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Bammy Nomination: thank you dear reader


I was pleased to learn last week that I had been nominated for a Bammy Award for Head Start staff member by the Nominations Committee of the Bammys. I thought I would make my readers aware of this honor because it was likely one of you who nominated me. Thank you for the support these many years and taking a few minutes every once and a while to read and comment on my thoughts on my blog.
If you would like to vote please follow this link. Votes are accepted from anyone with a valid email address or you can log in with Facebook.

Restlessly positive,

John Holland

Shonkoff: Framework for Change

Building Adult Capabilities to Improve Child Outcomes: A Theory of Change

Recently I have found myself referring to Jack Shonkoff on a regular basis. As if I knew him. Of course I don’t but this video does a great job of explaining why early childhood education starts at home, comes to school, then goes back again. We need to support everyone involved in children’s lives, not just parents, not just teachers, everyone.

What did I do on summer vacation?

When accomplished teachers leave school in in June most of them don’t just lay around the pool. They often participate in thriving online communities, take advantage of learning opportunities, and collaborate to support the next generation of teachers. This summer I had the privilege to teach a foundations of education course at VCU where I graduated last December. Here is an excerpt from my post, “What I did during summer vacation” on my blog at teachingquality.org

……

The class also engaged with 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year, Megan Allen, who had spent eight weeks testing students from late April into May. This excessive testing left Megan struggling to maintain her and her students’ motivation. The class realized that all of this testing is in the name of equity if not in the service of it. It left my students wondering what they could do. That is where the solutions focus became important. Jacob, a student who described struggling through school with some excellent and some horrible teachers seemed to arrive at a new respect for the process of teaching and the challenges teachers face. He wrote:

I realized that it (education) can require much more finesse than people often give it credit for. Proper  education needs much more than a book plopped in a student’s lap and a teacher standing in front reciting some dry material and hoping it sticks. You tend to spend more time as an educator these days sorting through government testing and requirements, social differences and conflicts, and finally in the end try to work in a good lesson to the students.

This enhanced level of awareness of the processes and functions of school will help these students proactively engage with education in the future, even if they are not going into teaching. The process of teacher leaders spreading their expertise made a difference in the lives of these college students in a meaningful way.

Convincing the Unconvinced: Increasing Access and Quality to Pre-K from the Top Down

When the Obama administration set accountability as a priority in it’s efforts to strengthen Head Start it made sense to me. There have been calls for revisions of Head Start funding for years. I am not sure if there will be unintentional negative consequences down the line but any effort toward change takes that risk. What was surprising about Obama’s state of the union speech and the plan outlined by the executive office is the focus on state and federal partnerships.

The president’s plan would offer grants to increase access and quality of preschool services. In order to obtain these grants some requirements would need to be met.

State Requirements

Program Requirements

Pre-K Standards of learning

Qualified teachers

A plan for comprehensive data collection

A plan for comprehensive assessment system to measure effectiveness.

Programs would be required to hire well-trained teachers paid similarly to K-12.

Adopt class size restrictions

Adopt rigorous curriculum

Integrate comprehensive health and related services

Implement a systematic  evaluation system for programs

If the president’s agenda were to be realized I think we could see a real shift in increased school readiness at a national level. This shift could have countless benefits both financial and social for America. However, I am afraid it won’t happen because it has been framed as an economic argument.

I think that sometimes advocates for public pre-K weaken their argument when they use statements like the president’s in the State of the Union address. (From the Heckman Equation – invest in early human development facebook page.)

I think what might prevent Obama’s early childhood plan from gaining traction is that sometimes the financial argument is not going to work to convince those already opposed to universal access. Recently a colleague commented on the image above I reposted on my facebook page. He basically said, “Preschool is expensive and there is no guarantee it will work. What research do you have to back this up?” I couldn’t really disagree with that analysis. We don’t “know” it will work. I understood his wanting to know the research. The research strongly suggests pre-k is a good investment. In order for pre-k to yield $7 -$1 investment the quality would have to be the same as the programs in studies it is based on. That is possible but it will take time. After providing a resource like this one at the World Bank, I  decided to respond in a way that struck a little closer to home. I said,

“No funding policy is conclusive or sound proof. But, you eat vegetables because numerous studies have shown eating them leads to long term health benefits not because you can prove you will be alive in 20 years even if you don’t.”

