Denver’s gender-neutral bathroom rule takes effect Monday

Monday, April 30, 2018


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Group Releases Redesigned Early-Ed. Professional Development Program

Monday, April 30, 2018

(Education Week) - The early-childhood initiative of the Clinton Foundation has released a newly revamped, free online professional development program designed to help teachers promote early learning.

The head of Too Small to Fail presented the online tool known as "STRIVE for 5: Talk, Read, Sing, Early Learning Boot Camp" Friday during the National Head Start Association conference in Anaheim, Ca.  

Thumbnail image for preschool-teacher-classroom-hands-up-blog-article-600x292_getty.jpg The STRIVE for 5 website allows early-childhood educators to go through five online lessons on topics such as creating a literacy-rich environment and engaging children in playful learning. It also provides educators with resources such as posters for the classroom and tip sheets in English and Spanish for the educators to share with parents.

"The goal is to equip early educators with tools to support young children's early brain and language development and overall improve the quality of the early-learning environment," said Patti Miller, the Too Small to Fail CEO.

Miller also announced today Friday that early-childhood educators who participate in the program will be able to earn training hours toward a Child Development Associate credential, which is awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition. That aspect of the program is set to begin next month after the council determines the appropriate number of training hours to make available for completing the course.

"Having a program that can promote improved performance and then provide recognition to early educators is really critical for the advancement of the field and also for helping get our kids ready for kindergarten," said Miller.

YMCA Pilot Program

STRIVE for 5 was first launched two years ago, and Two Small to Fail conducted a pilot program with YMCA child-care workers last year.

That program ran from May to December and included 42 YMCA sites in 15 states. More than 100 YMCA educators completed the online course, and more than 40 of them took part in a survey about the program.

The survey found that 98 percent of the participants would recommend the program to other YMCA early-childhood educators. It also found that 85 percent of those surveyed increased the time they spent reading to the children in their care following participation in the program, and on average, they read to the children more than once a day.

Miller, who stressed the importance of talking, reading, and singing to young children, called the results encouraging particularly as they related to reading.

"A lot of times what we see is that the talking and singing might be happening more than the reading, so we were really encouraged to see that there was such an increase in the amount of time reading with children after participation in the program," said Miller.

To date, more than 1,500 people have signed up online to use the program. Too Small to Fail has also handed out 5,000 STRIVE for 5 toolkits with resources from the program to YMCA early-childhood educators and to educators at conventions of the National Head Start Association and the National Association for Family Child Care.

STRIVE for 5 was developed by early-learning educators as well as researchers in the field and experts from Too Small to Fail, the National Head Start Association, and the National Association for Family Child Care.


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The Perks of a Play-in-the-Mud Educational Philosophy

Friday, April 27, 2018

(The Atlantic) - Most American kids don’t spend large chunks of their day catching salamanders and poking sticks into piles of fox poop. In a nation moving toward greater standardization of its public-education system, programs centered around getting kids outside to explore aren’t normal.

But that’s precisely what students do at the Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. There, every day, dozens of children ages 3 to 5 come to have adventures on Irvine’s more than 200 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. These muddy explorers stand out at a moment when many American pre-K programs have become more and more similar to K–12 education: row after row of tiny kids, sitting at desks, drilling letter identification and counting.

Mention how anomalous this seems, though, and the teachers at the Nature Preschool can only express their wish that that weren’t the case: Why is it odd for 4-year-olds to spend the bulk of their time outside? When did America decide that preschool should be boring routines performed within classroom walls?

Today’s kids are growing up at a moment when American childhood—like much of American life—is increasingly indoors and technologically enhanced. Families spend more time indoors and on screens. Smartphones have warped the teenage experience.

Perhaps as part of reaction to those trends, the United States is witnessing a budding movement to reintegrate childhood with the natural world. Nature preschools, outdoor pre-K, forest kindergartens—call them what you like: Early-education programs like these are starting in communities all over the country. The Natural Start Alliance, a group advocating for more outdoor experiences in early education, says that the number of “nature-based preschools” has grown at least 500 percent since 2012.

The ideas that underscore these programs trace back, in part, to a 2005 book by the journalist Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods. Louv argued that American childhood had become overly standardized, overly structured, and overly saturated with technology. He coined a term for the phenomenon: “nature-deficit disorder.”

Published just a few years after the adoption of No Child Left Behind—the federal education law that ramped up the emphasis on standardized testing and incentivized schools to focus on math and reading—Last Child received dazzling reviews and was passed around public schools as samizdat. The book helped launch the Children and Nature Network, which describes itself as an “organization whose mission is to fuel the worldwide grassroots movement to reconnect children with nature.”


