New Study Suggests Engaging Children in Conversation to Boost Language Skills

Friday, March 30, 2018

(Education Week) - A new study led by a team of resesarchers from MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the number of conversations parents have with their children is more important than the number of words they use.

Scientists listened to home audio recordings from 36 4- to 6-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds to measure the number of "conversational turns," or back-and-forth interactions, the children had with their parents. The children also underwent brain scans while listening to stories.

The researchers found that children who engaged in more conversation with their parents had more activity in the part of the brain responsible for language development as well as higher scores on language assessments.

These correlations were stronger than any found between the number of words heard and increased brain stimulation or the number of words heard and higher language scores.

"It seems like the driving force for brain development is the number of conversations, not the number of words," said John Gabrieli, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and the study's senior scientist.

Socioeconomic Concerns

A 1995 study found that children from low-income families hear about 30 million fewer words than their more well-to-do peers by age 3 raising concerns about how early deficiencies in language development could be overcome.

The researchers in this new study, which was published online last month in Psychological Science, found that the benefits to the brain from conversations between parents and children were present for all children regardless of socioeconomic status.

"If we could somehow support parents and families to have these sorts of conversations, that's something that's available for families to promote language and brain development for all children across a wide range of circumstances," said Gabrieli.

Conversation's Role in Development

But what is it about conversation that promotes language development?

Gabrieli says conversation combines many important aspects of development.

"It's not only the spoken language back-and-forth," said Gabrieli."It's also when people talk to one another and really engage one another you're activating the social brain, you're activating the motivational and emotional brain. Conversations are such powerful experiences. They engage a lot of the brain and a lot of the mind of these children and help them develop."

Although this study focused on conversations the children had at home, Gabrieli says the same concepts would apply to early-childhood education.

"The more chance there is for children to have in some context back-and-forth conversations with teachers, that ought to promote this kind of brain development as well," said Gabrie


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Will there be another legislative push to limit early childhood suspensions in Colorado? Not this year.

Friday, March 30, 2018

(Chalkbeat) - A year after a state bill to curb suspensions of young students died in the legislature, advocates have decided not to bring forward a new version, citing difficulty finding enough common ground with opponents. 

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On the Same Page: An Early Childhood Education Collaborative With Some Big Backers Caitlin Reilly

Thursday, March 29, 2018

(Inside Philanthropy) - A collaborative for early education has attracted some big names, while urging funders to stop picking favorites within the field and focus instead on convening stakeholders and encouraging collaboration.

The Trust for Learning is a group of grantmakers focused on expanding access to what the group calls “ideal learning,” a series of principles that draw from a number of approaches, including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Friends, Tools of the Mind, Bank Street College of Education and Waldorf. Ideal learning emphasizes equity, personalization, play and the relationship between child and teacher, but intentionally leaves room for different models. The collaborative also works to build demand for early childhood education through advocacy and marketing.

The group started back in 2013 with a $150,000 gift from the McCall Kulak Family Foundation, but has expanded to include more than a half-dozen funders, including the Brady Education Foundation, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, the Stranahan Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and several others.

In the collaborative’s own words, “Grantmakers must be careful about presuming that they can each bring about sector-level change on their own—even with unlimited resources, they must coordinate their efforts, either through direct partnerships and alliances, or minimally through organized and regular knowledge-sharing.”

Trust for Learning’s wise words of warning come at a time of growing philanthropic investment in early childhood learning. Initiatives still tend to be local with funders investing in the cities where they live, but the investments add up. In Detroit, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Kresge Foundation recently pledged $50 million over the next three years as part of a 10-year project to make the city a haven for early childhood learning. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation in Oakland and William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia are leading work on a smaller scale in their own cities.

Meanwhile, some new national funders have appeared on the scene. Earlier this month, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced a $30 million investment in a push to get every child reading at grade level by third grade. CZI hadn’t done a lot of work in the space previously, but this gift could be sign of bigger things to come.

Of course, any rundown of early childhood learning would be incomplete without mentioning J.B. Pritzker. The heir to the Hyatt hotel chain has done a lot of work in Chicago, but is also one of the few funders to expand into national work. The J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation put up $25 million as part of a federal program to promote early childhood learning in 2014. More recently, the couple pledged $6.5 million to a one-year pilot program to scale local networks and practices nationally.

All of which is to say that there’s been a real uptick in philanthropic money going into this space lately, after many years in which most funders took a pass on early childhood education. Several factors account for this shift—such as rising worries about inequality, new research on brain development, and emerging donors looking to make their mark. Although there have been a few national pushes, most of the work happens through funders working with local partners with little collaboration across regions or even cities. It's noteworthy that Trust for Learning is a national collaborative that brings together several foundations from a few different funding areas.

