Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

If any issue warrants public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules, administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies, departments, divisions or communities.

In December 2019, Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early care and education programs:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes [1] and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K. [2] The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.

Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy. [3] Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care. [4] The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. [5]

Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.

For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.

The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.

There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. [12]

Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. [13]

In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. [14]

However, it is not just about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do. 

Rethinking is always a bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.

By Tomonica Rice-Yarborough and Kathy Thornton from CCSA’s Professional Development Initiatives Team

World Teacher’s Day was established in 1994 to recognize and celebrate teachers all over the world for their hard work and dedication. It also brings to light the issues affecting the profession to work toward a resolution for retaining and attracting teachers to the field. This day was founded to celebrate public school teachers, but early care educators also should be recognized on this day because they’re instrumental to the growth and development of our children. Their contributions to society’s economic stability should be valued, recognized and celebrated.

One of the main issues facing early care educators is the little recognition or validation they receive for the pivotal roles they play in the lives and development of young children. As a field, early educators in North Carolina often hold degrees, but they earn significantly less than public school teachers. According to CCSA’s 2015 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, the median wage of center directors in North Carolina was $16.00 per hour, while teachers earned $10.97 per hour and assistant teachers earned $9.97 per hour. 

Although degree attainment has drastically increased in North Carolina, the field as a whole still suffers from being perceived as a high priced “babysitting service.” For 30 years, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program has provided the workforce with access to a debt-free college education while they work as low wage earners teaching future doctors, lawyers, teachers, administrative assistants, scientists…

Our brains grow faster between the ages of birth and 3 than any other time in our life. Children who are formally cared for in early education settings outside of their homes depend on the early educator to support their developmental growth. Those years are particularly formative, making the role of the early educator even more critical. According to philosopher John Locke, “a child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge.” Early educators play a big part in setting the foundation for our children’s future.

On Sept. 4, 2019, Australia celebrated Early Childhood Educators’ Day to honor and appreciate early childhood educators. The world, like Australia, should have a day set aside to recognize early childhood educators. Sadly, early childhood educators are seldom during the World Teacher’s Day observance. This lends credence to the perception that early childhood education isn’t seen as a worthy profession. Why can’t we dedicate a day of observance to them?

Early education workforce initiatives in North Carolina such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, the Child Care WAGE$® and the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ salary supplement programs and NAEYC’s Power to the Profession are aimed at professionalizing the early care and education field so its members receive the respect, recognition and compensation they so rightly deserve.

By Cassia Simms-Smith, Anchor Infant-Toddler Specialist at the NC Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project

Did you know that brain science can be crazy fun?

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University uses terms like “serve and return interactions,” “high quality experiences” and “brain architecture” when they talk about interacting with infants and toddlers. But what do they mean with all those fancy terms?

Talking with babies can be fun and it builds their brains!

Watch the videos below to see great everyday examples of people just having fun interacting with our littlest kiddos:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1441472322657949

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, we have another one for you – just look at that happy little face! 🥰Happy #ServeAndReturn week!#Development #Connection🎥 via ITV West Country (@itvwestcountry – Twitter

Posted by NVRnorthampton on Sunday, June 9, 2019

Yes! These silly, funny and crazy fun moments build babies’ brains! It is really that simple, and these moments bring laughter and fun into your world. Studies also show that laughter is good for stress management in adults!

What the experts have to say about talking to our littles

Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.”  –The Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University.

That’s what you just saw!

Now it’s your turn

Do you want to make a difference in the life of a child? You can! No matter who you are or what your role is with children, simply having some crazy fun interactions with a child will help to shape their future and bring joy (and less stress) into yours.

