Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

MinnPost's education reporting is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Early-ed gleanings: Pre-3 magic, what’s working — and what’s not

California equalizes school funding, and a program in Utah pays for early ed with “social impact” bonds issued by Goldman Sachs.

A ratio of one adult for three infants and one for five to seven preschoolers, plus good professional development and parental engagement among other things, closes the achievement gap.

Your Humble Blogger has been away at a conference. Specifically, an Education Writers Association seminar on early-childhood education held in New Orleans. I know — tough duty, right?

As penance, I was supposed to be writing a meaty news story for today’s Learning Curve on the flight home. Despite my best intentions, storms on the East Coast, canceled flights and a laissez faire attitude toward public Wi-Fi in the bayou suggest that the best thing to do is to deliver you an assortment of gleanings.

In no particular order, then:

• The state of Mississippi has a total of four education reporters. One of them works not for a local news outlet but for the Hechinger Report, a sometime MinnPost media partner headquartered at the Columbia University Teacher’s College. Think of the tax dollars being spent on education in Mississippi — and the human capital being developed or not — with little scrutiny.

Article continues after advertisement

• A rough estimate of attendees at the conference reveals another interesting trend in education reporting. About half of those in attendance worked either for MinnPost-like enterprises — nonprofits with intensive public-policy focuses — or for online efforts focused exclusively on education.

I asked one of the event’s coordinators about this. His best guess: Many education reporters remaining at traditional news outlets are focused, by design, on local and hyper-local news and not on trends or policy.

 Most of us are women.

 Survey says there is exactly one reporter in the country devoted full time to early childhood education. There’s another who is half time.

 Teach for America veterans aren’t just going into educational leadership and politics. They’re going into journalism.

• There is in fact something magical about the human brain before the age of 3. MRIs and other scans showing electrical activity bring this to light.

What lights up those scans? Words spoken face-to-face by an engaged caretaker, and optimally 30 million of them by age 5.

• The 30 Million Words Initiative was started by a cochlear-implant surgeon who realized that although she could give her patients the gift of hearing, in some of them crucial windows for brain development had closed. As a result, they did not recognize speech as communication. 

• Because it’s unfathomable that one would purposefully neglect a baby in the name of research, one of the most famous studies of what happens without those words was done in Romanian orphanages where children languished, barely tended to, for years.

Article continues after advertisement

The next time we flinch at investing in early ed around here we should strap our lawmakers down and force them to watch footage, Clockwork Orange-style, of toddlers who can’t hold their heads up or walk, and who are oblivious to the potential for comfort afford by another human being.

 In the state of Louisiana, to obtain a license to operate a child-care center one must be at least 18 and pass a criminal background check. If you are related to the children you are care for, there is no limit to the number you can look after at once.

 The Tulane University professor of psychiatry who evaluates early-ed programs trying to win a quality rating under Louisiana’s new system has to keep a poker face while watching caregivers interact with kids. She often has a good cry out in her car, though.

• Market wages for an early-childhood educator with a specialized bachelor’s or master’s degree in New Orleans: $36,000. Assistant teachers with associate’s degrees and classroom aides with certificates can expect $26,000 and $22,000, respectively.

• Those credentials may barely pay for the adults but they do great things for the kids. A ratio of one adult for three infants and one for five to seven preschoolers, plus good professional development and parental engagement among other things, closes the achievement gap.

 California not only essentially has equalized school funding — aka the ersatz Minnesota Miracle — it eliminated half its school funding categories so as to make “categorical funding” comprehensible to mere mortals.

 There’s a program in Utah that pays for early ed with “social impact” bonds [PDF] issued by Goldman Sachs. The investments are made in individual children. The bonds are to be repaid (with interest) in part with savings from a decrease in special-ed diagnoses.

 University of Minnesota rock stars whose ears should be burning: Art Rolnick, economist and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Carlson School of Management labor economist Aaron Sojourner.