Speaking of the foundations, Trust for Learning has assembled an interesting bunch that approach early childhood learning from several angles.

The Buffett Early Childhood Fund and Brady Education Foundation are two organizations behind the collaborative with a pretty consistent track record of investing in early childhood education. The Buffett Early Childhood Fund tends to invest in a small number of grantees for the long haul. The fund estimates it’s invested $150 million in the space since it started in 2005. It doesn’t have its own endowment, but instead relies on disbursements from Warren Buffett’s children’s philanthropic vehicles, the NoVo and Sherwood foundations.

The Buffett Early Childhood Fund maintains a fairly narrow scope, which is one reason its involvement in the Trust for Learning is so notable. It mostly gives grants to a few long-term partners, including the Center for the Developing Child, Educare, Alliance for Early Success, First Five Years Fund and the First Five Nebraska. The outfit also has a funding relationship with early education researchers James Heckman and Frank Porter Graham. Based on the fund’s relationship with other grantees, it’s likely the funder is in Trust for Learning for the long haul.

The Brady Education Foundation is another early childhood education veteran involved in the collaborative. The foundation has focused exclusively on early childhood education work since 2001. Its main focus is funding the evaluation of early childhood learning programs. That's an important front, and not just because of fierce, long-running debates about whether interventions in this area actually work. More elected officials from both parties, especially at the state level, are looking at new investments in early childhood and are more likely to act if advocates can make strong, evidence-based arguments.

The McCall Kulak Family Foundation, a founding member of the trust, also supports early childhood learning. The foundation is also a big backer of Montessori education. We don’t cover a lot of philanthropic support for Montessori at IP, but it’s something of a through-line for this grantmaking collaborative.

The group includes Montessori principles in its definition of ideal learning. The Brady Education Foundation recently announced an initiative in support of Montessori learning. The Harold Simmons Foundation, another member of the collaborative, includes support for Montessori schools in its giving.

Early childhood learning funders aren’t the only ones backing the collaborative, though. The Stranahan Foundation supports education initiatives as part of its giving, but hasn’t had a huge emphasis on early childhood education in the past.

The Walton Family Foundation is another big name in education philanthropy getting involved in Trust for Learning, but the funder is better known for its work backing charter schools and school choice.

Last year, the foundation pledged $1 billion to K-12 education over the next five years in a plan that involves scaling up charter schools, improving their talent pipeline, as well as getting into research and advocacy. That was on top of the $250 million in 2016 that went to expand charter schools in 17 cities.

In the past, early childhood education has not been a priority for the foundation, though it does support Pre-K programs in at least some of the districts it funds. As we've reported, Walton seems to be going through changes as a younger generation of heirs tilts the foundation toward their interests and begins funding outside of WFF's main program areas through an expanding Special Projects portfolio. James Walton, a grandson of Sam and Helen Walton and a believer in the Montessori Method, is on the Trust's board of advisors. In 2016, WFF awards $450,000 in two grants for Montessori organizations. Needless to say, if WFF ever did really get into early childhood learning, that could be huge for the field.

The flux in the early childhood education funding space is intriguing right now. Trust for Learning is another example of the action in this space—along with the view that more action increases the imperative for effective collaboration.



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US Dept. of Education Releases TEACH Grant Study

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Study of the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program (U.S. Department of Education) - More than 60 percent of students who received TEACH Grants — up to $4,000 in federal aid meant to encourage teaching in certain fields — had those grants converted to loans because they hadn't met eligibility requirements.


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Poll shows Polis with narrow lead over Kennedy in Democratic gubernatorial field

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

DENVER — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis holds a slight lead over former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy in Colorado's Democratic gubernatorial primary, according to a survey released by Republican polling firm Magellan Strategies. Read More From Colorado Politics Here...


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Here’s what’s in Colorado’s $28.9 billion state budget proposal for 2019

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

(Denver Post) - The budget calls for state employee raises, a 9.2 percent jump in higher education funding and an $875 million infusion into roads, schools and PERA.The Colorado House of Representatives on Wednesday will begin debate on a $28.9 billion state budget bill that calls for major investments in transportation, education and the state’s... READ MORE FROM THE DENVER POST HERE  

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CZI’s Big Bet on Early Childhood Learning Has a Lot in Common with Its Other Ed Work

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

(Inside Philanthropy) - The latest education gift from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative comes with a hefty price tag. The funder pledged $30 million to Reach Every Reader, a partnership between the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Florida State University.