Written by Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at CCSA

Becoming a Gigi

Guess what? I finally became a grandmother! Over the past three years, I have had the honor of becoming a grandmother (or Gigi, as my oldest granddaughter Mila calls me) to three little girls. I used to wonder why my friends never seemed to have time for me anymore after they had grandchildren. I actually found myself feeling sorry for some of them because they were always consumed with babysitting when I wanted to go do fun things on weekends. Now, I understand. “Mila adventures” occur on my weekends now, and I love every minute of them. I find myself doing things such as going to the kiddie splash pad, brushing billy goats, riding carousels, planting flowers, visiting playgrounds, shopping for shoes and other weekend girly things. We have gone through so many things, such as potty training, sleep issues, screen time limits, visits to petting farms and zoos, being gentle with animals, learning to walk dogs, etc.

Not Now, Gigi, I’m Busy Writing My Dissertation!

As a former preschool teacher many years ago, I was fascinated with language development. As I worked with young children, I tended to focus on language skills, and obviously do the same with my grandchildren. My oldest daughter is trying to finish her Ph.D. and is on the last leg of completing her dissertation. She called me the other day and told me Mila’s teacher had just called saying that Mila had been standing over a whiteboard. The teacher asked Mila why she was standing up to write. Mila’s reply was, “I am working on my dissertation.” I have heard Mila say that she was working on her dissertation many times and didn’t even think about it being different because this dissertation is something we talk about frequently in our family.

As a result of being a Gigi, I have a renewed appreciation of what we do at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for parents, young children and early care and education professionals. I am keenly aware of child care deserts for infants and toddlers, the cost of child care and the navigation systems that parents use to unravel the mystery of child care for their young children. I have visited and observed child care programs as a Gigi and talked with teachers about their days and how things work in their programs. I am amazed at how much they are accomplishing. I see new things that Mila learns at her preschool every week and am in total awe of her development, but most of all those language skills.

Talking Power

Mila really doesn’t know what a dissertation is, but she does know that it involves writing. No one actually prompted Mila to say the word but obviously has heard it numerous times at home, and it just comes naturally.

As I watch my younger grandchildren learning language skills, I am reminded of what we need to do even with young infants. We respond to their crying at first because we want to understand what they are trying to tell us. This takes practice, but if you really pay attention, you will understand. When they begin babbling, we imitate their sounds and help them learn new ones.

Recently, I listened to my younger granddaughters as they were learning to make sounds and navigate through the house by crawling or walking around wobbling from side to side. One of them kept repeating the “B” and “M” sounds that she had just learned, and her mother would imitate her attempts. They had great games going back and forth, and truly there was a lot of glee and bonding! Finally, she started saying “momma” by the end of the week, and this week she has learned to follow directions and kiss her momma when prompted. 

Young children, as we all know, do repeat what they hear and imitate what they see. Conversations with parents aid in language development and nurtures learning. Talk at home is a powerful tool in the development of language and communication skills. Talking with babies and young children in natural tones and modeling the words that we want them to adopt is extremely important. Instead of teaching Mila the word “dissertation,” we used the word many times while we were around her. It is meaningful to her. Hopefully one day, she will write a real “dissertation” as she explores her own world! 

When around young children, it is important to relax and talk to them. Children are listening and understand much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Making them perform their new language skills can sometimes make them clam up, so be careful that you are not asking for performances.  

Remember that play and language development go hand-in-hand. A great deal of language is developed through pretend play. Give them lots of opportunities to talk, sing and read books. Reading books with rhyming words and sounds, or singing songs are great ways to develop language skills. 

Sometimes language skills emerge over a long period of time and sometimes they emerge overnight. All children are different and develop at their own pace. The conversations we have with children nurture their development and learning. Our talk at home and in preschool settings is a powerful tool in the development of young children. 

5 Power Tools to Help Develop Your Skills in Expanding Language

Here are a few ideas for helping young children develop language skills:

  1. Talk naturally in your authentic voice;
  2. Tell stories, sing, read books, ask questions;
  3. Sometimes just be silly with songs, books, and words;
  4. When they point at a ball, expand on it and make a sentence out of the word they used or object they pointed out; and
  5. Add colors, prepositions or numbers of objects in everyday language (i.e. “We are going to climb up 7 brown steps now”). Numbers, prepositions, colors and words used will all become a natural part of their vocabulary.

