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April 2016 IDRA Newsletter – This month’s focus: Early Learning

We serve children best and most effectively when we reflect on the learning environments we create and structure them to support and respond to the characteristics of our little learners.” – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

Published 10 times a year, each edition explores issues facing U.S. education today and strategies to better serve every student. This newsletter is published in print and on the IDRA website, in addition to this eLetter format.

Three Signs that Your Pre-K Might Need a Make Over

Felix Montes, IDRA

by Felix Montes, Ph.D.

In 2011, the city of San Antonio took a decisive step forward toward universal preschool education. The city approved the Pre-K4SA plan, with the goal to improve the quality and quantity of prekindergarten education for all 4-year-olds in San Antonio. Based on research findings demonstrating that prekindergarten investment has the most impact on overall education outcomes for a community, then Mayor Julián Castro convened a taskforce that recommended the development of a high-quality prekindergarten program servicing many of the 5,700 4-year-old children who did not participate in full-day prekindergarten education in the city at that time (Posner, 2014; Lantigua-Williams, 2016).

As the Nobel Memorial Prize winner and expert in the economics of human development, James Heckman (2011) stated: “Traditionally, equity and efficiency are viewed as competing goals. One can be fair in devising a policy, but it often happens that what is fair is not economically efficient. Conversely, what is efficient may not be fair. What is remarkable is that there are some policies that both are fair – i.e., promote equity – and promote economic efficiency. Investing in the early years of disadvantaged children’s lives is one such policy.”

Cunha, et al., (2010) demonstrated early investment efficiency through an econometric analysis, conjecturing that it would raise the payoff from future investments. The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and IDRA produced a report that supported that conclusion locally (SAHCC, 2014). There is no question about the need and long-term effectiveness of investing in universal prekindergarten education.

The question now is one of quality. As an advocate for high-quality education for all children, IDRA is deeply concerned about this issue. This article offers some guidance in this regard, through three scenarios based on comments I heard in some of my classroom observations and teacher interviews. – Keep reading

Bilingual Early Childhood Education – Capitalizing on the Language and Culture of the Home and Introducing English

Berta A. Medrano, Consuelo Casas, Abby Gonzalez, PSJA ISD

by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., Consuelo Casas, Berta A. Medrano, Abby Gonzalez

School districts across the country are exploring ways to pull together resources to provide quality early childhood education to as many students as possible. Like many researchers, the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission has found, “Quality early education has an immediate impact on both the hard skills – language, numeracy, higher cognitive thinking – and the soft skills – social skills – that last a lifetime” (2010). And given the growing numbers of students who are learning English, the need for effective bilingual education is growing as well.

In this article, we showcase one school district that is making connections between young children learning to count on their fingers and young adults counting their course credits in college. Through IDRA’s work over the years providing professional development in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) school district in south Texas, and through our work with Comunitario PTAs in the area and with the Rio Grande Valley – Equal Voice Network, IDRA has a unique vantage point to observe the transformations that have occurred in the district. Some of this was profiled in IDRA’s report in 2014, College Bound and Determined (Bojorquez, 2014). – Keep reading

Technology in Early Childhood

IDRA Semillitas de Aprendizaje Teacher Guide (Manual de Maestro)

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from IDRA’s Semillitas de Aprendizaje Teacher Guide (Manual de Maestro). This teacher guide contains 10 units in 196 pages to support early childhood bilingual literacy development. It is designed to correspond to the set of 10 Semillitas de Aprendizaje bilingual Big Books and Storybooks, the Cartitas series (letters home) and the 15 books in the Preschool Math Set. More information is online http://www.semillitasdeaprendizaje.com.

As the 21st century advances, technology is becoming ingrained in the social fabric of our society. Computers have become more powerful tools and are being used by greater numbers of people. In order for the people of tomorrow to be able to use this technology they must be introduced to the technology today. Many agree that this introduction to technology, and particularly to computers, should take place in the school and at an early age.

