Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


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OECD reports always leave me wanting more. The most recent report on child well being in industrialized countries is no exception. I want more information, better context, greater clarity. The report just seems to gloss over too many factors that affect children’s welfare.

One finding does seem abundantly clear: The United States fares poorly on many measures of child well-being. Our child poverty rate is over 20 percent, almost double the OECD average. We’re in the basement on children’s health and safety: twenty-fourth out of 30 OECD countries. And we do just as poorly in educational well-being. Our achievement gaps are much larger than in most other OECD countries. American students are also more likely than their OECD peers to lack important resources like textbooks, computers, or even a quiet place to study.

The report also finds that U.S. spending on children is higher than the OECD average. (Cue outrage over big spending on social programs....) But the OECD analysis leaves so much out of account that this conclusion is hard to support.

Take, for example, health care spending. The OECD admits leaving it out of the analysis: “Although the analysis does not include public spending on health, many of the indicators of child well-being are related to health.” Oh.... That's kind of a big deal.

In the U.S., poor children receive much worse health care than other ...

I just saw the shocking news! Reading Rainbow, a staple of PBS children's programming for 26 years, is coming to an end.

According to one of the show's representatives,

[T]he funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration..., which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Reading Rainbow fosters the joy of reading in children who have already mastered basic reading skills. These days, funders want television shows that teach students how to read.

I have a few questions: Can't we sustain both kinds of children's programming? Isn't there still a need for programming that nourishes the enthusiasm of children who already know how to read? Is this more evidence that we're allowing an exclusive focus on basic skills to crowd out so many other things that inspire ...


While the national debate rages over the benefits of early childhood education, an innovative, district-wide early childhood education initiative is bearing fruit in Bremerton, Washington. Since the initiative's founding, the percentage of Bremerton children entering Kindergarten knowing their letters has shot from 4% to over 50%. The percentage of Kindergarteners needing specialized education services has plummeted from 12% to 2%. And the share of first graders reading on grade level has risen from 52% to 73%.

Last week, I spoke with a woman at the center of the program: Linda Sullivan-Dudzic, the district's Director of Special programs. She described some keys to the program's success. The district:

  • Aligns existing school and community resources
  • Raises the quality of existing preschools rather than creating new ones
  • Focuses on literacy and numeracy
  • Heeds the research, and
  • Holds all providers to high standards of quality


Read extensive highlights from our interview with Sullivan-Dudzic:

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: What are the major goals of Early Childhood Care and Education Group, and what do you believe you've accomplished in striving towards those goals?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: We have two goals. [The first is] to increase the number of children entering kindergarten with early literacy skills--and now we've added early math foundation skills. And the second goal is to decrease the number of children, students, with learning disabilities or learning differences associated with reading.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: And do you feel like you've made headway in reaching your goals?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: Yes. In literacy definitely. We're just starting in math. We have decreasing numbers of kids qualifying as learning disabled, and we have increasing numbers of kids entering kindergarten with early reading foundation skills.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: So you have all kinds of community partners?

SULLIVAN-DUDZIC: Sure. I started 29 years ago with Head Start, as a ...

HydeBrooksWEB.JPG(Or is it Dr. Brooks and Mr. Hyde?)

Last month, David Brooks implicitly lumped Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman together with other signers of the "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education" as standard-bearers for a desiccated "status quo." He apparently objected to that group's contention that "poverty and broad social factors drive high dropout rates and other bad outcomes. Schools alone can't combat that, so more money should go to health care programs, anti-poverty initiatives and after-school and pre-K programs." ...

HeckmanPicture.jpgOver the past few weeks, Public School Insights has been interviewing signers of a recent statement calling for a "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education"--an approach that combines ambitious school improvement strategies with out-of-school supports for student achievement--such as early childhood education, after-school programs, and health services for children.

A few days ago, we had the privilege of interviewing Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman, a signer whose recent work on topics such as graduation rates and the benefits of early childhood education has attracted close attention from education advocates. ...

LaddWEB.jpgOver the past week, Public School Insights has been interviewing the distinguished co-chairs of the high-profile task force behind a new campaign calling for a "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education."  As we noted in an earlier post, the task force is advocating for a set of policies to reform schools while offsetting the social and economic disadvantages that contribute to academic achievement gaps.

I recently spoke with campaign co-chair Helen Ladd, a prominent professor of economics and public policy at Duke University.  Like co-chairs Pedro Noguera and Tom Payzant, Ladd argues that schools alone cannot close achievement gaps--The nation needs aggressive school reform strategies as well as policies to minimize the impact of poverty on student performance. ...

PayzantWEB.jpgCurrently a professor of practice at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, Tom Payzant has been around the educational block. He has served as an Assistant Secretary of Education under President Clinton, and as superintendent of schools in Boston, San Diego, Oklahoma City, Eugene (Oregon), and Springfield (Pennsylvania). In Boston, he was credited with narrowing achievement gaps and presiding over the largest improvement in mathematics scores of any major urban district participating in the National Assessment of Education Progress Trial Urban District Assessment. He has received many leadership awards, including Massachusetts Superintendent of the Year, and published extensively, promoting academic reforms to both professional educators and policymakers. Recently, he also served as co-chair of the task force that released a statement promoting "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education." ...

NogueraWEB.jpgPedro Noguera is a professor at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, a leading authority on school reform, and a co-chair of the task force that recently released a statement promoting "A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education." As I wrote in an earlier post, the statement calls for policies to reduce the educational, economic and social disadvantages that depress the academic achievement of our most vulnerable students.

Noguera recently took some time to tell me about the content and goals of the task force's work, and to address criticisms of the statement that have been circulating through some education policy blogs: namely, that the task force is letting schools off the hook and shying away from hard-hitting education reforms. ...

A diverse coalition of more than 60 experts in education, health, civil rights, economics and other fields just released a joint statement calling for "a broader, bolder approach to education" that includes policies to reduce the economic and social disadvantages that exacerbate academic achievement gaps. While continuing to urge school improvement efforts, their approach promotes early childhood education, after-school and summer opportunities, physical health, character, social development, creativity, and effective citizenship.

According to the coalition's ads in the New York Times and Washington Post, "Some schools have demonstrated unusual effectiveness. But even they cannot, by themselves, close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds in a substantial, consistent and sustainable manner on the full range of academic and non-academic measures by which we judge student success." ...

Success Stories

Working Together for Pre-School Success

Center for Public Education, on behalf of the School District of La Crosse, Wisconsin

Story posted March 12, 2012


  • 95% of eligible four-year-olds now attend free, high-quality pre-school classes
  • District teachers consistently report that children who have attended pre-school are well prepared for entry into kindergarten

The School District of La Crosse, Wisconsin believes that well-prepared four-year-olds make the best kindergarten students. For the last ten years, they've put time and effort into getting all four-year-olds access to pre-school programs. And they've seen results.

Prior to 2001, children attended private pre-schools or childcare centers, if their parents could afford it. Head Start or Title I programs offered options for low-income families, but the school district Title I program could only accommodate 150 to 160 four-year-olds and had to turn children away every year (63.8% of students in the district are economically disadvantaged). In addition, interaction between the school district and other early childhood providers in the community was limited.

Ten years later, an estimated 95 percent of eligible four-year-olds now attend free, high quality pre-school classes in a variety of school-based and community settings throughout ...

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