Louv and fellow advocates present outdoor early education as an answer to a gamut of child-rearing challenges. According to these advocates, a kid who suffers from anxiety doesn’t necessarily need medication, a child who can’t pay attention doesn’t need a computer program to reshape her development, and one who struggles to keep up physically doesn’t need a targeted summer-camp experience to build his muscles.

Instead, what they need is more time outdoors. Give young kids the opportunities to engage in hours of free, unstructured play in the natural world, and they develop just as organically as any other creature. They learn creativity as they explore and engage with complex ecological systems—and imagine new worlds of their own. Freed from playground guardrails that constrain (even as they protect), kids build strength, develop self-confidence, and learn to manage risks as they trip, stumble, fall, hurt, and right themselves. Research shows that the freedom of unstructured time in open space helps kids learn to focus. It also just feels good: Nature reduces stress.

And yet, it’s not entirely clear whether or not these programs can deliver on these expectations. Sure, in a generic sense, time outdoors is obviously good for young kids. The hard part is to nail down how much time (and which activities) outside are particularly good for kids—which is to say, what should outdoor education actually look like in practice? Are there particular types of outdoor experiences that kids really need? It’s not clear that anyone knows.

In a sense, outdoor education is right in line with a host of other educational trends. The basic conviction that children grow best when adults grant them space, time, and agency is central to many progressive-education models. Karen Madigan, director of the Nature Preschool at Irvine, says her program draws from a hodgepodge of student-directed pedagogies, including the Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia approaches. If these differ in the details, they overlap in the certainty that schools should give kids leeway to explore what they find interesting.

What sets the outdoor-education movement apart, though, is that it also engages certain traditionalist concerns—namely that kids these days are, frankly, getting too damn soft. The pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom attributes the relative physical frailty of today’s children—childhood obesity is up, and overall fitness is flagging—to their increasingly sedentary lifestyles. “When we expect less from our children—instead of holding them to a higher standard—we could be setting them up for failure,” she writes. “Why are our children getting weaker?”

And yet, as research-based as it may be, there is something oddly paradoxical about the whole concept of outdoor early education. For the most part, the ideas that animate the American conversation around early education treat it as a targeted, structured intervention to foster children’s healthy development and eventual success.

No wonder outdoor early education—with its counterintuitive promise that children will develop best if adults spend less time trying to intentionally develop them—seems so radical. “I’m constantly having to unlearn my training as an educator … letting go of what I think makes sense,” said Emma Huvos, the founder of Riverside Nature School in Charles Town, West Virginia. “It’s more about giving children the freedom to take control of their own learning.”

Huvos began her teaching career in an urban charter-school pre-K in Washington, D.C., focused primarily on building students’ academic skills. She thrived on building personal relationships with children, but was frustrated to see many flounder when they left her class. “They didn’t have, necessarily, the self-regulation [or] social-emotional skills they needed to thrive once the environment they were in shifted,” she says. So she founded Riverside in an effort to build an early-education program that prioritized those “noncognitive” skills—set on a West Virginia farm that had been passed down through generations in her family.

During a morning visit to Riverside, I saw a red-tailed hawk, a (literal) handful of worms, and the farms’ two pregnant goats. Two boys giggled as they wrestled over a grimy plank of wood they were using as a “pillow” for pretend naps. Other kids were debating whether an insect was a centipede, an earwig, or some other sort of beetle.

They were clearly having fun. But it was also clear why such programs are relegated to the category of “alternative” and accessible almost exclusively to parents who proactively seek them out. It would be hard to make outdoor preschool the rule, the government-sanctioned model, because its benefits are as abstract as its purpose is subjective. When it comes to public funding, it’s much easier to sell programs that promise academic rigor and a neat dovetail with kindergarten.

“[Riverside] is like my laboratory,” Huvos says. Her small, private program serves mostly “somewhat more affluent families.” In West Virginia, where the average monthly cost of center-based child care runs around $560, Riverside’s monthly $400 price tag is relatively steep, since that price only gets kids four days of care per week, and just three and a half hours each day. By and large, Riverside only works for parents who can afford to stop work and be available to pick kids up at 12:30 p.m. (or who have a full-time nanny or relative who can step in).

This bothers Huvos. “It’s become this unique, privileged thing: putting kids outside to play,” she says. Well-heeled parents realize, she says, that “this is what’s going to give your kid an academic advantage. This is what’s going to give your kid life success.” She hopes that if “affluent folks [are] demanding it,” more early education programs will emerge to provide more kids—of all backgrounds—more time outside.