They are soaking it all in and learn so much from you. Your words are truly powerful! Model the language that you want them to use and you can create learning opportunities wherever you go or whatever you are doing with children. Enjoy them. They grow up too fast!

Thank you to Kristen Siarzynski and Kathryn DeLorenzo for the photographs of Kay’s grandchildren.

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Joe Coffey will earn his Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) from UNC-Wilmington next spring, and because of the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood® Scholarship program, he will do so debt-free. T.E.A.C.H. provides educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

Joe has had the desire to teach and engage families and children for 18 years serving as a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, public school administrator and training and technical assistance specialist. Now, while he pursues his M.Ed., he is the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Program Director for Onslow County Partnership for Children in North Carolina.

“I am a true believer in lifelong learning. I also feel it is our responsibility to model life-long learning for those that we serve,” Joe said. “I originally became familiar with the T.E.A.C.H. program when I was completing my associate’s degree. Fellow students shared the information with me.”

What is T.E.A.C.H.?

In 1990, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) created the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program to address the issues of under-education, poor compensation and high turnover in the early childhood workforce. In 2000, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center was established in response to the growth and expansion of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center is now offered in 22 states plus D.C. and has awarded over 150,000 scholarships since its opening.

T.E.A.C.H. is an umbrella for a variety of scholarship programs for those working in early education in North Carolina. Because of the complexities of the different scholarships, each recipient is assigned a specific scholarship counselor.

T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselors

Kimberly Bynum

Kimberly Bynum, who has been with CCSA for 22 years, is the program manager for T.E.A.C.H. North Carolina. One of her main duties is to provide counseling to graduate-level scholarship recipients like Joe. Those counselors are the reason Joe can say, “The process has been easy to use and to understand.”

“Joe is a great recipient to work with,” Kimberly said. “There’s not a lot of hand holding to do with him. He’s really proactive, but if there is ever anything missing, like when we do check-ins with our recipients several times throughout the semester, he’s very responsive to getting me what I need.”

Counselors play a vital role for T.E.A.C.H. scholarship recipients, helping them navigate through the many obstacles they may face while furthering their education.

“I do the same thing for Joe as I do for all my recipients. I make sure if they’re enrolled in school, we have the documents we need to go ahead and pay for their tuition upfront, because we don’t want anybody dropped…I usually go through and look at all my recipients, including Joe, to make sure we sent in the authorization to the colleges and universities,” said Kimberly.

And because of T.E.A.C.H., Joe will be able to graduate with his M.Ed. debt-free.

“T.E.A.C.H. has made it possible for me to continually build on my education from an Associate’s in Applied Science to a Master’s in Education without incurring a huge amount of student debt,” said Joe. “Early childhood education is a field in which the professionals are often underpaid and are themselves lacking resources. T.E.A.C.H. provides an avenue to advance education and careers while helping to avoid massive student debt.”

Kimberly finds her part in that process gratifying.

“What I really enjoy most about my position is…developing that one-on-one relationship [with the recipients],” she said. “It really just brings it all together when you’re at a conference or…attending graduations and you get to meet that person face-to-face…Especially at graduation, it makes you feel really proud, because you work with these people for so long, so they made it and they’re done.”

The Economic Impact of T.E.A.C.H.

Kimberly is also proud that T.E.A.C.H. has a wide reach that goes well beyond the scholarship recipient after graduation.

“We are empowering these scholarship recipients to [earn] more education, which in turn, they bring back into their facility, they’re better equipped to teach the children and then the children are ready for school when they start kindergarten.”

Once recipients complete their degree, they increase their marketability in the early childhood education system and may experience growth in their wages as well. In 2018, associate degree scholarship program recipients experienced an 11% increase in their earnings, with a low turnover rate of 8%.