He changed the subject. I think what might be a more powerful argument for the president’s plan is that it would benefit children at all levels of the risk spectrum. Here are three additional arguments that could be made.

The funding argument points our attention to the cost not the benefit. Universal access would benefit more children than a targeted system because it would not rely on arbitrary guidelines like free and reduced lunch for decisions. However, according to the New York Times, states with universal access, such as Oklahoma and Georgia, enroll 4 year-olds at a rate of between 59% and 73%. Universal access is not the same as funding every child but the opportunity is there.

A targeted approach to preschool leaves some low and middle class families to take huge slices from modest budgets in order to pay for daycare, sometimes paying more than rent. And as we have seen recently, this can be a terrible way to spend money.

Even though there are larger benefits for low income children, there are still benefits for children at middle and higher levels of income. A RAND corporation study (Karoly & Bigelow, 2005) found that if a universal approach was taken in California there would be a benefit of $2.62 per dollar spent. This may not seem huge when compared to the more popular studies that are cited but it is still more than double your money for $1.00. The most interesting idea out of the RAND study is not the benefit to society but the benefit to children. RAND found that in calculating potential benefit of high quality preschool, high risk students may realize 100% of benefits, medium risk students may realize 50% of benefits and low risk students may realize 25% of benefits. These benefits include less grade retention, fewer years in special education, additional high school graduates, fewer cases of child abuse or neglect, and fewer juveniles entering the justice system (Karoly & Bigelow, 2005).

When I think about basing our decisions more on helping children and less on the economy I have a little more faith in our ability to do the best thing for our future.

Karoly, L. & Bigelow, J. (2005) The economics of investing in universal preschool in california. RAND Labor and Population 1-238.

Is ADHD an American Disorder?

In the American mindset I think we often have blinders when considering the reality we create for our kids. For example, this article shared by my friend Tracy Rosen on FB talks about how children in France are not diagnosed with ADHD. If they do have symptoms psychologists in France take the view that it is a psychosocial phenomena. I have long felt the same way. As a teacher I was able to be successful with students who moved onto other grades and teachers and became “ADHD”. Maybe I had my own blinders but I often think kids who struggle with impulse control and attention, when placed into a predictable environment that allows for a certain amount to these behaviors can be successful. The other thing about the French perspective is that all areas of life are considered to contribute to behavior, even nutrition. Check out this quote below.

The French holistic, psycho-social approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms—specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. Clinicians who work with troubled children in this country—not to mention parents of many ADHD kids—are well aware that dietary interventions can sometimes help a child’s problem. In the United States, the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children’s behavior.

My wife and I decided when my son was 2 years-old that he had difficulty dealing with artificial colors and flavors. There is plenty of artificial ingredients in America but maybe not so much in France? We asked his teachers not to give him fake stuff at class parties. We had a lot of trouble explaining this at first. It did not compute that green frosting on a cupcake could be artificial. Finally we figured out if we told them he is allergic to food coloring and coached him to recognize packaging that was likely to to have artificial flavoring he could manage it himself. Anything that had pictures of fruit on it but said “10% Real Fruit Juice” was not real. He was so sensitive he could figure it out for himself through taste. We went to a function once where there was lemonade, fake lemonade that is. My son had one sip and said, “I can’t drink that, it tastes chemically.” He then had a melt down about 5 minutes later. I suggest this to my students parents who struggle with their kids’ behavior all the time but I think in America we don’t necessarily make that connection between the mind and the body.  This is especially true in high poverty neighborhoods where access fresh fruits and vegetables are rare but more importantly that families in these neighborhoods look for extremely satisfying sensory experiences. I attribute this to the financial relationship between happiness and poverty. If you can’t have the car you see on TV at least you can have the hamburger and it looks so good.

Home Visiting is One Powerful Answer

Home visiting is one powerful answer to how we as a society care for our most vulnerable people. Check out his video.

This Head Start begins at home.