As this happens, getting the details right will be important. How can—how should—early-education programs balance the competing demands of academic development and outdoor play? Most kids could benefit from more time outside, but it’s hard to imagine that they don’t also need time with interesting, vocabulary-rich books.

Figuring out that balance matters even more when schools are welcoming populations that are likely to struggle academically down the line. In the United States, achievement gaps between children from wealthy and low-income families appear well before kindergarten, and evidence suggests that children who start elementary school behind on critical skills tend to stay behind. If children arrive in pre-K with weak language development and academic skills, early educators may rightly feel pulled to focus on these.

Sure, skilled educators can integrate math or reading instruction into time spent outdoors, but there are only so many hours in the day, and a recent study suggests that academically focused pre-K programs are particularly good at boosting children’s early math and reading abilities before—and into—kindergarten. It also found that “high-dose academic” preschools were uniquely effective at raising African American children’s math and reading skills.

Is it possible to capture the benefits of unstructured time in nature within the structures of public early education? Mundo Verde, a Pre-K–5th-grade charter school in Washington, D.C., is trying. Its model is defined by three components: student-driven learning, a focus on sustainability, and a Spanish-English dual-immersion program.

The school gets kids outdoors by organizing learning into “expeditions”—students dive deeply into a topic, often culminating in an excursion that allows them to expand on what they’ve been doing in class. For example, when Mundo Verde second-graders study rocks, they visit the nearby Luray Caverns and collect fossils at Calvert Cliffs. At the end of a unit on balls, the school’s preschoolers design ball games to play with classmates in a nearby park.

Compared to private programs like Irvine’s Nature Preschool and Riverside, Mundo Verde is expanding who can access outdoor early education. It’s publicly funded, attendance is free, and enrollment is conducted by open lottery. Nearly one-third of its students come from low-income families, and 68 percent are students of color. But those numbers are actually low for a public school in D.C., where over 80 percent of students’ families are low-income and 90 percent are nonwhite.

The program’s executive director and co-founder, Kristin Scotchmer, said that Mundo Verde’s autonomy as a charter school makes it easier to experiment with outdoor education. “What was amazing about founding a school that I think is different from changing a school, is that it was a blank slate,” she said. But Mundo Verde is just one unique school.

Its institutional freedoms—inventing a new educational model and experimenting with it slowly, over time—are rare luxuries in public early-education systems, which tend to be enmeshed in mandates governing what students need to learn, the order they should encounter each element, and how most things ought to be taught. “Of course, we are doing reading and math,” Scotchmer said. “It’s fundamental and it’s built-in and baked into what we do.”

Mundo Verde’s challenge—a challenge that many educators across the country are also navigating—largely comes down to conflicting beliefs about what a school should be in the 21st century. Beliefs about where learning should take place and what that learning should look like. But these are debates about something deeper, too: the fundamental question of what childhood should be. That’s not an easy question, and any proposal will have its flaws, but for the kids catching salamanders in the woods of Owings Mills, Maryland, the answer is obvious.


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Colorado teachers begin two days of protest, chanting “Stand up and fight!”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

(Denver Post) - Thousands of teachers and their supporters on Thursday morning poured into downtown Denver for two days of protesting the state of education funding in Colorado. 

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Sponsor pulls bill that would change how Colorado distributes money to schools

Thursday, April 26, 2018

(ChalkBeat) - There won’t be a change to Colorado’s school funding formula this year, at least not at the Capitol. 

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Early Learning in State ESSA Plans: How States Are Using the Law

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The latest addition to FFYF’s ESSA toolkit of resources, Early Learning in State ESSA Plans: Implementation Snapshot provides an early look at where states are leveraging ESSA to develop new or bolster ongoing early childhood education (ECE) efforts. As of January 2018, all consolidated state plans* have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and undergone review. These consolidated state plans are a preliminary indicator of how states intend to implement the new law. A subsequent series of state- and district-level decisions are forthcoming in operationalizing their ESSA plans.

Based on the ESSA plans submitted by states, there is a clear sign that states see ECE as an integral part of their education systems and pipeline—from how they can help schools improve to how they are holding schools accountable.

What’s most telling is that few early-learning related provisions of ESSA are mandated. This resource demonstrates that, right from the outset, states are voluntarily electing to articulate and broaden pathways for ECE opportunities within the larger continuum of learning.

In fact, 13 states have reported plans to incorporate early learning into their state accountability system under Title I. What’s more, 15 states and the District of Columbia specify early learning as a strategy for school improvement within Title I. This is a clear sign that states see ECE as a pivotal piece of the education system.

