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Staff Analysis of the School Readiness Working Group Final Report

The following analysis sets forth the specific recommendations contained in the final report of the School Readiness Working Group, organized by the categories contained in the report. The staff comments that follow each section are intended to illuminate those recommendations, the deliberations that led to those recommendations, and/or important information that should be considered in evaluating those recommendations. 

Goals of the Working Group

The School Readiness Working Group, established and operated on behalf of the Joint Committee by the California Children and Families Commission, examined children holistically in order to build a system of early education services that families can use to capture their children's inherent desires to learn and achieve, and thereby create a foundation for successful lifelong learning. The Group pays particular attention to closing the achievement gap that affects many children across the state. 

The Group proposes 14 major recommendations for California's early childhood educational system - the first five concern establishing conditions that result in ready children and ready schools, recommendations six through eleven focus on establishing a high-quality early childhood education system, and recommendations twelve through fourteen describe essential conditions for establishing communities that are responsive to the needs of parents and families. For clarity, sub-recommendations are included under each major recommendation in this analysis. Those sub-recommendations variously provide expansion on the primary recommendation or constitute a strategic plan for implementing the recommendation.

Ready Children and Schools

  1. FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS: Fund high quality programs for all low-income infants and toddlers and enhance developmental screening in the earliest years of life. 
    1. Enact legislation to guarantee all low-income (or otherwise eligible) families access to subsidized, standards-based child development services. 
    2. Enact legislation that establishes accountability in the health care system for providing comprehensive and continuous health and developmental screening and assessment services for all children, beginning at birth. 
Staff comments

Noting that low-income children, who have the most to gain from quality care, are the least likely to experience it, the Working Group sought to address two problems: that good quality infant and toddler care is scarce; and that there is no systematic way to gauge children's health and developmental status. Costs of such a system would be high, even if phased in (starting with children in communities whose schools are in the lowest three deciles of achievement) as proposed. To partially offset these costs, can a feasible mechanism be developed to transfer resources from programs (such as health or prisons) whose service populations would be reduced by effective early care? Because many children, especially those in highly mobile families, are often under- and over-treated, the Group examined the use of technology to better maintain health records. The Group also proposes that data from comprehensive developmental assessments at ages 1, 3, and 5, including data bearing on issues of developmental delay and disabilities, be documented in a statewide data system. Such data would be enormously sensitive. How can the interests of parents to protect information about their children be balanced with the State's need for improved data to evaluate programs? Is there a risk of parents choosing to keep their children from assessment or treatment services to avoid perceived concerns about privacy? 

  1. FOR PRESCHOOLERS: For the two years leading up to kindergarten entry, provide universal access to formal preschool programs that offer group experiences, standards-based curricula, and individualized transition plans to kindergarten. 
    1. Enact legislation that phases in publicly funded universal preschool in a variety of settings for all three-and four-year olds whose parents choose to enroll them.
    2. Enact legislation that requires all public elementary schools and subsidized child development programs to create individualized readiness transition plans for preschoolers entering kindergarten.
    3. Enact legislation that requires the phasing in of dual-language learning for all young children in programs that receive public subsidies.
Staff Comment:
Again, universal preschool would be extremely costly to the state. The Legislature may wish to explore mechanisms to offset costs from programs whose service populations would be reduced by the implementation of effective preschool experiences. The recommendation to utilize the early brain development stage that is conducive to language acquisition to introduce dual-language learning is consistent with the Student Learning Working Group recommendation that all students be fluent in two languages by graduation from high school.
  1. FOR KINDERGARTENERS: Require kindergarten attendance for all children; phase in full-school-day kindergarten; and align preschool and kindergarten standards, curricula, and services. 
    1. Enact legislation to include kindergarten in the compulsory education system.
    2. Enact legislation to phase in full-school-day kindergarten for all California children, beginning in districts with schools with the lowest API scores.
    3. Enact legislation to direct the California Department of Education to require and support continuity between the standards and curricula for preschool and kindergarten.
Staff comments
The Working Group noted that 94 percent of children now voluntarily attend kindergarten but stated that, ultimately, all of California's children should have "a full-school-day-kindergarten experience." It is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of the six percent of children who do not attend kindergarten are being withheld by parents who are engaging in home schooling by their own definition. Also, many of the children accounted for in charter school kindergarten enrollment are actually being home schooled under the auspices of the charter schools in which they are enrolled. Assuming that the Legislature would be unwilling to attempt to compel home-schooling parents to actually send their children to school, it is possible that mandating kindergarten might result in very few additional children actually attending conventional school. 

Staff notes that in recent years, legislative attempts to make kindergarten attendance compulsory have failed. 

The vast majority of students in kindergarten currently attend partial-day programs. The costs associated with expanding these programs to full-time would be high. 

The Group concluded that there exists a significant discontinuity between the State's recently adopted pre-kindergarten guidelines and kindergarten academic content standards. Would the Group recommend that continuity be achieved by raising the pre-kindergarten, or lowering the kindergarten, expectations?

