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The Sequester’s Impact on Education

Now that the sequester is in effect, how will it impact education?

School districts can expect the funding cuts to impact the 2013-2014 school year. More immediately, districts may experience some difficulties creating their budgets for the upcoming year, due to funding uncertainty. Headstart could face funding cuts immediately, but it is uncertain where funds will be cut and how grantees will be affected. Will Congress reach an agreement by their next fiscal deadline, March 27th, and revoke these cuts or not?

Read more about the sequester’s expected impact on education from Education Week.

Pre-Kindergarten, an investment in human capital

During President Obama’s state of the union address last week, he unveiled his plans to expand pre-kindergarten for four-year-old children from low- and moderate-income families. He stated, "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime."

According to the report released by the Center for American Progress, Obama’s assertions are correct. Without high quality early childhood education at-risk children are:

  • 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
  • 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
  • 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
  • 60 percent more likely never to attend college
  • 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

Why exactly is pre-kindergarten so beneficial? First it would improve the lives of millions of mothers and fathers and single parent homes by removing the financial burden of financing childcare. Families spend an average of 10% of their household budget on child care. For low-income parents it can be as much as 50% of their total income. Secondly, investing in children’s education will strengthen America’s human capital, as the first five years of a child’s life are the most formative, cognitively and emotionally. Enhanced human capital results in improved economic growth, increased revenue and decreases in future spending obligation. Lastly, investment in early education could counter the effects of growing economic inequality and decreased rates of upward mobility. An increasingly number of children are being raised by single parents, earning one paycheck. One income, instead of two, makes it even more difficult to pay for pre-kindergarten education. Study after study has indicated that investing in children early can result in greater impact at less cost, or in other words, a greater return on investment.

Despite these benefits, there are many shortcomings to the current piecemeal delivery and funding system of pre-kindergarten education. Funding narrowly targets specific initiatives and in doing so makes it difficult for providers to track involvement, the use of funds, and the effectiveness of the program. Many are recommending a program that streamlines federal education initiatives.

Others question if education funding should be directed at pre-kindergarten or if it would be better to spend on other programs or initiatives like teacher’s professional development.

The coming weeks and months should reveal how the Obama Administration plans to expand pre-kindergarten in America.

For more information about pre-kindergarten, read “Investing in Our Children” from the Center for American Progress or “Federal Grant Prospect Reignites Kindergarten Assessment Debate” from Education Week.

Birth to College Model in Chicago Underway

Do collaborative partnerships between teachers, administrators, and family members have the potential to prepare at-risk children for college?

The Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) and Ounce of Prevention Fund are conducting research to uncover successful elements of birth to college approach for public education through a series of case studies. Through this effort, they hope to close the achievement gap for vulnerable students and develop concrete standards and practices for this approach. Their latest study discusses the process and outcomes of professional learning communities (PLCs) comprised of teachers, administrators, and student’s families at three schools serving children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old; University of Chicago Charter School’s Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland campus and the Educare School. PLCs are designed to create an environment where practitioners lead efforts to collaboratively study and pilot developmentally informed practices that prepare at-risk children for college, beginning at infancy. Officials stated:

“A major component of the professional learning communities is educating teachers to develop a mindset focusing on the long-term impact of their involvement with students, rather than the here and now.”

Survey results from 25 respondents indicated that community involvement has impacted their thinking about their practices in the classroom and with families, and a little less than half of those respondents have changed their practices as a result.

The latest study also contains resources to build an infrastructure to launch Professional Learning Communities, which includes, a written case study, video, teaching notes, and supplemental materials. “The Birth-to-Eight Project has the potential to significantly improve the educational experiences of at-risk children in Illinois and across the country and prepare them for success in school and in life, while also profoundly impacting the field” states the Chicago Urban Institute and the Ounce Prevention Fund.

For more details about this program visit: Education Week, News Release from Ounce, and the December 2012 report, “Building Birth to College Model: Professional Learning Communities. A Teaching Case Study.”

Michelle Rhee's Journey to Reform Education

The Chancellor of Washington DC from 2007-2010, Michelle Rhee, was one of the most controversial education reformers in the United States in recent years. PBS Frontline aired a documentary of Rhee’s journey to reform DC public schools this month . It is viewable on the PBS Frontline website.

The documentary details Rhee’s career in education, including her time as a second grade teacher in Baltimore, her battles with teachers unions as chancellor of the Washington DC public-schools, the high expectations she bestowed upon teachers and principals in the district, and her recent efforts to reform education on a national level.

Geoffery Canada, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone shares his perspective on education reform and the Michelle Rhee documentary in “School Reform Starts with Teacher Accountability.” He states:

"Rhee has the intellect and fearlessness that makes her one of a kind, and her experience in Washington demonstrated why those characteristics were necessary to change the system. Rhee is at the start of her career, not the end; she is going to grow in her effectiveness and impact. The entire solution does not rest in our classrooms, but for the sake of our children and our country’s future, we need to get public education right and that starts with getting the right staff in our schools."

Canada is an important leadership case study for local Promise Neighborhoods grantees and aspirants for his fundraising success, significant involvement in city politics, and managerial style.

ED Announces Race to the Top District Competition

Earlier this week the Department of Education released a draft proposal for its new Race to the Top District Competition. The Department has set aside $400 million for the competition, which will fund approximately 20 grants ranging from $15 to $25 million. The application will be released in July with an October submission deadline, and awards will be made by the end of the year.

Of note, the new competition contains a competitive preference to applicants forming partnerships with public and private organizations. This presents an opportunity for local efforts supportive of academic, social, and emotional wellbeing for students.
The Department is accepting feedback from the public through June 8th, and the comment form is available online. To learn more, visit the ED.gov blog or read Secretary Duncan's announcement here.

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by Dr. Radut