In their book, The Computer as a Paintbrush, Janice Beaty & Hugh Tucker explain that teachers who are using computers in the preschool classroom give an “enthusiastic description of the learning and developmental benefits their children are deriving from their interaction with this unique learning tool” (1987). Certain terms crop up in teachers’ conversations like: social skills, problem-solving skills, new vocabulary, creativity and equal opportunity for disadvantaged students. Beaty & Tucker state, “Young children’s brains were naturally designed to absorb new ideas and relationships in the way that computer programs present them” (1987).

Some of the benefits of computer use by students include the following… – Keep reading

The Power of Possibility: How IDRA and Our Partners are Transforming Public Education – IDRA Annual Report Released

IDRA 2015 Annual Report

IDRA’s 2015 Annual Report, The Power of Possibility: How IDRA and Our Partners are Trans- forming Public Education highlights the ways in which 2015 was a pivotal year for children both in terms of progress and deepening disparities. It shows how IDRA and our partners are valuing children of all backgrounds by keeping a sharp focus on educational quality and equity. We are producing research and analyses that matter and putting in place effective programs, strategies, policies and solutions to secure public education that works for all children.

Our 2015 Annual Report is organized around IDRA’s empirically-based Quality Schools Action Framework, providing concrete examples of how IDRA’s work responds to the four guiding questions at the heart of the framework:  What is needed? How do we make change happen? What fundamentals must be secured? Where do we focus change? – Keep reading

Essential Approaches for Excellence & Sustainable School System Transformation – New Publication Showcases Strategies that Deepen School Improvement

ECCBN Journal

In a field where so many attempts at school reform are isolated, fragmented and short-lived, Essential Approaches for Excellence & Sustainable School System Transformation is a new resource for education leaders to build capacity for systemic change for equity and excellence for all students. The publication was developed by the Equity-Centered Capacity Building Network (ECCBN), a network of 11 expert organizations from across the country. The network was formed to unite their work to increase the impact of capacity-building approaches that promote deep and sustainable school and systems change. – Keep reading

Meet Felix Montes, IDRA Education Associate

Felix Montes, IDRA

This year, the IDRA Newsletter is highlighting our staff’s varied and diverse talents and backgrounds. Felix Montes, Ph.D., is an IDRA education associate. His story starts more than 3,000 miles away. He was born in Venezuela and grew up in one of its most southern cities, Ciudad Bolivar, close to the Amazon jungle, by the Orinoco River, one of the largest in South America. This closeness to the majesty of nature gave him a special perspective about the place and relationship we have with the universe. He also learned to appreciate the value of education very early. As a rebellious teen, he dropped out of school and spent a year in various occupations, including auto mechanics, brick laying and shoe repairing. He observed and experienced the kind of lives people in those jobs were living. Wanting other options, he went back to school, embraced reading and learning, and completed his education. As the current director of the IDRA Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, Dr. Montes empathizes deeply with the students the program is engaging because of this personal experience. As part of his commitment to public service and education, Dr. Montes was a member of the board of Project Learn to Read, and a guest speaker at the City of San Antonio Commission on Literacy to help policymakers improve adult literacy in the city. – Keep reading


Semillitas de Aprendizaje Storytelling & Storyreading Videos

Semillitas de Aprendizaje Storytelling & Storyreading Video Samples – Both storytelling and storyreading support learning in the classroom and provide different kinds of literacy experiences for students. This engaging DVD by IDRA contains the 10 Semillitas de Aprendizaje stories told in two styles: storyreading (in English) and storytelling (in Spanish).

Bilingual Early Childhood Education – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel talks the vital importance of quality bilingual early childhood education is a good investment in children and the larger community. [01:21]

Classnotes Podcasts on Early Learning

IDRA Classnotes Podcast

3 ELL Scaffolding Strategies – Episode 160

A School District Vision for Biliteracy – Episode 151

Civil Rights Update for English Learners – Episode 150

Geometry in Early Childhood – Episode 139

The Role of Bilingual Ed and ESL in Our Schools – Episode 138

Readers Theatre in Early Childhood Ed – Episode 134

IDRA Classnotes Podcast

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