The Famous “Word Gap” Affects the Young and Many Educators, Too

If you work in early childhood, chances are you have heard the term “word gap.” The term was first established in the 1995 Hart/Risley study, which discovered that low-income children are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their high-income peers before the age of three. The Hart/Risley study and others have found a connection between poor early literacy skills and lifetime educational, societal and income inequalities. Word gap initiatives predominantly focus on targeting low-income parents to assist them with understanding the effect they have on their children’s intellectual growth.

A recent article in the Washington Post argues that the “word gap” phenomenon plays out with early childhood educators too. Although parents and caregivers serve as a child’s first teacher, early childhood educators play a significant role in the growth and development of a child’s early literacy skills. There are several million children today that spend a great amount of time in early education settings. This study has shown that low-income children can spend more hours a week in child care than with their parents.

The Washington Post article states that as many as one million state-licensed and nationally-credentialed early childhood educators are at-risk for functional illiteracy across the country. This means that their reading and writing skills are insufficient to handle the daily living and employment duties that necessitate reading skills beyond the basic level that they know. If true, this would likely surprise many Americans.

The article argues that we are missing an important step to achieving our goal to close the word gap. In order for us to close the word gap for low-income children, we must first focus on closing the gap for functionally illiterate early childhood educators. This means that we must increase and, perhaps, update professional development approaches to ensure we utilize adult literacy testing that measures and improves low-literacy in early childhood educators. This important step will help close the achievement and opportunity gaps for educators and the children in their care.

We want to hear your thoughts.  Have you experienced the word gap with your colleagues or, if you are a caregiver, with your early education teachers? Early childhood educators have one of the most difficult jobs and need support. How can we better support our educators?

Click here to be redirected to The Washington Post to fully read “The Famous “Word Gap” Doesn’t Hurt Only the Young. It Affects Many Educators, Too” article.


Fareed Zakaria on the Importance of Early Childhood


Fareed Zakaria dedicated his February 7th What in the World segment to the importance of quality early childhood care and education. In the segment, titled: "What in the World? Obama's preschool proposal" Zakaria addresses The United States' failure to properly invest in early childhood and Obama's newest proposals. He also gives an overview of research in the field, including the Perry Preschool Project and the global statistics that show America's shortcomings in this area.

Watch the Video on

City Announces New, Unified Pre-K Application Process

Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Department of Education Chief Strategy Officer Josh Wallack have teamed up to announce a strategy that will modify the pre-K application process for 2015. Last year, parents were asked to apply to district and community-based pre-K programs separately which caused confusion around application type and deadlines.

Last Thursday, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that this year, parents will be able to apply to pre-K programs within district schools and in community organizations using ONE application with a single deadline. This change arrives as the city prepares to add another 17,000 full-day pre-K seats this fall. Click here to visit Chalkbeat New York’s website to learn more about this new practice.

How to Support Children’s Approaches to Learning? Play with Them!

As parents, we want our children to be successful in school. But children are developing the skills to become good students long before they even get to kindergarten or elementary school. What if we told you that you can help your child’s academic future by playing with them? It’s true because play and learning go together!

The kind of play that helps children learn the best is play where they are entirely engaged – play that they are willing to stick with even when challenges present themselves. This kind of play helps children develop an approach to learning that will stay with them. Children develop all kinds of skills through activities involving curiosity, initiative, problem solving, and determination just to name a few.

Click here to read NAEYC’s full article on how to support children's approaches to learning.

President Obama Announces New Child Care Proposal

Last week President Obama released a significant proposal that, if adopted,  will help more families afford quality child care. By 2025, the proposal will provide support to 1 million more children; totaling 2.6 million children that can be served each month. The proposal is designed to improve access to child care, providing children with a safe and stimulating learning environment. This proposal will also assist parents in participating in the Workforce Career Center – where they can inquire about job opportunities throughout New York City and seek expert advice for employment.

Click here to view NAEYC’s full story on the President’s proposal.