“In addition, it’s increasing the star rating level as far as education goes for those facilities they’re employed in, making them more attractive to families, so increasing business that way,” Kimberly said. “Also, what [T.E.A.C.H.] does in the community…is increase the student enrollment in early childhood education departments [at participating universities and colleges]. So by T.E.A.C.H. sponsoring students at these universities and colleges, there is a positive economic impact on the North Carolina college system.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®️ Scholarship North Carolina, please consider donating today.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

In May, the Program Evaluation Division[1] (PED) within the North Carolina General Assembly released a new report, “North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts.”[2]

PED was right – addressing the achievement gap requires much more attention to a child’s earliest years. While Pre-K expansion was recommended, research points to the birth to age 3 period of a child’s life as the time when the largest impact on a child’s development is possible. This period of early childhood must also be taken into account as we plan for the future for all NC families.

PED was charged with reviewing school districts nationwide with high poverty rates and at least average achievement by students to see if there were common strategies that could be used within North Carolina school districts. The project addressed three research questions,[3]

  1. What are the characteristics of school districts that have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students yet demonstrate high academic performance?
  2. What policies or practices are high-achieving disadvantaged districts implementing that may contribute to student performance?
  3. What policies or practices could North Carolina implement in order to improve performance in districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students?

The results were sobering. PED found that local school districts throughout the country struggled in attaining grade level or better student performance. In fact, PED identified only 5% of predominantly economically disadvantaged school districts that also had grade level or better student performance over a 7-year period.[4] Within North Carolina, 45 of 115 school districts were identified as predominantly economically disadvantaged, which is about 39% of North Carolina school districts.  Of those 45 school districts, only 7 (about 16%) met the bar of student performance at grade level (or above).[5]  While higher than the national average, 16% is nothing to boast about.

What PED found was that within economically disadvantaged school districts where students are performing well (at grade level or above), third grade is an important marker. Student growth occurs after 3rd grade but that efforts to address student competencies before grade 3 are most important in reducing the achievement gap.[6]

PED conducted interviews within 12 economically disadvantaged school districts (comparable to school districts within North Carolina) with grade level (or above) student performance to see if there were any common strategies that led to higher student outcomes. One of the factors that the 12 school districts had in common was a significant investment in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K).  Pre-K in two of the school districts (Durant Independent School District in Oklahoma and Steubenville City Schools in Ohio) target both three- and four-year-old children for enrollment. Four of the five North Carolina counties in which case study districts were located had 75% or more of eligible children participating in NC Pre-K.

However, PED notes that current funding enables only 47% of low-income eligible children statewide to participate in NC Pre-K.[7]

The PED report makes two recommendations.

Recommendation #1.  The General Assembly should require low-performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan as a component of their required plans for improvement.[8]  PED calls for the development of specific strategies aimed at boosting achievement from pre-K to 3rd grade and lists expanding pre-K, improving pre-K quality, ensuring alignment of pre-K curricula with elementary school curricula, developing transition plans, providing professional development that focuses on early learning and providing instructional coaching focused on pre-kK through 3rd grade.

Recommendation #2. The General Assembly should require an assessment of early childhood learning as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s comprehensive needs assessment process for districts.[9]

While those of us who have worked in the early childhood education field are glad to see the recommendations related to pre-K, and agree the NC Pre-K program should be fully-funded so all eligible children have an opportunity to participate, children are not born at age four.

Research shows that pre-K makes a difference in a child’s school readiness, particularly for low-income children. However, that same research also notes that a child’s gains in pre-K are directly related to his or her prior experiences before pre-K.[10]  

Neuroscience research shows that a child’s earliest years, from birth to age three, play a critical role in the development of brain wiring that lays a foundation for all future learning.[11]  In the first years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed every second.[12] 

Source: Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

This wiring frames the architecture upon which all future abilities are built. While people learn throughout their lives, a child’s earliest years are critical because they set the foundation. Genes and experiences help shape a young child’s brain development,[13] which begin long before a child enters pre-K.  And, remediation strategies are much more difficult as children (and adults) age.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest data, throughout North Carolina:

  • 356,007 children are under age three[14]
  • 465,783 children are under age six who also have working parents (young children residing in two-parent families where both parents work or in a single-parent family where the head of household works)[15]

Young children with working mothers are in child care every week for about 36 hours according to the Census Bureau.[16]  Most of these children are not age four; they are not in pre-K. This is why any directive to the General Assembly to address the achievement gap, which rightly calls for addressing the early childhood landscape, has to not only focus on access to pre-K but also must focus on access to high-quality child care and the early childhood workforce that cares for our youngest children.

