ChildsWork News, Jan. 9, 2012 – Important thoughts on Early/Special Education and Obesity
This morning, I read three great articles that I wanted to share with you. The first is fantastic news from researchers about the benefits of Head Start in early education, and, more importantly, parent/child relationships. With many districts and individuals (myself included) having a hard time making financial ends meet well enough to include preschool, the benefits of early education on more than academics complicates the argument. Perhaps more free programs such as Head Start need to be included in school budgets. However, in the same breath, budgets are already too tight to begin with, and the floundering economy is not helping. The second article focuses on changes being made to the federal interpretation of the law that sets limits for special education funding. A new ruling is allowing districts to lower funding levels without recourse, something unheard of in the years leading up to the Great Recession. After reading this, we are left wondering, in an era when budgets are harder and harder to draw up, where can we cut costs? Finally, there are the social aspects of schooling. As the New York Times reports, in the New Year the state of Georgia has taken a tough stand on childhood obesity. However, is their campaign taking the matter too far? Like the issue with special education, where do we draw a line? Should parents and obese children be held accountable for the results of overeating? What role will this move play in the efforts to combat the bullying of overweight children? Study: Head Start Programs May Increase Parents' Involvement Jackie Zubrzycki Guest blogging for Education Week’s Inside School Research Parents of children enrolled in Head Start programs spend more time reading, attending museums, and engaging in academic activities with their children, according to a December 2011 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Fathers who don't live with their children spend more time with children when the children have enrolled in Head Start, and continue to do so even after the children have left the program. Researchers Alexander M. Gelber and Adam Isen, both of the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the 2010 Head Start Impact Study, or HSIS, which gathered information about children and parents from 84 "nationally representative" Head Start programs. They compared the level of parent involvement—defined as "activities that parents undertake that require time or effort and directly involve their children"— for children who were selected to attend Head Start and a control group that applied to but was not randomly selected for the program. Control group members may or may not have attended other preschool or daycare programs; a small group of them attended Head Start programs that were excluded from the experimental group. The researchers find that while being enrolled in Head Start increases the number of hours a child spends in childcare away from parents, parents of these students actually spend more hours investing more deeply in their children and continue to do so after leaving Head Start. The parent-child activities that increased most are those that the researchers deem "most likely to impact child human capital directly," such as reading, math, and tracking their child's development. Interestingly, the study notes that children enrolled in higher-performing Head Start programs experience a greater increase in parent involvement. The researchers put out several hypotheses for the increase, ranging from the straightforward—Head Start encourages parents to volunteer and be engaged in children's development—to the more indirect—the free child care provided by Head Start might reduce parents' time and budget constraints. I was struck by the suggestion that the Head Start programs might make children "more pleasant to be with" and thus cause parents to want to spend more time with their children. The researchers also seem to like this explanation, saying that the data point to "parents' reaction to the impact of Head Start on child [cognitive and social] characteristics" causing the increase in parental engagement. The report leaves open the question of whether and how this increase in parent involvement actually affects children. Previous studies of Head Start participants have found that Head Start's effect on test scores fades over time, but that Head Start participants experience a slew of other benefits, including positive impacts on mortality and future schooling. The authors suggest that the increased parental involvement could potentially explain some of those other positive impacts. 'The Single Most Important Issue Facing Special Education Today'? From Nirvi Shah for Education Week’s On Special Education blog. Remember all the concern from last fall about how school districts were given more leeway about special education spending? Well, special education advocates haven't let up. In December, the Advocacy Institute and the Center for Law and Education reiterated their worries to the National Disability Council. They were reacting to a letter last June from the federal Department of Education that said if districts lower their special education spending for any reason, whether or not it's because of the exceptions built into the law, it's now permissible not to resume spending at the previously higher level. In the past, federal law was interpreted to mean that once a district set its special education budget, it could not be reduced permanently except for very specific reasons. The so-called maintenance-of-effort provision was built into special education spending rules to buffer students with disabilities from changes in services triggered by the ups and downs of public spending and politics. The shift, the advocates say, is a threat to the fundamental protections afforded to students with disabilities in federal law: a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. When combined with other budget issues—including the spike in federal funding for education spending because of the economic stimulus act that prompted districts to reduce their special education budgets—the budget woes "seem destined to converge to form the single most important issue facing special education today," they wrote to the National Council on Disability. Districts, however, may have a different perspective on new special education budget flexibility. The Advocacy Institute and Center for Law and Education want the department to rescind their interpretation of federal special education spending rules. They are hoping the Council, which advises the president and Congress, will advocate for the same thing [caption id="attachment_867" align="alignleft" width="208" caption="© strong4life.com"][/caption] Georgia's Tough Anti-Childhood Obesity Campaign KJ Del’Antonia writing for The New York Times’ “Adventures in Parenting” The blogosphere hates Georgia’s tough new “Strong4Life” anti-childhood obesity campaign. Short ads or billboards, each featuring an obese child (the youngest looks to be about 9, the oldest a teenager), tell Georgia to “stop sugar-coating” the problem. “Fat kids become fat adults,” reads the slogan under what looks to be the youngest child, a little girl who can be seen in a brief video saying she hates to go to school, where kids make fun of her. Another ad, under a young boy, reads “Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.” The Obesity Action Coalition wrote the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance, which introduced the campaign, saying that the “messaging of the campaign is purely fuel for the fires that represent the nonstop onslaught of teasing and bullying that America’s children, affected by childhood obesity, face daily.” Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams asks “Why is Georgia Shaming Fat Children?” Experts tell the New York Daily News that “blaming the victim rarely helps,” and argue that the campaign isn’t constructive — it denounces the problem without offering a solution. But are the ads themselves a problem, or do they reflect a problem — one that gets plenty of media attention, but is rarely addressed head-on? “I think it’s really brave to talk about the elephant in the room,” Maya Walters, a teenager with high blood pressure who appeared in one of the ads, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s very provocative and makes people uncomfortable, but it’s when people are uncomfortable that change comes.” For all the complaints about the simplistic nature of the “wake-up call” in the ads, they’re not without a constructive element. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (which co-founded Strong4Life) offers a year-long clinic for overweight children, and has also trained more than 600 metropolitan Atlanta pediatricians on working with families whose children are overweight. For those who see the ads and seek help, help may be there (assuming these programs are adequately funded, or families are well-insured). The big question is whether the ads will push parents and children toward help, or toward denial. I admire the courage of the children and families who participated in the campaign (although I can’t help but question whether the children fully understood what becoming a literal “poster child” for obesity would mean). And the campaign works, at least it did on me — at least one spot brought me close to tears. Anything less would have been less effective. The problems that obese children face, from hypertension to bullying, won’t be lessened by ignoring them. I suspect the children who posed know that better than the adults who created the ads. With the help of those kids, Strong4Life has put faces on the “issue” and made finding solutions — individually and collectively — even more pressing. I appreciate strong talk and blunt words for a problem that needs both. Do you?