  1. FOR CHILDREN IN PRIMARY GRADES: Require "Ready Schools" plans to build on the gains that children have made during their early years. 
    1. Enact legislation that requires all schools to implement standards-based rich learning experiences and support services in kindergarten through the primary grades to preserve and extend the gains that children have made in preschool.
    2. Enact legislation that requires all public elementary schools to create, submit, and/or revise a "Ready Schools" plan.
Staff comments:
In these recommendations, the Working Group attempted to respond to research that documents a change in the developmental period of children that occurs between ages 8 and 9; thus, children in K-3 grades are in a developmental stage more closely aligned with that which children experience in preschool. This recommendation would be a mandate on local districts, resulting in cost to the state. Later in the report, the Group recommends that the California Department of Education be the single agency responsible for all components of early childhood education - including the development of these standards -- but does not address here or elsewhere how the Department would manage issues of compliance by districts to this mandate.
  1. FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES AND OTHER SPECIAL NEEDS: Establish accountability and mandate professional development to ensure effective placements of children in inclusive and appropriate early childhood education programs with suitable adult-child ratios for children with disabilities and other special needs.
    1. Enact legislation to establish accountability for effective placement of children with disabilities and other special needs in inclusive and appropriate early childhood education programs.
    2. Enact legislation that mandates professional development on educating children with disabilities and other special needs for educators who work with young children in publicly-funded settings.
    3. Enact legislation that establishes and funds appropriate adult-child ratios in mainstream settings that include children with significant disabilities.
Staff comments:
These recommendations reflect the Joint Committee's commitment that the Master Plan should apply to all students, and the principle that equitable education requires unequal resources.

High Quality Early Childhood Education System

  1. CHILD OUTCOMES AND PROGRAM PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: Require the use of child learning and development goals supported by individual learning plans and uniform program standards for all publicly funded licensed and license-exempt programs.
    1. Enact legislation that requires adoption of child learning and developmental goals from the California Department of Education's Desired Results, for children from birth to age five, and implement an assessment system for children ages three to five that assures appropriate usage of assessment instruments for instructional improvement and children's achievement.
    2. Enact legislation that requires individualized learning plans for all children in publicly-supported family child care homes, preschools, and kindergartens.
    3. Enact legislation that directs the California Department of Education to develop a uniform set of program standards, including appropriate adult-child ratios and grouping practices, for all subsidized licensed and license-exempt providers.
Staff comments
How is the development of individualized learning plans to be reconciled with prescribed state pre-kindergarten guidelines (and to prepare all children to be ready to learn in accordance with kindergarten standards)? 

Alternative Payment programs, which often purchase informal care for their clients, currently receive over $1 billion in State support. The Working Group recommended that all such providers should develop required individualized learning plans with the assistance of provider networks, coupled with training requirements and improved compensation. Will there be sufficient additional resources available, and will the Department sufficiently reconcile these various components, in a manner which ensures that the substantial new burden on these providers will not dissuade them from continued service delivery?

  1. STAFFING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Enact Omnibus Early Childhood Development legislation that raises standards for early childhood educators and funds a professional development system that prepares, supports, and guides the compensation of all adults who care for and educate children.
    1.   Require the California Department of Education to establish an integrated statewide professional development system to recruit, train, and credential qualified early childhood educators.
    2. Adopt more rigorous education requirements and standards of certification. 
    3. Establish an early childhood education compensation and benefits system comparable to the compensation system in public schools.
    4. Require 48 hours of paid professional development for all providers working in programs that receive public subsidies and who have not had formal training (including providers who are license-exempt). 
Staff comments
These recommendations respond to the fact that pre-kindergarten guidelines and kindergarten standards have risen significantly in recent years. Together, they would have the overall effect of converting preschool education for 3- and 4-year-olds to the prior operational status of kindergarten, with kindergarten ascending to the operational status of the primary grades. In addition, these recommendations would assign responsibility for establishing and maintaining credential standards for early childhood educators to the Department of Education, rather than to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which is assigned those functions for K-12 teachers. Is such a dichotomy appropriate for a cohesive system of education?
  1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Enact legislation to create an accountability system (including program evaluation) that ensures that public investments in early care and education result in improved school readiness and, over time, improved achievement. 
    1. Require the California Department of Education to collect and utilize data for early childhood program accountability.
    2. To ensure that programs are effective, require collection of accountability data every three years on student outcomes for three- and four-year old children in programs that receive public subsidies.
    3. Integrate statewide early childhood data collection with kindergarten through grade 12 data collection so that such data will be used to inform efforts to improve policy and practice.
Staff comments
These recommendations are consistent with those of other Working Groups as to the need for more comprehensive, consistent, and centralized data collection in all areas of education.
  1. GOVERNANCE: Combine all existing state and federal child care and development programs into one early education system under the California Department of Education. Devolve decision-making regarding planning and resource allocation to county superintendents of schools.
    1. Establish a Cabinet position with the title, Secretary of Education and Child Development, and reconfigure the California State Board of Education.
    2. Create two divisions within the California Department of Education, the division of Early Childhood and Primary Education (ECPE) serving children birth through grade three, and the division of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), serving students in grades four through twelve.
    3. Create an advisory committee for the Division of Early Childhood and Primary Education and an advisory committee for the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.
    4. Expand the role of the county superintendents of schools in the governance and fiscal oversight of early childhood education.
    5. Create a County Early Childhood Development Advisory Council (CECDAC) to advise the county superintendent regarding resource allocation, infrastructure development, and program and service accountability. 
Staff comments
The Working Group's recommendations for creation of a cabinet secretary and restructuring of the Department of Education are intended to elevate the policy status of early childhood education services to be co-equal with that of K-12 education. The Working Group stated in its report that its recommended Cabinet Secretary of Education and Child Development would "replace" the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction; this recommendation goes beyond that of the Governance Working Group. Further, it recommends that the Secretary have purview over Child Development as well as education; the committee may wish to note that while the prior Governor maintained an Office of Child Development and Education, the current Governor appointed a Secretary for Education only.