Child Care Services Association works locally with Think Babies™ NC and the leadership team as well as with national organizations on the importance of the prenatal to three years through. The Pritzker Children’s Initiative is dedicated to building a promising future for our country by focusing investment and support nationally in children at the earliest stages of life, particularly from birth to age three. Zero to Three and Child Trends just released the State of Babies Yearbook. North Carolina’s profile can be found here.

We applaud PED’s call for low performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan and an assessment of early learning opportunities as part of district comprehensive needs assessments. However, early learning is not limited to pre-K settings. High-quality child care programs are important early learning settings at all ages. Any needs assessment and early childhood improvement plans that are derived from such a landscape review must include our youngest children. Child development, school readiness and reducing the achievement gap depend on it.


[1] The Program Evaluation Division (PED) is a central, non-partisan unit of the Legislative Services Commission of the North Carolina General Assembly that assists the General Assembly in fulfilling its responsibility to oversee government functions.
[2] North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts, Final Report of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report #2019-06, May 20, 2019.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] National Institute of Early Education Research, Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions, 2018.      
[8] North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts, Final Report of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report #2019-06, May 20, 2019.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Foundation for Child Development, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christina Weiland, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Margaret R. Burchinal, Linda M. Espinosa, William T. Gormley, Jens Ludwig, Katherine A. Magnuson, Deborah Phillips, Martha J. Zaslow. (2013).
[11] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. The Science of Early Childhood Development.
[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture.
[13] Ibid.
[14] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B09001, 2017 American Community Survey, 1 year estimates.
[15] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, 2017 American Community Survey, 1 year estimates.
[16] U.S. Census Bureau, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011, released April 2013.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

As the President of Child Care Services Association, a mother and a grandmother, I have been following the advancement of HB 485, the Virtual Early Learning Pilot program, under consideration by the North Carolina State Legislature. The 3-year pilot would allow up to 10 school districts to offer online pre-k to at-risk, 4 year-old children, at a cost of $500,000 per year for the next three years.

I know that every year, state legislators are forced to make difficult decisions in allocating state funding. I can imagine that there is great pressure with these decisions and that legislators look for ways to save money, while still achieving intended outcomes. With regard to state pre-k funding and the goal to have all children throughout North Carolina enter school with the skills to succeed, it is important for legislators to understand how young children learn and what school readiness really means.

Decades of research show that the greatest gains made by children in pre-k occur where teacher interactions with children promote critical thinking skills as well as concept knowledge through warm and responsive relationships.[1]  This isn’t by chance. It’s by design. It’s in-person. It’s individualized to meet each child where he or she is at to build on strengths and build up areas that are not as strong.

Numerous evaluations have shown the importance of instructional, social, and emotional serve-and-return interactions that occur daily between teachers and children, as well as among classmates”[2] that result in developmental gains across early childhood domains (e.g., social and emotional, language and literacy, critical thinking and physical development). These interactions “motivate and deepen learning, enable children to organize and focus their attention and other capacities needed to learn, and promote peer cooperation and support,”[3] which comprise the foundation for school readiness. It’s about soft-skill development as well as concept development related to letters and numbers.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to visit pre-k classrooms and talk to pre-k teachers. Too many of our at-risk 4 year-olds haven’t been read to; they don’t know that books contain words and pictures that tell a story, that letters have sounds and that stories have a sequence – a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have never held a pencil or colored with crayons or written their name. Some haven’t held a pair of scissors or developed the dexterity to use a pencil or have ever put together a puzzle. You would think by age 4, children would know colors and basic shapes, but some do not.

