Monthly Archives: April 2014

Early Educators Learn from Instant Replay

4972888631_30fff936ab_b--heraldpostEarly educators committed to improving the quality of child care can watch video replays as easily as sportscasters do with a new pilot program initiated by the state’s Department of Early Education and Care. As part of the Peer Assistance and Coaching program, online video-based services provided by Torsh Inc. make it easy to record and analyze classroom activity with specially trained coaches.

By wearing a microphone that transmits to a battery-operated rotating base, Torsh’s proprietary Talent program enables the teacher to use her own smartphone’s camera to film herself in the classroom. The video is immediately condensed and uploaded for viewing – but only by those selected by the teacher. Reviewers can annotate specific moments in the video. Using voice recognition technology, the video is also transcribed as text and indexed.

The Peer Assistance Program is part of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant, which Massachusetts and other states nationwide received in 2012 through a competitive application process. Race to the Top is an initiative to improve program quality through growth in all domains, as defined by the state’s Early Learning Standards. The Peer Assistance mentors, called Consultant Teachers, work one-on-one with educators. They have received intensive special training in teacher/child interaction and in coaching and continue to meet monthly for supervision with regional Educator and Provider Support (EPS) facilitators. This year’s pilot program is designed for just 30 early educators, five in each of the six EPS districts, who come from family day care and center-based facilities as well as out-of-school-time programs. The program pays for substitute time and educational resources for the teachers; Consultant Teachers receive an annual stipend. Trained class observers, who will compare child/educator interactions at the beginning and end of the year, do program evaluation.

According to Donna Jasak, the EPS facilitator for District 6 (Metro Boston), “All of the educators in Region 6 who are using it are loving the ability to capture video and then debrief with their coach at a time that’s convenient for them.” 

Using technology’s asynchronous capability is only one of the positive attributes of the program; being able to easily and instantly review video of their teaching has been revelatory for many of the teachers, who find themselves sensitized to attitude, use of language, facial expression, and other nuances that the video gives them a chance to critique. And when they prefer, they can opt not to share a particular video. Ultimately, in consultation with their mentors, this video-based strategy for quality improvement may fundamentally change their teaching.

Watch Me Thrive! Supports Healthy Child Development

To help parents and caregivers better identify the signposts of healthy child development, the federal government has just announced a new program, Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! The program, a multi-agency effort led by the Department of Health and Human Services, has developed materials that will increase caregivers’ awareness of established benchmarks and will prompt early intervention in the case of physical or cognitive delay.

In announcing the program, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius stressed the importance of early intervention as a community effort.  She pointed out that as many as one in four young children is at risk for developmental, behavioral, or social delay, and that early diagnosis and support are critical.

“Studies of developmental delays and disabilities have shown that intervention prior to kindergarten can have significant academic, social and economic benefits.” -Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of Health and Human Services.

To achieve its goal of universal screening, the initiative encourages early childhood experts to work with families to screen young children at regular intervals and provides useful resources, including a list of specific developmental milestones for ten intervals between birth and five.  These are sorted into four categories: social and emotional; language/communication/cognitive (learning, thinking, problem solving); and movement/physical development.  For each stage there is a check list accompanied by a list of warning signs and contact information for follow-up. There is also information about how to communicate with specialists and what to do while waiting for an appointment.

The materials developed for Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! are customized for the range of constituencies that the program plans to engage in the early childhood monitoring effort: early childhood specialists; families; primary care providers; communities; child welfare agencies; home visitors; behavioral health providers; and housing and homeless shelter providers.

Printable program materials are available online.

Racial Indicators Expose Huge Gaps

A new report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation surveys national data across twelve indicators of whether individuals are likely to become middle-class by middle age. Its extensive research supports the contention that there are significant – and often alarming – differences across race, ethnicity, and geographic region. Race for Results, released in late March, expresses concern that minorities do not have equal opportunity and the belief that better research “will help lead to evidence-based solutions that can improve the odds of success for children of color.”

The data indicators for each group and area of the nation include: the percentage of children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in a nursery school, preschool or kindergarten; eighth graders who scored at or above proficient in math; high school students graduating on time; females ages 15 to 19 who delay childbearing until adulthood; and children who live in two-parent families.


In the hope that the data will lead to improved policies and programs, the report constructs a rubric with a maximum of 1000 points, representing the cumulative scores of six distinct groups: African American (345 points), American Indian (387), Asian and Pacific Islander (776), Latino (404), and White (704).

The report highlights several significant disparities in economic and psychological supports for children’s healthy growth. Latino children are the least likely to live in a household where someone has at least a high school diploma (26 percent below the national average). African-American children are significantly less likely to live in two-parent families (46 percent below the national average), as are American Indian children (22 percent below the national average).

To differentiate among the economic neighborhoods in which children grow, Race for Results invokes a “prosperity grid” for areas that offer better schools, less crime, more accessible transportation and health care and a less toxic physical environment: “The inability of children of color to connect to this network through their neighborhoods clearly has significant consequences for their healthy development and well-being.” The percentage of those living in a low-poverty neighborhood (defined as fewer than 20% living at poverty level) is only 50% for African Americans, 51% for American Indians, and 57% for Latinos.

On the basis of the precise data, the Annie E. Casey Foundation proposes to customize initiatives to the populations that need them most. The report’s authors suggest that weighted funding models, also known as fair student funding, in which each student receives a student “weight” based on need, could be used to improve outcomes for children of color. It is now used by some school districts to support specific school populations such as English language learners, foster-care children, or poverty-level students.

 State-specific analysis across the twelve indicators reveals where minorities face the biggest barriers. Massachusetts’ ethnic groups are above the national average (facing fewer obstacles) for all groups except Latinos, who are slightly below.