The Washington Post

How did early education weather the Great Recession?

Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 on expanding early childhood education with an infusion of new funding, a vision he championed over the past year with a plan for universal preschool. But throughout his administration, the country has been grappling with economic turmoil.

Five years later, what is the state of early education?

A new report by the New America Foundation looks at a range of measures including student achievement, family well-being, and funding to see how children from birth through age eight, are faring.

The results show that while enthusiasm is up — philanthropy, advocacy, and research are all on the upswing — millions of children still lack access to quality child care or preschool.

Here are some of the findings:

*Federal funding for early childhood initiatives overall spiked in 2009 thanks to stimulus dollars, then stagnated.

*Test scores for fourth-grade math and reading increased on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, but the achievement gap increased between students from poor and better-off families

*More children are living in poverty. A record 48 percent of American students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

*State funding per pupil for preschool programs decreased, raising questions about the quality of programs.

Some signs of improvement:

*New federal investment through the Affordable Care Act of 2010 expanded access to home visiting programs, which pair new parents with nurses, social workers or trained mentors

*Additional federal funding through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge and Promise Neighborhood Initiatives is improving services for children and families.

*The Department of Health and Human Services tightened standards for Head Start programs and improved professional development for teachers

*Quality rating systems are developing in many states to improve the quality of child care

The complete report is available here.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.

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