Dec 12

State’s Pre-K Focus A Victory For EYI & The Future

We have great news for New York and Long Island.

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

New York State is taking bold new steps to create the infrastructure of support that all programs need to achieve high quality and produce the best outcomes for children. Much of what will happen next brings all the years of work and research of The Early Years Institute directly into the schools. 

This news is a wonderful holiday present for everyone who has supported EYI over the years.

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education, New York will see 1,725 new full-day Pre-K slots created and an additional 1,350 existing slots will be expanded to meet the definition of a full-day High-Quality Preschool Program. This grant will also strengthen our infrastructure of support and data collection statewide. Community coalitions will be created to help the pilot sites improve quality and offer services that address the whole child. I am very proud that two of the innovations that EYI brought to Long Island have been included for replication in this grant.

In a statement, Governor Cuomo said, “By expanding pre-kindergarten across the State we’re giving children the chance to learn from an even earlier age and raising the bar for how this country prepares its student for the future. Our administration is fundamentally reimagining New York’s schools with that in mind, and I am proud to have the federal government’s support in this endeavor.”

The U.S. Department of Education has committed $226,419,228 for this expansion of pre-K.  NYS was one of 13 states to receive a Pre-K Expansion grant. Three-quarters of the funding has been allocated for expansion grants.

Uniondale is one of five pilot sites, which were chosen for having the state’s highest percentage of unserved four-year olds. The other sites include two districts in Westchester, as well as Indian River (a rural district upstate) and a neighborhood in New York City.  Districts will receive $10,000 per child served in the new or expanded pre-K programs.

The innovations that will be supported and tested in each pilot site include QualitystarsNY and a process of examining pre-K through 3rd grade alignment.  All early childhood programs in the district will be asked to use the Common Metric, which makes it possible to compare findings from different assessment tools. Additionally, funds will be used to enhance the state’s Longitudinal Data System that will allow children to be tracked from pre-K through 12th grade on a range of measures. There is a special focus on reaching children with special needs and those for whom English is not the language spoken at home.

The Early Development Instrument (EDI) that The Early Years Institute has used to great effect in Westbury will also occur in the pilot sites. The community coalition that comes together to review the EDI data will then create the implementation of interventions to improve school readiness. In addition, EYI’s UPK School Leadership Project will be replicated in the pilot sites.This involves the creation of learning communities for principals, pre-K administrators and directors of community-based organizations (CBOs) contracting with the districts to offer pre-K, as well as professional development for teachers in both school-based and community-based pre-K programs. There will also be coaching to districts to help principals support continuous quality improvement.

What’s so important is that this funding is not just about new slots. It is about creating smarter, stronger children and a smarter, stronger America.

   Jun 19

Pre-K for All is not Enough

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Recently, Joan Lombardi spoke at a meeting at the Center for Children’s Initiatives on the state of early childhood. Joan was the first commissioner of the Child Care Bureau in the federal government, served in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, and has been an advisor to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, offering support to states and other countries on early childhood. In New York City this week, Joan expressed her gratitude for what Mayor De Blasio has done by focusing on pre-K. The rest of the country is talking about his bold moves and it is catalyzing other mayors to do the same. You can see in the chart below from a recent Gallup poll that Americans chose “access to high-quality preschool” as the third most important legislative priority for the U.S. Congress.  (Where two-thirds of all Americans find preschool an important issue, the figure is 83 percent for Democrats and 46 percent for Republicans.)

Pre-K for all Chart

This is all good, but it’s not enough. As Joan Lombardi emphasized, starting at 4 is too late. A full day of pre-K is not the full day that working parents need. She is also concerned that the focus on pre-K gets us away from comprehensive services. She believes we need a new vision that addresses “pre-natal to 8 that includes the family.” Her vision combines pre-K, 0-3 initiatives and community schools. And she agrees that community-wide initiatives, rather than programmatic initiatives are the best way to address the complex needs of children 0 to 8 and engage all segments of the community to play a role in the solutions young children and their families need.

Let’s revel in new funds for pre-K, but let’s not abandon the broader vision that addresses the whole child in the context of their learning environments at home, in child care programs, in schools and in the community.