The same children might know how to watch a video on a parent’s phone, but they can’t wait their turn or share, they can’t transition between activities and they don’t know how to use their words to express their thoughts or feelings in a group setting – to lead, follow or just get along with peers. They may or may not have consistent rules at home so they don’t know how to manage themselves appropriately and follow rules in a classroom. These are soft-skills that are learned in a hands-on experience that can’t be learned through a computer lesson.

Pre-k programs also screen children for vision, hearing, speech and physical development and help identify children who could benefit from early intervention services in areas where there may be a delay. None of this can occur through an online preschool experience – at least not in an effective manner.

The NC Pre-K program works. Studies have found that NC Pre-K raises children’s literacy, math and social-emotional skills not just for kindergarten entry[4] but also throughout elementary school and the most recent research shows gains through middle school.[5]

When kindergarten teachers are asked what school readiness means and what skills are most important for school readiness, their top responses include: children who can regulate their impulses, pay attention, listen to and follow directions, be willing to try different tasks (e.g., have self-confidence), engage in self-care, get along with peers and have motor skills such as the ability to hold a pencil.[6]

Despite the strong evaluations of NC Pre-K, current funding supports fewer than half of eligible children. To me, the answer should be to adequately fund NC Pre-K so that 4 year-old children can attend, not divert resources to an online preschool that misses the mark on what matters most for early childhood development – effective interactions with children. Not screen time.

There is still time to course correct on state budget issues. We don’t need a 3-year pilot that diverts $1.5 million from additional pre-k seats for children. Let’s put every dollar possible into expanding what works. And, for 4-year old children, that’s a setting that promotes interactions with teachers and peers.


[1] Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, Society for Research in Child Development and Foundation for Child Development, 2013. https://www.fcd-us.org/assets/2013/10/Evidence20Base20on20Preschool20Education20FINAL.pdf

[2] The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, Deborah A. Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of  Vanderbilt University, Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Daphna Bassok  of the University of Virginia, Margaret R. Burchinal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greg J. Duncan of the University of California-Irvine, Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, Katherine A. Magnuson  of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan. (2017).  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/duke_prekstudy_final_4-4-17_hires.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program Evaluation Key Findings (2002–2016), Frank Porter Graham Institute, University of North Carolina, 2017. https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Summary%20of%20NC%20Pre-K%20Evaluation%20Findings%205-2017.pdf

[5] Evaluation of North Carolina’s Smart Start and NC Pre-K Programs: Follow-Up Through Eighth Grade, Duke University, December 2018. https://duke.app.box.com/s/pw3zv27a2jkmfas2j183yg4ekamxzl8y

[6] What Kindergarten Readiness Means to Kindergarten Teachers, New America. 2009. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/early-elementary-education-policy/early-ed-watch/what-kindergarten-readiness-means-to-kindergarten-teachers/

Written by Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

Dr. Walter Gilliam presenting Implicit Biases in Early Childhood Settings at the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Institute 2019 Conference on March 11, 2019.

“Better Together” was the theme of this year’s Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Institute held in Greensboro, N.C. in March, and Mary Erwin recently shared details of the Institute. A highlight of this year’s conference was the keynote delivered by Dr. Walter Gilliam from the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale. This blog is to keep the keynote information on our minds and in our work.

Delivered in a “TED talk” manner, Dr. Gilliam shared his research on implicit bias with the audience and the implications research has on both policy and practice impacting the early childhood workforce and children in early learning settings.

What is Implicit Bias?

Webster’s dictionary defines it as “bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs”.

What is the Relationship Between Implicit Bias and Early Childhood Settings?

Dr. Gilliam shared data from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights that found black boys in particular were disproportionately suspended or expelled from preschool. To learn more about whether this may be related to the behavior of the child or the perceptions of the teaching workforce, Dr. Gilliam and his team at Yale conducted a study.  Specifically, Dr. Gilliam wanted to see whether implicit biases may play a role in identifying children with challenging behaviors.