Additionally, 31 states plan to strategically use their Title II professional development dollars to increase the ability of principals or other school leaders to support teachers and other professionals to meet the needs of students age eight and younger. And 38 states have explicitly included early learning within their Well-Rounded Education Initiatives under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants under Title IV.

From every corner of the nation, in red and blue states alike, these consolidated state plans have not missed the opportunity to meaningfully factor in early learning as a cornerstone of their education systems. - READ MORE & DOWNLOAD RESOUCRES FROM THE FIRST FIVE YEARS FUND HERE


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Beware the Child Care Cliff

Monday, April 23, 2018

(Slate) - How states determine who is and isn’t eligible for child care assistance can plunge families into financial turmoil.  

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These Colorado school districts are canceling classes for teacher protests-UPDATED

Monday, April 23, 2018

(ChalkBeat) -Thousands of Colorado teachers are expected to descend on the state Capitol on Thursday and Friday to call on lawmakers to make a long-term commitment to increasing K-12 education funding.

These Colorado districts have announced they’re canceling classes because they won’t have enough teachers and other staff on hand to safely have students in their buildings. They include the state’s 10 largest districts, serving more than 500,000 students.

Here’s a list:

Unless otherwise noted, classes are canceled for the entire day on Friday.

  • Jeffco Public Schools, serving 86,100 students (classes canceled Thursday, April 26)
  • Denver Public Schools, serving 92,600 students
  • Douglas County School District, serving 67,500 students (classes canceled Thursday, April 26)
  • Cherry Creek School District, serving 55,600 students
  • Aurora Public Schools, serving 40,900 students
  • Adams 12 Five Star Schools, serving 38,900 students
  • Colorado Springs School District 11, serving 27,400 students
  • Boulder Valley School District, serving 31,300 students
  • St. Vrain Valley School District, serving 32,400 students
  • Poudre School District, serving 30,000 students
  • Brighton 27J, serving 17,800 students
  • Thompson School District, serving 16,200 students
  • Littleton Public Schools, serving 15,600 students
  • Adams County School District 14, serving 7,400 students
  • Manitou Springs School District, serving 1,400 students
  • Lake County School District, serving 1,000 students (classes canceled Thursday, April 26)

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Democrats have a candidate on the ballot in every single 2018 Colorado congressional, statehouse and major statewide race

Friday, April 20, 2018

(Denver Post) - The Colorado Republican Party said it doesn’t have candidates in all of those races. 

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Relationships First, Then Advocacy, Believes Primrose CEO

Friday, April 20, 2018

(Franchise Times) - Jo Kirchner, CEO of Primrose Schools, believes effective advocacy starts long before a leader pushes to get something done. “The key is building trusted relationships, and before they’re needed," she told Franchise Times. That way, “when there are opportunities to advocate, you have a voice.”

Kirchner received the Bonnie LeVine Award from the International Franchise Association in February, in recognition of her commitment to the mentorship of women, and we finally caught up with her last week for an interview.

“When you have to advocate for something you passionately believe in, people are more open to responding to you if you’ve already built a relationship. Really good relationship advocacy does require doing that," she said.

The Bonnie LeVine Award is given each year to a woman leader who not only has grown a successful business but also has made an impact on either the communities that those businesses serve or on a national level or both, Kirchner said. “So for me personally it’s recognition of my personal passion for children and early education, and not just the children we serve,”she said, adding it’s also “awesome recognition "for all Primrose operators who are making an impact in their markets.

“The ability for them to step out and lead in their communities is part of what I do in mentorship, "she said.

One of her main examples is the founding of a national organization called Early Care and Education Consortium, which advocates for serving all children via for-profit and non-profit public and private partnerships.

“That’s been in existence for more than 15 years. We have been through the years very active in going to Capitol Hill to meet with senators and representatives in Congress, “and working with legislation proactively, before we needed the voice.”

In recent years, “we’ve been able to affect wording in legislation in dollars being granted to states for early childhood education and using private and public partnerships,” she said.

Primrose is a children’s education franchise operating for 36 years, with 379 schools in 29 states and a pipeline of 160 schools. “We will double the size of our company in the next five years, that’s our goal,”she said. “It just depends on real estate. Most of our development is on the East Coast and West Coast and it’s very difficult.”

One new angle for Primrose is to open employer-sponsored child care centers on corporate campuses, which Primrose did with two Procter & Gamble locations in Cincinnati last year. She believes with low unemployment, more corporations will pay attention to offering early childhood education and child care. “It is an added benefit to recruit staff,”she said.

Kirchner said awards “are wonderful to receive,”but she’s more gratified by “all of what we’re creating together”as teachers, staff and franchise owners. “That brings me the greatest satisfaction,”she said.


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