   Jun 11


Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

So many people are suffering while Congress continues its dysfunction. As our systems fail us, we grasp at local straws to try to help those in need. In the case of immigration reform, we have a humanitarian crisis underway and only modest – and misguided – help is being provided by our government.

We do not just have a problem with people trying to cross our borders illegally, but an increasing number of these immigrants are unaccompanied children. According to a New York Times report, more than 47,000 children traveling without parents have been detained along our southwest borders so far this year. This is almost double the number from last year, with most of these children coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Federal officials predict that another 60,000 minors will try to cross the borders by the end of 2014.

While the Obama Administration acknowledges the need to provide comprehensive services to these children, they have decided first to provide $2 million in grants to nonprofit agencies which can enroll about 100 lawyers and paralegals to represent these children in the immigration court system. Are you kidding me? This is the first kind of intervention we make to traumatized children, many of whom are elementary school age?

I can’t help but recall a speech made by Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, a professor of human development at Cornell and my former mentor, about an international study he was doing in the 1970s. Dr. Bronfenbrenner was looking at how children were raised in the U.S., China and Russia. Remember this was during the Cold War. There are many similarities he found in family relationships and schools. However, there was one difference so stark and revealing, that he singled it out as one of the scariest developments in our modern age of child rearing: Reliance on lawyers to make family decisions. He showed that the ratio of attorneys to people was dramatically higher in the U.S. than in both China and Russia. Lawyers are making decisions about a child’s custody, health care, and education. Once embroiled in the legal system, children rarely find their way out – because of the lack of support services or therapies that accompany adjudication or incarceration. The U.S. is the only country to allow youth to spend time in solitary confinement. Research shows two-thirds of former teenage inmates who have committed suicide spent time in isolation.

Our treatment of children is often barbaric.  Seeing children who are scared and alone and then giving them a lawyer as the first source of support is a sad commentary on how we try to solve social and economic problems. Why can’t people look at this image and see that little feet can’t touch the floor? They need something so much more basic than legal advice.border kids

   May 28

The Advantages of Being Foreign-Born in the U.S.

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

New research cited in The New York Times (May 25, 2014) provides evidence that citizens who were born abroad have significant advantages over those of us born in the U.S.  Immigrants “will, on average, earn more than us native-borns, study further, marry at higher rates and divorce at lower rates, fall out of the work force less frequently and more easily dodge poverty.” The differences are most apparent in our poorest states where those born in the U.S. earn 84 cents for every $1 earned by a naturalized citizen. In the richest states, immigrants still have a margin, but only by 3 cents. The chart shows the status of foreign-born citizens compared to native-born citizens in the ten poorest and richest states in education, work and marriage.

foreign born chart

And guess what the analysts use to explain why those differences exist? Early childhood environments provided by family and community. The support system that gave these immigrants a sense of community and hope also enabled them to weather various struggles and challenges. In one sobering story, a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh was working in a mini-mart saving for his education when a local Texan shot him in a racially-motivated attack because of 9/11. Though blinded in one eye, the man from Bangladesh was able to climb from the mini-mart to a waiter to a six-figure I.T. job. When he began to understand the background of his attacker, he petitioned the court to spare his life because of the advantages the victim had. “The naturalized citizen claimed the native Texan hadn’t had the same shot at the American dream as the ‘foreigner’ he’d tried to kill.” Working at Olive Garden, he also saw how his co-workers didn’t have basic supports, like someone to give them a ride home and had stories of childhoods surrounded by drugs and gangs.

This reality was most evident at a conference I attended on Gang and Youth Violence Prevention held on February 25, 2014 at Hofstra University. The morning began with a panel of youth who had been in a gang and eventually incarcerated. It was clear as each one spoke that they all had the same story to tell. There was trouble at home – abuse, drinking, drugs, poverty, violence – and they sought solace in the streets. They all said the gang was their new family. They all experienced toxic shock – persistent negativity and the absence of one person to help or provide comfort.

Every person’s future – and our collective future as a society – depends on those early years. Even those who have grown up in abject poverty in another country, come to America with grit, resilience and a support system that helps them over the humps and onto the American dream. The data comparing native and foreign-born citizens clearly show that in America, we are not providing the essential ingredients for healthy growth and development and a chance at future success.