Video Observation Study

Dr. Gilliam’s team recruited participants at a nationwide conference of early childhood educators. Early childhood teachers were asked to watch several video clips of preschool children engaged in typical table top activities. The children were racially balanced (one white boy and girl and one black boy and girl). Early childhood teachers were told the study was related to better understanding to how teachers detect challenging behaviors in the classroom. They were told sometimes this involves seeing behavior before it becomes a problem and were asked to press the enter key on a computer keyboard every time they saw a behavior that could become a potential challenge. They were told the video clips may or may not contain challenging behaviors and to press the keypad as often as needed. In addition to the keypad entries, an eye tracking device was used to log the time teachers spent watching the behavior of individual children. (For frame of reference with regard to the children, they were child actors and no challenging behaviors were present).

Heat map related to study participants’ child behavior observations. (Photo Credit: Yale Child Study Center)

Results

Dr. Gilliam and his team found teachers spent more time looking at boys and at black children than girls and white children. In particular, teachers spent more time watching the black boy in the videos. When teachers were asked explicitly which of the children required most of their attention, 42% indicated the black boy, 34% indicated the white boy, 13% indicated the white girl, and 10% indicated the black girl. The race of the teacher did not impact the findings.

Background Information Study

A second part of the study was related to finding out if teachers were provided information about the child’s background, whether that impacted their perception of the severity of the behavior and their ability to impact the child’s behavior. For this part of the study, early childhood teachers were given a brief description of a preschool student with his or her behavioral challenges. The description of child behaviors remained the same, but the name of the child associated with the description changed to reflect stereotypical black and white girl and boy names (Latoya, Emily, DeShawn and Jake).

To test if teachers changed their perceptions of the child’s behavior when given a brief family background summary, some teachers were also given more context related to the child’s home environment (e.g., the child lives with a single mother working multiple jobs and who struggles with depression but doesn’t have resources to receive help; the father is barely around, but when he is around, the parents fight loudly in front of the children, and sometimes violent disputes occur). The study randomized whether the early childhood teachers received background information or not.

Results

Dr. Gilliam and his team found that teachers appeared to expect challenging behaviors more from black children and specifically black boys. Without family background, white teachers seemed to hold black children to lower behavioral expectations. In contrast, black teachers held black children to very high standards.

The provision of family background information caused different perceptions based on teacher-child race. For example, when black teachers were provided with family background information on black children, teachers rated child behavior as less severe. When white teachers were provided with family background information on black children, behavior severity ratings increased – potentially indicating knowing family stressors may lead to feelings of hopelessness that behavior problems can improve.

The Role of Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Settings

Dr. Gilliam explained that understanding the role implicit bias may play in child care and early learning settings is the first step toward addressing racial disparities in discipline approaches. He explained that interventions are underway throughout the country designed to address biases directly or increase teachers’ empathy for children (which paves the way for more effective strategies related to children’s learning styles and behaviors).

Progress in North Carolina

North Carolina is beginning to review and implement strategies to address implicit bias, give early childhood teachers strategies to promote more effective ways to address challenging behavior and to support high-quality child care programs through better teacher-child interactions.

For example, the Infant Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP) provides technical assistance through the statewide CCR&R system to better support infant and toddler staff and to improve teacher and child interactions. Staff participating in the Healthy Social Behaviors project use the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) Pyramid Model to provide tiered support based on individual classroom needs.

We are exploring infant and toddler mental health consultant evidence-based approaches as well as the use of tools to improve teacher-child interactions through the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), which measures teacher interactions and is paired with specific improvement strategies identified through observational assessments. Overall, practice-based coaching models can impact teacher strategies to better meet the needs of children.

For more information on Dr. Gilliam’s research, check out this research brief and the work of the Yale Edward Zigler Center and Child Development and Social Policy.  

