should be teaching READING, not merely letter recognition and sounds, from the first grade on. And they should be teaching arithmetic starting with “here are the numbers, let’s say them ‘ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR. FIVE…’” and learning addition and subtraction by the 2nd grade.

My grandson is in the 2nd grade, multiplying and dividing already, and, if I could tutor him, he’d be solving quadratic equations for their roots and solving simultaneous systems of equations for unknown values of x, y, and z before he is 10. My daughter has told me enough that I can tell he’s like I was at his age, so I’m sure he could be accelerated.

“We have to get out of the catch-up business, and the best way to do so is to level the playing field entering kindergarten,” said Duncan. “If we give many more children, particularly poor children, access to great childhood programs, we can dramatically change their life chances long term.”

Ehhhht! Wrong. That’s the very same mistake that leftists have been making for the past 60 years. That’s the left, ONCE AGAIN, expressing their belief that (to use my usual metaphor) they’ve been unable to put out the fire because the buckets, from which they’ve been throwing gasoline, were painted the wrong color. You can’t “level the playing field” by throwing more, and more, and more money into “poor schools” (by which, I assume, one means that the children attending them come from poor families, since it can no longer mean that the schools themselves are underfunded). That does not work because the learning bottleneck is the low average IQ of the students in question. No amount of money can fix that. No possible social intervention can address it.

PreK Parent

May 25th, 2011
5:18 pm

My conservative side says not to take this challenge, but my parent side says let’s go for it. This week my just turned 5 year old finished up GA PreK. I was a little skeptical at our first meeting last year about the Bright from the Start curriculum, but I can say 10 months after school started that I am more than impressed. Starting school was rough because of the no mom and dad factor, but several weeks in he was coming home and telling us about shapes, letters, numbers, and stories they read. It wasn’t long before he started counting to 25 and then 50. The next surprise was him beginning to write his name, which he is now a pro at. Throughout the year we could tell he was learning and every morning I took him to school, his teacher would give me information on how he was doing. His social skills went from pretty much non-existent to him telling me this week how much he is going to miss his friends. In September he couldn’t tell me any of their names, but today he rattles them off like he’s known them for years.

GA PreK is doing it’s job in most places and we have to continue to fund it as we were and not like it is proposed for the future. We were blessed to have a good youth educational center that provided the lottery funded PreK program. However, today I learned that this will not be the case going forward and that the teachers my son will be saying goodbye to are also saying goodbye to the wonderful place they have been employed with for the last several years. These are good teachers and they are losing their job because PreK funding is being cut. I don’t blame the school we are at one bit because they have a business to run and cannot simply fund PreK themselves without charging families a large payment. This affects us too because we have a three year old who will be attending PreK in the 2012-2013 school year and I wanted these two teachers for him as well. In short, I agreed with Gov. Deals proposal to fix HOPE though for future students (though not existing students and feel this needs to change). However, I 100% disagree with his stance on GA PreK. There was a reason my family voted for the lottery back in the 1990s and that was to give myself and their future grandchildren a chance to get a better education. I am one who derides government programs, but the GA PreK program works and I support good solutions to fund it.

Mikey D

May 25th, 2011
6:33 pm

Perfect…. Now we can start giving standardized tests to 4-year-olds. That would follow the Duncan blueprint perfectly.

QE3

May 25th, 2011
11:00 pm

LOL! This is straight out of Anita Hogue’s expose “THE SCHOOL OF TOMORROW: Womb to Tomb, The New Managed Economy”, written in the early nineties. They are finally getting to the “womb” part. DON’T BUY INTO THIS.
http://fliiby.com/file/845898/my4vskdwud.html

Patricia

May 25th, 2011
11:52 pm

I think the drastic changes that have been made to the GA PreK program due to the governor’s decision to cut funding from the program, shorten the PreK school year, decrease the salaries of certificated teachers, etc. would be evident Georgia is no longer committed to a quality pre-school program and should not be lauded for its early learning program which I fear will soon no longer be a part of the public schools due to an inability to keep a committed experienced teaching force.

Patricia

May 26th, 2011
12:04 am

Reply to David Sims: Actually, students do learn to read in first grade and they most certainly learn to add and subtract as well as mulitiplication by second grade. I am not sure what schools you have visited lately, but I just taught a group of PreK students who were learning to read…one of my former students in kindergarten not only has learned to read, but write about he comprehended from his reading and I do not mean one or two sentences… I am getting rather tired of all the negative slaps in the face students get today from folks who really have no clue what is going on in primary schools around our state particularly those of us far below the city of Atlanta.