   May 15

How to Help Children Succeed Depends on Party and Race

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

We’ve been pursuing education reform for over thirty years. Though we keep trying new things, segments of the population disagree on which factors are more likely to help children succeed.  A College Board/National Journal/Next America Poll[1] finds general consensus on a list of solutions, but people differ on which are most important depending on party affiliation, race and generation.

As the table below shows (click to enlarge), “minorities are more likely than whites and Democrats more likely than Republicans to believe the eight possible interventions would be a ‘major factor’ in helping young people succeed.” The biggest differences lie in the areas of providing more health services for pregnant women and young children, providing more college aid, and expanding access to pre-K. Where 72 percent of minorities think that “expanding access to pre-K and other early childhood learning is a major factor in helping children succeed, only 54 percent of whites agree. Only 44 percent of Republicans believe that investing in more health services for pregnant women is a major factor in helping children succeed, while 72 percent of Democrats believe this is a major factor.

Not presented in the chart, the poll found that, as might be expected, younger respondents under 30 were most interested in increasing college aid, expanding vocational options and requiring more academically challenging middle-school and high school courses.  Only about 50 percent of older Americans expected major impact from expanding pre-K or health services for pregnant mothers and their children.

It is clear that advocating for investments in the years before children get to school will require different messages for our elected leaders in different political parties.  The racial disparity suggests that although minorities may be larger consumers of early childhood services, the strategy of pursuing universal access to services is critical for garnering needed support for greater investments in young children.



[1] The poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and surveyed 1,271 adults from March 18-29, 2014. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the entire sample and hire for racial subgroups.


   May 07

It’s Screen-Free Week!

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Since this is Screen-Free Week, I hope you have taken or plan to take the pledge to reduce screen time and do the same for young children in your life. (Click here to take the pledge.)  The past six weeks of blogs have focused on the extent of the problem for young children and the need for adults to pay more attention to how much and what children are watching on TV, computer screens and video games.  We have so many testimonials from parents who participated in Screen-Free Week in past years where they shared the joy they felt as they discovered games, conversations and time outside that improved their relationships with their children.

In case you haven’t taken the pledge yet, I am actually encouraging you to watch a screen for five minutes. Please click on the link below. If you have any doubts about the impact of screens in our lives, this video will make it abundantly – and beautifully – clear.

“Look Up” Video:

Enjoy this message – there are some good uses of screens – and consider taking the pledge!

   May 01

An Adult Lesson from Screen-Free Week

Intern, The Early Years Institute

Intern, The Early Years Institute

I recently volunteered at the Early Years Institute to help promote Screen-Free Week (SFW). I was happily surprised that I received this project because the more I read about SFW, the more aware I became of the effect of screens on people’s lives. SFW is not only good for children, but it can really help their parents as well.

Before I started reading about the effect of screens, I never really thought about them. I would have the TV on when I cleaned my house, did my homework or even when I spoke on the phone. As I started to read about SFW, I realized that the main goal wasn’t to do away with screens entirely, but rather to be aware of how we use them and not have them be the first choice of activity – so I turned off my TV.

I still needed to clean my room, do my homework and call people, but now that I don’t have the distraction of the television, I am actually getting more done. Having my eyes linger on the screen would distract me from the tasks at hand. Without the distraction of the TV, I am more focused. I must admit I was surprised to see the improvement in my temperament and productivity after I reduced screen usage. While children are susceptible to the negative effects of screens, adults are as well. Hopefully as adults we can recognize when we are distracted and learn how to cope with these distractions.

More importantly, once we recognize the impact on our adult lives, we can accept the powerful impact that screens have on children. For adults, we become more productive when we concentrate on one thing without the distraction of screens. For children, hours spent with screens prevent them from engaging in other activities that are more beneficial to their growth and development. Children need the opportunity to imagine and play on their own. This helps create problem solving and social skills that they will use throughout their lives. These skills will not form if the children are distracted or they are not interacting with their parents or other children.

Remember that Screen-Free Week is just one week to take stock and acknowledge the role of screens in the family. The goal is to create environments for people of all ages to engage in more meaningful interactions with each other and the world around them. This helps to promote a child’s development and gives adults more focused and balanced life.

