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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead February 2, 2012

Money, guidelines dedicated to pre-school

In December 2011, the Department of Education awarded nine states a total of $500 million in Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants. The program's goals include "aligning and raising standards for existing early learning and development programs; improving training and support for the early learning workforce through evidence-based practices; and building robust evaluation systems that promote effective practices and programs to help parents make informed decisions," according to a department press release.

The Obama campaign pointed us to additional areas where the administration has been promoting preschool education. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill, funnelled an extra $2 billion into Head Start and Early Head Start, which serve preschoolers as well as pregnant women, infants and toddlers. The money served purposes such as upgrading classrooms, improving transportation programs and improving staff pay and training. The White House said in a press release that the money enabled the programs to serve an additional 61,000 children.

The Obama administration also announced new standards in November 2011 for low-performing Head Start grantees, requiring them to compete for funding.

"Under the new rules, programs that fall short of quality benchmarks will have to compete. We will put out a notice to all early education providers in their communities: If you can do better, you'll get the Head Start funding," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote on the White House blog.

We asked some outside groups for their evaluation of Obama"s work in promoting preschool.

W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said for the most part the changes have been positive.

"They have created an Office at the U.S. Department of Education, something that was greatly needed, and instituted re-competition for Head Start grants based on performance for the first time ever. Funding has been increased for Early Head Start and Head Start, and Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge is a substantive financial commitment in education, again with an emphasis on competition. So they have committed more resources, but they did not provide more money for business as usual--this is a pay for performance approach," Barnett wrote in an email.

But he questioned the selection of states that won the Early Learning Challenge grants.

"Whether the best states were selected for Race to the Top is another question, and there we are not so pleased," he wrote. "However, if the administration follows up and requires states to keep the promises they made to get the grants (as they are doing with the original Race to the Top) then perhaps it is wise to have some poor performers on board."

Obama has fulfilled his pledge to promote more preschool education both by dedicating substantial money in the form of state grants and by revising guidelines to improve quality. This warrants a Promise Kept.

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley November 13, 2009

Grant program promotes pre-school education

President Barack Obama has packed a number of his campaign promises related to education into his "Race to the Top" program, which seeks to encourage innovative approaches to teaching and learning by having states compete for $4.35 billion worth of grants from the Department of Education. The program was funded through the Obama-backed economic stimulus package approved by Congress in February.

The grant program lists six priorities, and the third is "Innovations for Improving Early Learning Outcomes."

According to an executive summary of the Race the the Top Program from the Department of Education, "The Secretary is particularly interested in applications that include practices, strategies, or programs to improve educational outcomes for high-need students who are young children (pre-kindergarten through third grade) by enhancing the quality of preschool programs. Of particular interest are proposals that support practices that improve school readiness (including social, emotional, and cognitive); and improve the transition between preschool and kindergarten."

That speaks directly to this Obama campaign promise.

Competition for the "Race to the Top" grants will be conducted in two rounds -- the first starting this month and the second in June of next year -- with winners announced in April and September 2010.

Still, President Obama has set up the framework to achieve this promise. And so we move it to In the Works.

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