Cindy Lutenbacher

May 26th, 2011
7:59 am

I agree with the comments that suggest we avoid this “possibility” like the plague. All one needs to do is read Duncan’s statements to see that these “alignments” and “robust evaluations” are part and parcel of destroying public pre-K in the same way that NCLB and RttT are about destroying public education. When will the public stop listening to people who don’t have knowledge, experience, and understanding of learning, children, and schools and start listening to the people who DO?

Morrjkm

May 26th, 2011
8:25 am

This funding would do more than expand Pre-K. It would assist with other programs that DECAL supports. Early learning is Birth-5. The largest developmental growth stage for humans is the first 18 months, yet our children are saddled with the most unprepared care givers. For sometimes more than twelve hours a day. These centers are unable to train staff, provide materials, hire teachers with true degree’s in early childhood or child development, as child care is expensive and day care find it hard to self support. It so much more that Pre-K. If the state receives the funding and uses it as a chance to up the bar for professionals in the field, it will be well worth it. The plan that they submit, must be sustainable after the funds dry up, or it’s a waste of our hard earned money.

Tony

May 26th, 2011
8:47 am

Georgia HAD an excellent PreK program and it was once a shining jewel in our otherwise tarnished educational plan. The quality of PreK in Georgia has been under attack from several fronts including the private PreK providers within our state. It’s true. Their beef has been simple – public schools that provide PreK have better quality teachers and it put them at an unfair disadvantage. Well, this year they were successful in wreaking havoc on those quality programs in schools by successfully lobbying for the salary changes that Gov. Deal imposed. Some school systems were able to absorb that cost, but most were not. The PreK teachers in public schools now face tremendous pay cuts, they will no longer earn step increases, and the school year for the kids was shortened. Public schools will lose these top-knotch teachers to other programs and PreK will become a desolate program with a dearth of experienced teachers.

Federal money ALWAYS comes with more strings than meets the eye. Say NO! Go back to full funding for PreK from within Georgia so that we retain control of the program.

A Conservative Voice

May 26th, 2011
10:03 am

Folks, let’s call a spade a spade…….the only thing that’s happening here is Arnie is helping to feed the re-election campaign of the absolutely sorriest excuse of a POTUS we have ever seen……he’s surpassed even Jimmy Carter in this regard. This is political pandering at it’s worst.

Cindy Lutenbacher

May 26th, 2011
10:22 am

Conservative Voice,
I think you’ve got that backwards, for these programs are causing President Obama to lose support among his base.
Secondly, there are lots of other blogs for arguments about specific political figures. I respectfully request that you serve those blogs with your thoughts.

A Conservative Voice

May 26th, 2011
11:23 am

@Cindy Lutenbacher

May 26th, 2011
10:22 am
Conservative Voice,

I respectfully request that you serve those blogs with your thoughts.

Cindy…….and I respectfully request that you….oh, no…..I can’t say that :)

Cindy, what he’s doing is still political maneuvering and should be ceased, immediately. That’s throwing our money down the toilet

PreK Parent

May 26th, 2011
2:30 pm

Tony, it’s not just public school PreK teachers that are getting the shaft here. As I stated yesterday, two very good teachers are losing their jobs and they teach at a private school that teachers early childhood development. Because the state cut funding, these teachers are losing their jobs.

NG

May 26th, 2011
2:50 pm

God already has a plan for universal pre-k…it’s called motherhood.

Nikole

May 26th, 2011
3:38 pm

@ David–I teach first grade and teaching them to read is the BIGGEST task for this grade level. Second grade standards also introduce multiplication. Not sure about division.

@ NG– If all students had well educated mothers, then your statement would be right. However, many mothers aren’t able to or don’t care to provide their children with rich early childhood experiences.

NG

May 26th, 2011
4:39 pm

You don’t have to be well-educated to be a good pre-k mom. We have spent so much time crafting programs around the false premise that people don’t care as much about their children as the system does that we are actually enabling people to not care. Even an uneducated mother who loves her children will give them a better foundation than daycare or pre-k. I get very tired of teachers perpetuating the myth that so many parents don’t care about their children…more people love their children than don’t, and it is decades of being told to leave education to the “experts” that has caused so many to tune out of the education process..and before you start defending teachers against mean people who don’t understand education, I am a licensed educator. I just don’t think most teachers know any more about learning than your average caring parent.

Besides, if the widespread availability of pre-k was such a great thing for education, Georgia would be at the top of the nation in education. The program has been around long enough that it has shown that it was not the savior that we were promised.