   Apr 23

Get Organized for Screen-Free Week

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

The national host of Screen-Free Week is the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. You can Download your free Organizer’s Kit that gives lots of ideas for you to do at home, at school or in the community to raise awareness about the amount of time children are using screens instead of doing other things that are better for their health, social life, school success and family relationships. By promoting Screen-Free Week, you can reach out to friends and colleagues to help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.  Here are some ideas from the Organizer’s Kit to help you plan activities that are easy and rewarding (click image to enlarge).

Screen Free

   Apr 16

Parents as Gatekeepers to Nature

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

One of the biggest challenges to Screen-Free Week is finding alternatives to screens. Bringing out the board games and crafts is always fun, but the easiest destination with the biggest bang for the buck is to open the door and just go outside. Screen-Free Week is a great time to reconnect with nature and re-discover how time outside can be filled with wonder, exploration, imagination, exercise, fewer allergies, more conversation – and even greater school success.

According to a recent international survey by The Nature Conservancy, supported by Disney, 83 percent of U.S. parents accept the fact that time in nature leads to school improvement – in fact, it was the second most important influence after reading. Yet, 65 percent of U.S. parents of children ages 3 – 18 do not think their children are spending enough time outside. Parents expressed as much concern about children not going outside as they did about bullying, obesity and education. Stephanie Wear, a scientist for The Nature Conservancy commented, “This is really encouraging because it tells us that to parents, nature is not just ‘something to do’ but a crucial part of childhood.”

According to parents, preschoolers spend about 12 hours of each week outside, while teenagers over age 16 spend less than seven hours per week in nature. Parents from all countries surveyed want their children to spend more time outside than they currently do. Parents in the U.S., France and Hong Kong believe that homework is the biggest obstacle to older children spending more time outside, followed by the lure of technology. Only U.S. parents admitted that a primary obstacle to going outside is their children’s discomfort with being outdoors, e.g. too hot, too many bugs.

It’s fair to say, especially for younger children, that a major reason why they don’t spend more time outdoors is because parents or other adults don’t take them outdoors. According to The Nature Conservancy, we need to recognize parents as “the primary gatekeepers to nature.” Not surprisingly, the survey found that children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member. So, as we prepare for Screen-Free Week, it would be a good time to go on-line to the Nature Rocks Activity Finder which gives parents ideas on what to do outside, with kids of all ages and in all types of weather. Go to EYI’s Pick-a-Park website to search for one of the 700 parks on Long Island where you can enjoy these activities.

   Apr 09

Media for Children is not Black or White

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

Dana Friedman, Ed.D., President of EYI

As advocates of Screen-Free Week – coming May 5-11, 2014 – we strongly believe it is an important time to consider media in the lives of children. During this week, we ask parents to pause, and take an audit of screen use at home – when, how much, what is being watched, on what medium – for both themselves and their children. Then we want parents to establish some rules that put the time spent with screens in perspective with other activities that may be healthier for the child’s development and family relationships.

This year, however, we must add into the conversation a growing body of research suggesting that some media can benefit children “when those media are designed to be understood by young children, and used mindfully by the parents, teachers, and other caregivers around them.” Based on a report by Lisa Guernsey from the New America Foundation, studies have shown that both teachers and parents believe media can have a positive effect on children’s learning. Research also finds that there is little professional development for teachers on this subject and that parents are adrift in not knowing what media might be beneficial. Furthermore, many preschool programs and homes do not have access to the Internet to find appropriate learning opportunities.

The report proposed “five essential actions” that can improve the benefits of media and adapt to changing technologies:

  • Aim high – Policies and practices should set high expectations on the use of technology to improve learning.
  • Boost the workforce – Teachers, administrators and parents need more information about what media can be beneficial to children’s learning.
  • Tap hidden assets – Consider the contributions that libraries, pediatricians and public media can make in advising teachers and parents about appropriate media.
  • Connect to information and each other – Work on creating better connections for preschool programs and families so they have access to useful media for their children through the Internet.
  • Investigate – Continue to research what really works in improving children’s learning with screens.

What is clear is that we are moving towards an era where a better understanding of how children learn will be integrated into new technologies. It is no longer, NEVER use technology, but, rather, consider which games, apps and screens may be appropriate and of course, how much is appropriate, especially at home, in light of increased technology usage in schools. You can read up on this during Screen-Free Week, but don’t start using it until after May 11th!

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