Open Letter to Dr. Grover “Russ” Whitehurst on the Head Start Longitudinal Study

Dear Dr. Whitehurst,
Thank you for this incisive article. I am disappointed that the effects of Head Start don’t seem to follow students into elementary school. I have been a preschool teacher for the state funded pre-k program in VA 1997 to 2002 and a Head Start teacher, child development specialist, and currently hybrid HS lead teacher and leader of the Early Head Start program in our school system. I know that by asking us to be hard headed you are asking us to consider the evidence. I also ask that we consider as another commenter suggested, what is not in the evidence. Head Start effects more than just the children enrolled.
I agree that earlier intervention seems promising. My work and minimal research into Early Head Start shows that EHS has a greater influence on parents than on students. I wonder if this might be a clue to where we need to focus our policy, practice, and research of HS. Students who enter HS at birth and participate through to kindergarten is a specialized group that may present some contrary evidence. In my dissertation, (you are well cited thank you ;) I found that Head Start teachers in my small mixed methods study engaged students in literacy but also attempted to engage parents in the dominant culture where literacy has value. This two pronged approach emerged from the engagement of parents in their homes around children’s learning and family goals. I know that Head Start done half way is worth less than half of what is spent. It is a false promise. But, in high quality Head Start settings I think we might find the effects lasting and important for children and families. Fundamentally though, I think we are asking Head Start to do what it is not able to do, fix the effects of poverty in one or two years.
Head Start has always been more of a social intervention than an academic one. The more we ask HS to make children living in poverty like children who don’t, or continue to remove family and social supports once they leave HS the more disappointed we will be. Zigler argued against using IQ as a measure of success in the 60s. I argue the same here. I think your suggestion that HS funds go to state programs is a great idea but, I left my state program prek to make a bigger difference with children and parents in HS. The quality control in HS is higher than in any state funded program I know. In VA the state funded prek oversight has been reduced to a single individual. There are no site visits and the data collected is minimal. The biggest difference though is that Head Start requires home visits the state prek doesn’t. This is where parents connect to teachers and relationships are formed that transform families.
So, is HS failing children and families? Yes, at times it is. But it is a matter of quality erasure. I wrote when the Head Start Impact study was released in 2010,

Head Start needs to acknowledge this report and NOT change the subject. We need to take it as a call to action. I have been asked several times if I am interested in directing a Head Start program. My answer has always been, I am not sure. The program is 40 years old and has not undergone a major revision of performance standards to my knowledge. Much has been added over the years, from Training and Technical Assistance partnerships to requirements of bachelors for half a program’s lead teachers, but nothing has been taken away. It must be difficult for a director to consistently meet the performance standards and not have to cut some quality corners in other parts of their program. As a teacher recently told me, “Head Start requires us to meet standards but doesn’t make it possible to do it.”

A lot has changed in the past 40 years in early childhood education. A significant revision of the performance standards, with a focus on research based quality indicators would go a long way towards changing the results of this study.

Head Start is overdue for a major revision. Maybe now we can refocus on what the program can do and not what it can’t.

Great Instructional Teams

Progress!

It has been way too long since I posted but, I have been busy. I had a lot of trouble getting out of the gates this school year. I began the year without an assistant as I took on a new hybrid position where I teach my own class and supervise 12 Early Head Start teachers. It was on the third day of school a substitute assistant finally came. She was an awesome help. She is a Head Start parent who has participated in our Parent Substitute Program (PSP) that provides a career ladder for our students’ parents to enter the early childhood education field. She received training from Head Start and then volunteered in classrooms to learn the ropes. By the time she came to my classroom she had a pretty good idea of what she needed to do to be a good assistant. She has a great attitude and is always willing to learn. We made a pretty good team.

But, all good things must end, at least where human resources are concerned. My wonderful substitute assistant was only to remain until the assistant that was hired to work with me could report to work. Due to some red tape snafus this wasn’t to happen until October 31st.

Happily my new assistant is awesome too. She has worked as an instructional assistant before, knows the ins-and-outs of working with children, and finally is really an awesome calming balance to my sometimes hype way of maximizing student engagement.

I can really only share how much I appreciate her teamwork by sharing what she did today.

I have been trying to organize our classroom for the past 8 months, since I took the position last February. I made a lot of progress but I had plateaued due to the constant pull of my supervisory duties combined with the usual challenges of working with children and families living in poverty. When this new super team mate showed up she began organizing the classroom almost immediately. She did it really well too. Labels in English and Spanish, re-arranged dramatic play, and materials culled from the shelves to make them more useful. She is literally the first assistant I have ever let change our classroom without oversight, though she gave me many opportunities to provide it.