Nikole

May 26th, 2011
5:14 pm

@ NG–My comment suggests that moms aren’t able OR don’t care. I know many mothers that love and want what’s best for their children, but don’t even realize how certain activities can help or hinder their child’s development. There are programs that help mothers care for their children from the time they are born. These programs “educate” these mothers about things that more “educated” mothers already do. The moms in the programs don’t love their children any less, they were ignorant in certain areas of caring for their children. As a teacher, I have also seen many mothers who don’t care at all about how their actions and parenting styles may be having a negative effect on their children. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Nikole

May 26th, 2011
5:16 pm

I’d also suggest that GA dropped the ball on implementing Pre-k. I attended half-day pre-k in Texas in the 80s, and I think their model is still better. GA approached pre-k as a babysitting service. Pre-k should be mandatory (kids are now only required to attend 1st grade), and should be in schools; not all daycares are equal in their pre-k delivery. In schools, pre-k should be treated as important as any other grade.

PreK Parent

May 26th, 2011
5:55 pm

Not all day cares may be equal in their delivery of PreK, but then again neither are all public schools. There is nothing wrong with the setup of who teaches PreK. The problem is the state has a funding issue for PreK and there are simple solutions to take care of it. The lottery was passed as the means to provide GA with a quality PreK and secondary school options. It would not hurt to have the lottery utilized as it was intended where the % of revenues to keep and fund the two programs are adequate to where cuts are never needed. Each budget year it should be decided how much lottery revenue should be used to fund all existing PreK programs and the HOPE scholly. If one year you require 35% of the revenue to fund, but next year you only need 28% then so be it.

As for NG’s comment…..my wife was a stay at home mom until our first child turned PreK age. While she was at home, she cared and provided a learning environment for him at home. However, her resources were very limited compared to what he received in PreK this year. It was not because she didn’t care, it was because he had an actual learning environment to help him grow. If you get in the right school, get the right teachers, and participate in the child’s learning environment (as we did for him) then the child will succeed and the program succeeds as well.

GA PreK is about the closest thing to school choice one has in this state. The problem is not the program itself and how kids do once they are done with PreK is not something that can be traced back to the program they participated in. The problem is when the majority of these kids are done with PreK at whatever learning center their parents choose, they are then placed into a school based on their geographical boundary regardless whether their parents want them to attend the school or not. Parents may have placed their child in a great PreK school, but had to send them to Kindergarten at a school that doesn’t perform very well. Unfortunately with the way school districts are in GA and their desire for the almighty tax dollar, you have no choice but to send them to that school and that is where the learning takes a dive – if the school is inadequate. That is where we need to look to reform GA schools. PreK is/was doing great, but cutting funding and taking away classrooms at good schools (which is what this recent cut did) will only turn them into the mess that public schools are. Taking away classrooms will take away the parents choice in getting the best PreK for their child.

NG

May 27th, 2011
9:43 am

You don’t need a lot of resources to prepare a young child for learning. Love and attention (in the form of talking to your child) will instill in him the language basics he needs to succeed far above anything else. Take your child to the library and read a lot and you are doing even more to build his vocabulary and develop pre-reading skills. Keep your child with you when you cook in the kitchen and involve him in measuring ingredients/counting items etc. and you are working on pre-math skills. Go to the park and play outside and observe the flowers, butterflies, birds, etc., and you are working on pre-science skills. It doesn’t take a lot of resources to develop a child that is learning. I think we are under the mistaken notion that the earlier we have children sitting still in formal learning situations the better off they will be. I believe pushing formal learning too early cripples the intellect for life. I still contend that the results after all of the years and money invested in the program since the 1990’s do not show that it has really worked. My dad didn’t go to school until first grade (and he was almost 7, because he has a September birthday) and he went on to become an engineer and a hospital administrator, so I don’t think a delay of formal education will hurt at all. It seems to me that the earlier we have pushed all of these concepts, the worse things have gotten in education.

Again, motherhood is the best plan for getting children ready to learn. Don’t believe the hype that you must surrender your children too early to formal institutions and “experts.” Spend some time observing in college education classes…it will make you wonder what in the world makes some of these people think they are intellectually superior to the parents whose children they are teaching.

Shannon, M.Div.

May 28th, 2011
2:51 am

Hey, NG–really glad that you and your family have had self-reliant experiences. As an educated person, I’m sure you know that the plural of anecdote is not data.

[...] As I reported last week, the feds announced a second Race to the Top initiative aimed at preschool-age children. [...]