The Group also recommended a reconfiguration of the State Board of Education. The Governor currently appoints all members. Under the Group's recommendation, the Legislature would control four of nine appointments and would have a majority of the appointments to two advisory councils that would appoint an additional four board members.

Under current law and practice, county superintendents have limited "governance" authority relative to statewide programs. What is the specific intent of the Group regarding the "governance and fiscal oversight of early childhood education" by county superintendents?

  1. FINANCE: Develop and fund a per-child allocation model of financing early care and education sufficient to meet the new system's quality standards and organizational infrastructure requirements.
    1. Enact legislation that expands Proposition 98 to create a new guaranteed per-child state allocation for all three- and four-year olds to fund core universal preschool services. 
    2. Enact legislation to allocate additional funds for wraparound (before and after preschool) care and flexible support services for low-income families with three- and four-year olds attending universal preschool.
    3. Enact legislation that creates a state allocation that will be increased annually to become a guarantee over time, providing all low-income birth to three-year olds with early care and education services and flexible support services used at parents' discretion.
    4. Enact legislation that creates a state allocation for all children, birth to kindergarten, to fund school readiness services at local School Readiness Centers. 
    5. Enact legislation to create a Financing Task Force to calculate the per-child allocation needed to fund high-quality early education services and organizational infrastructure for low-income newborns to three-year olds, for universal preschool and wraparound care, and school readiness services for families with children, from birth to Kindergarten.
    6. F.  Enact legislation that consolidates under the Department of Education child care funds that currently flow through the Departments of Education and Social Services.
Staff comments
These recommendations, along with others in the Report, might have the effect of sweeping into the purview of a Master Plan for Education and the education system some issues that more appropriately belong in other arenas, such as health. In recent years, some non-education services have been removed from calculation and expenditure consideration of Proposition 98. 

What would be the most effective role of the education system (local schools in particular) with respect to service delivery in these other areas? What options exist for redirecting existing non-education revenue at the local level to partially cover the costs of wrap-around services? 

The Group proposes a per capita allocation of funding - versus ADA-type funding - while permitting voluntary participation in pre-school services, potentially creating substantial mismatches between fund allocation and demand.

Responsive Communities 

  1. FACILITIES: Improve the availability, quality, and maintenance of early education facilities.
    1. Enact legislation that will significantly increase the number of school facilities serving young children.
    2. Enact legislation that provides incentives to foster facility construction and development.
    3. Enact legislation that establishes design standards for subsidized early childhood facilities, appropriate to young children's development.
  1. SCHOOL READINESS CENTERS: Enact legislation that will allocate resources to establish a network of neighborhood-based School Readiness Centers that gives all families access to essential services to meet children's developmental needs.
    1. Enact legislation to ensure that every California child has access to a "health care home," including prenatal care.
    2. Enact legislation that funds a statewide health and development "passport" for every California child.
    3. To increase the number of children covered, enact legislation to expand Healthy Families for children and their families with incomes up to 300% of poverty.
Staff comment:
In considering this recommendation, as with #10 above, the committee may wish to consider the appropriate role of schools and the education system with respect to service delivery and oversight for these non-education services. 
  1. HEALTH CARE RESOURCES: Provide stable and continuous health care for children and pregnant women, develop a statewide system for issuing heath and development "passports," and expand insurance coverage.
    1. Enact legislation to ensure that every California child has access to a "health care home," including prenatal care.
    2. Enact legislation that funds a statewide health and development "passport" for every California child.
    3. To increase the number of children covered, enact legislation to expand Healthy Families for children and their families with incomes up to 300% of poverty.
  1. WORK AND FAMILY ENGAGEMENT: Provide incentives for paid family leave and employer/workplace family-friendly practices. 
    1. Enact legislation to create a paid family leave benefit that may be based on insurance models with contributions shared among employers, employees, and public funds.
    2. Enact legislation to provide incentives for employers to implement family-friendly policies geared to helping parents carry out their parental responsibilities.
Staff comments
The working group is silent on the maximum time limit for the family leave policy being recommended.