Then I gave her the hardest challenge yet. When I took over the classroom one of the materials that was spread like a diaspora was our classroom library. Books were everywhere. I found them in boxes of pencils with crayons and some photo copies thrown in, under boxes of odd blocks, and buried deep in a cabinet with laundry soap on top. She has been working for two weeks on organizing our classroom library.

Today I was out sick. At about 2:00 I got a text from her with the picture above with the simple caption “Progress!”. She has been alphabetizing and cataloging our library everyday for two weeks. There are so many reasons I appreciated this gesture I had to share. She kept working on the project even when I wasn’t there. She knew I would want to see her progress even though I wasn’t at work. This tells me she knows where I am coming from in my practice, I care, even when I am not there. And, she is committed to our classroom’s success at a very personal level.

I am so happy I have somebody I can count on. Next project, our literacy center. I will put up pictures when we get it done.

Thanks Ms.L!

What I Have Learned or Re-Learned

A few notes on what I have learned or re-learned recently.

Don’t wear ties to school, the kids like to yank on them. At least not this year, when I had my class from the beginning of the year I could teach them but, since I came in half way through, I have to choose my battles. (Besides I don’t like ties that much.)

Finger paint is an effective projectile, if you have enough of it.

Sorry doesn’t mean anything to kids, unless it is accompanied by a consequence first.

One weekend full of abusive language in one child’s life can effectively disrupt the the lives of 17 kids and 2 teachers for approximately 2 weeks. I learned this when one of my more challenging students came to school and dropped some not so choice words. She was angry and the words were completely out of context. Since that day I have decided that one layer of teaching this class is providing a safe place for students who live in difficult situations to let go of their anger. Its kind of like primal scream therapy some days.

Parents care what teachers think of them and they listen. I did a home visit and changed the nature of the connection between myself, a parent, and a child tin an almost palpable way.

When trying to convey a story to a difficult class of active young children it can be helpful to cross-over storyteller to performance artist and become the story.

If a child displays ADD or ADHD type behaviors but, with proper support is able to change those behaviors, the behaviors may be learned instead of a chemical imbalance. Either way, accommodating those behaviors, without trying to encourage small steps of improvement, is a disservice to the child.

Sit in the pocket and you can see the whole thing. This last one I just learned. Thursday I had a really rough day. I took offense to something an adult said earlier in the day and it sent me into a spiral. The kids could sense I was not in the zone and kept making it worse. The only moment that I felt learning was actually happening was during a music and movement time. The class had just finished singing the Tooty Ta by Dr. Jean and they all yelled and clapped “Woohoo!” During the truly uninspired performance by my kids I pulled back from the moment and realized that I had allowed my frustration from earlier to color my vision of the moment. I had only seen two children actually sing and perform the song.  I said, “Wait a minute. You guys were not that good. If you want to try it again and really sing, then we can clap and shout.” I turned on the music and they launched into the performance. Every child sang. Every child participated. Every child gave their best effort and there it was, a real teaching moment of beauty. As I sang and did the performance with the class I encouraged them, “That’s it. That’s my class!” When they finished we all yelled and cheered. While we were doing the song I kept remembering my own daughter performing the song on stage 7 years ago with her friend. I realized I had pulled back from the situation so much that I felt like I was sitting in a pocket of time. I felt like I imagine a great quarterback feels when the chaos swirls all around, time slows down, and that perfect pass becomes apparent because they are able to wait for it. (I only imagine this, I have never been a quarterback). That was the best two minutes of the whole day.

On Friday, I was determined to take that experience and expand it. It worked. I was more patient, the kids were more connected to myself and their peers, and there was much more learning.

Why I Teach Head Start

I recently had the opportunity to write an article about why I love teaching for the Learning Matters blog. If I had written this before my “break” as an administrator I would likely have said that I loved teaching because I felt like I made a difference. After having had that time away I found that my explanation of why I teach was much more emotional than I thought it would be. Below is an excerpt from the piece:

I went back to the classroom a little over 10 weeks ago — because I love teaching. For the two and a half years before that, I provided support and supervision to 16 classrooms in our Head Start program. It was responsibility without immediacy. Each day I would see the interactions teachers were having in their classrooms and I would feel like an artist walking into someone else’s studio. As an administrator I could see the result of learning but never the beauty of it. I realized, through talking to children and their passionate teachers, that I missed creating learning more than I could bear. I also missed the huge responsibility of teaching children like Daniel.