Marsha Basloe, President of Child Care Services Association

Last week I had the opportunity to attend an early childhood summit in Raleigh to support the launch of the North Carolina Early Childhood Action Plan.  Governor Roy Cooper, Former Governor Jim Hunt, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, state legislators, philanthropists, advocates and early childhood leaders from across the state came to Raleigh to unite behind a 10-goal plan with measurable benchmarks to improve the lives of young children by 2025. Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff, Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, was the keynote speaker.

North Carolina has been a national leader on early childhood initiatives over the past several decades. And during those years, much progress has been made to better meet the needs of our state’s young children. However, even with those efforts, still too many children are left behind and the health, well-being and school readiness gap between children of different races and ethnicities is stark.

Last August, Governor Cooper charged the NC Department of Health and Human Services to work with the NC Early Childhood Advisory Council to develop a statewide Early Childhood Action Plan to:

  • improve young children’s health,
  • support safe and nurturing environments for children and families, and
  • provide high-quality early childhood learning opportunities.

The governor’s Executive Order called for strategies and timeframes for achieving the goals as well as metrics that would be publicly reported to chart progress. Nearly 1,500 people throughout the state provided suggestions and feedback on an early draft released in November 2018. Over the next six months, the plan was drafted and coordinated by Becki Planchard, MPP, Senior Early Childhood Policy Advisor at NCDHHS.

Early Childhood Action Plan Goals and Targets

Goal 1: Healthy Babies

2025 Target: By 2025, reduce the statewide infant mortality rate across by child race and ethnicity.

Goal 2: Preventive Health Services

2025 Target: By 2025, increase the percentage of North Carolina’s young children enrolled in Medicaid and Health Choice who receive regular well-child visits as part of a health care delivery process that provides comprehensive, patient-centered, accessible, quality care as recommended for the ages of young children.

Goal 3: Food Security

2025 Target: By 2025, reduce the percentage of children living across North Carolina in food insecure homes.

Goal 4: Safe and Secure Housing

2025 Target: (Part 1) By 2025, reduce the percentage of children across North Carolina under age six experiencing homelessness by at least 10%.  (Part 2) By 2025, reduce the number of children in kindergarten through third grade enrolled in NC public schools who are experiencing homelessness by at least 10%.

Goal 5: Safe and Nurturing Relationships

2025 Target: By 2025, reduce by 10% the rate of children in North Carolina who are substantiated victims of child abuse and maltreatment.

Goal 6: Permanent Families for Children in Foster Care

2025 Target: (Part 1) Reunification: By 2025, reduce the number of days it takes for a child in the foster care system to be reunified with his or her family, if appropriate.  (Part 2) Adoption: By 2025, reduce the number of days it takes for a child in the foster care system to be adopted, if reunification is not appropriate.

Goal 7: Social-Emotional Health and Resilience

2025 Target: By 2025, North Carolina will have a reliable, statewide measure of young children’s social-emotional health and resilience at the population level.

Goal 8: High-Quality Early Learning

2025 Target: (Part 1) By 2025, increase the percentage of income-eligible children enrolled in NC Pre-K statewide from 47% to 75%. (Part 2) By 2025, reduce the percent of family income spent on child care according to statewide price data and income thresholds adjusted by family size.

Goal 9: On Track for School Success

2025 Target: By 2025, increase the percentage of children across North Carolina who enter kindergarten at a level typical for their age group, according to the five domains of the NC DPI Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA).

Goal 10: Reading at Grade Level

2025 Target: By 2025, increase the percentage of children across the state achieving high levels of reading proficiency by both NC state end of year testing and national testing conducted through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Progress against the goals will be reported on a newly created Early Childhood Action Plan public dashboard. The NC Early Childhood Action Plan and the Executive Summary are available on the DHHS website. A recording of the early childhood summit is posted here.

The action plan is the beginning.

It’s up to all of us in each community to lean in and make a difference. Dr. Shonkoff summed it up well, “Build responsive relationships, reduce sources of stress, and strengthen core life skills.” The benchmarks are attainable if we all lean in. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and expand what works and apply innovative solutions to the hard challenges that may require some more customized approaches.