The three schools are teaming up with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District to develop an online tool that will screen kindergarten students to determine whether they might have trouble learning to read.

The goal is to have kids reading at grade level by third grade, but to achieve that, interventions need to start much earlier. After kids fall behind, it’s much harder for them to catch up, warn supporters of early childhood learning. The research backs up that claim. Kids who fall behind in reading in first grade are 90 percent more likely to have trouble reading in fourth grade and 75 percent more likely struggle with it in high school.

“Early screening is important because all the research shows that early intervention is much more effective than later intervention after a child has fallen far behind her classmates in reading (plus that is a very discouraging experience for a child),” said John D.E. Gabrieli, professor of health sciences and technology at MIT and director of MITili. Gabrieli is one of the professors working on Reach Every Reader.

“The web-based tool we are developing will be key for the early identification of reading challenges to help direct children immediately toward personalized interventions,” Gabrieli said.

The tool will screen kids for skills known to researchers as the building blocks of literacy down the line, Gabrieli said. Teachers and parents can intervene with personalized instruction for kids who score low on the test.

CZI is a relative newcomer to early childhood education funding, a space that historically hasn't attracted many big national players beyond the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. But that's been changing, as we often report.

One important funder in this space right now is J.B. Pritzker, the Chicago-based heir to the Hyatt hotel chain. Like most funders working in early childhood education, the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation has done a fair amount of work locally in Chicago, but it’s also one of the few pushing early childhood learning on a national level. In the past, that’s included a $25 million investment in a federal partnership to provide early childhood education across the country.

Related: Big Money, Small Kids: A Billionaire Steps Up Yet Again for Early Childhood

It's not surprising to see CZI gravitate to early education. Its interest here is inspired in part by Priscilla Chan’s work in founding the Primary School, a new school based in East Palo Alto that integrates health and education to improve outcomes for underserved children. The model allows kids to attend full-time starting at age three.

Yet while early education remains new terrain for CZI, Reach Every Reader hits on a few themes present in the funder’s other work in education, namely a faith in technology and commitment to personalized learning.

The flashy part of Reach Every Reader is the online screening tool, but after high-risk kids are identified, the process sounds a lot like other high-touch education initiatives. The plan is for teachers and parents to intervene with personalized instruction and strategies tailored to at-risk children to ensure they don’t fall behind.

CZI’s commitment to personalized learning is on clear display, here. Personalized learning is growing in popularity among funders, as we’ve reported at IP. The approach has been around for a while, and the term can mean different things depending on whom you ask, but the basic idea is that students learn better when lessons are tailored to them.

Personalized learning doesn’t necessarily have to include technology, but some funders are excited about technology’s potential to make personalized learning easier and more attainable in practice. CZI is one of those funders. Along with the Gates Foundation, it contributed part of a $13 million grant for personalized learning to the nonprofit accelerator New Profit.

However, the centerpiece of CZI’s work on personalized learning is the Summit Learning Platform, a free online personalized learning tool. The tool was developed at Facebook in partnership with Summit Learning, but has since moved over to CZI. The funder is committed to the platform—over the last year, many of its new hires were engineers, with more to come as the work progresses.

Reach Every Reader aligns closely with CZI’s embrace of technology. A key part of Reach Every Reader is the online, scalable tool to assess kindergartners' risk for having a hard time reading in the future. Part of the early phase of this work will focus on making sure the tool is accurate in its predictions for kindergarteners, Gabrieli said. How well it works remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: CZI keeps betting big on education technology.



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Child care substitutes are in short supply. A new Colorado law could make them a little easier to find.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

(Chalkbeat) - A bill approved by the state Senate and poised for smooth passage through the House would make it easier for child care centers to staff their classrooms when regular teachers are absent. 

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State Policies for Assessing Access: Analysis of 2016–2018 Child Care Development Plans

Monday, March 26, 2018

(Early Childhood Data Collaborative) - A large body of research has established that high-quality early care and education (ECE) has benefits for young children’s cognitive and social-emotional development that can lead to improved outcomes later in life, especially for children who are economically disadvantaged. Research also shows that disadvantaged children have unequal access to high-quality ECE programs in the United States, compared to their peers in higher-income families.  

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Colorado schools are getting a major bump in the state’s 2018-19 budget

Monday, March 26, 2018

(Chalkbeat) - Colorado’s constitution calls for per pupil spending to increase at least by inflation every year, but the state hasn’t been able to meet that obligation since the Great Recession. The amount by which schools get shorted, officially called the budget stabilization factor, is $822 million in 2017-18. Under state law, this number isn’t supposed to get bigger from one year to the next, but in recent years, it hasn’t gotten much smaller either.  

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