Supporting Children’s Language and Literacy and Disciplinary Skills


Sherry Cleary, CUNY

Last week Thursday, January 15th, the City University of New York (CUNY) and the NYC Department of Education hosted our second Principals’ Institute session. This session concentrated on Supporting Children's Language and Literacy and Disciplinary Skills, where we discussed how leaders can support teachers to infuse literacy and disciplinary skills – through age-appropriate activities and interdisciplinary studies – into the learning life of the classroom. We learned so much from our speakers Susan Neuman and Sherry Clearly – CUNY, thank you for sharing your early education practices throughout the years with us all.


Susan Neuman, NYU

Registration is now open for Session 3: Creating Community in and with Early Childhood Classrooms – Building Strong School and Family Partnerships – Monday, March 23rd, 2015. Click here to RSVP

Download the flyer for full schedule and session descriptions.

Teaching the Way Young Children Learn

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Last Friday, December 19th, we kicked off our Principals' Institute, hosted by the City University of New York (CUNY) and the NYC Department of Education. Our first session focused on Teaching the Way Children Learn, which discussed the research base for how young children learn and what leaders can do to support teaching in ways that build on the active nature of young children's learning. We heard from Beverly Falk – CUNY, Suzanne Carothers – NYU, and Sherry Clearly – CUNY.

The Principals' Institute is a three session workshop designed for principals and focuses on how school leaders can build systems and create infrastructures that support early child development and successful pre-K classroom practice. Children are taught in the ways that are most effective for them to learn. Families are seen as part of the solution. And Principals provide vision, leadership, and supervision. Information from recent cross-disciplinary research about the early years as well as exemplary practices from experienced early childhood educators informs each session.

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Registration is now open for Session 2: Supporting Children’s Language and Literacy and Disciplinary Skills – Thursday, January 15th, 2015. Click here to RSVP.

Download the flyer for full schedule and session descriptions.

A friendly reminder that registration for the remaining sessions is limited to principals.



Equity and Excellence in the Earliest Years, from Administration for Children & Families

Equity and Excellence in the Earliest Years: Action on Expulsion and Suspension in Early Childhood Settings

By Shantel Meek, PhD, Policy Advisor for Early Childhood Development

Psychologists, neuroscientists and economists alike agree: The beginning years of any child’s life are critical for building the early foundation of health and wellness needed for success in school and later in life. As a community, we hold the responsibility of ensuring that children’s earliest experiences always foster- and never harm- their development, particularly during this highly sensitive and formative period.

But what happens when 3- and 4- year olds go through the negative and stressful experience of being expelled from preschool? Recent data indicate that expulsions and suspensions occur at high rates in preschool settings, by some estimates, at even higher rates than in K12 school settings, an alarming statistic given that school expulsion and suspension are associated with negative educational and life outcomes, according to a well-established body of research. In addition, stark racial and gender disparities exist in these practices, with young boys of color being suspended and expelled much more frequently than other children. These troubling trends warrant immediate attention and partnership between researchers, clinicians, teachers, families, and policy makers at all levels.

Last week, the President and his Administration hosted the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together federal, state, and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, and advocates to highlight efforts across the country to expand access to high-quality early learning programs for our youngest learners. The Summit signaled collective action across sectors, and across America, in a variety of areas in early childhood education.

The day included a robust breakout session on equity and excellence in the earliest years, which discussed issues of expulsion and suspension policies, racial disparities, culturally and linguistically responsive practices, social-emotional and behavioral health, and enhancing preparation and development of the early childhood workforce. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education announced the release of a joint policy statement on expulsion and suspension practices in early learning settings, complete with a set of recommendations that if implemented, may help make headway on the issue.

The recommendations include:

  • Developing and clearly communicating preventive guidance and discipline practices
  • Developing and clearly communicating expulsion and suspension policies and implementing those policies uniformly and without bias
  • Investing and continuously growing the skills of the early childhood workforce focusing on children’s social-emotional and behavioral health, strengthening partnerships with families, employing strategies to prevent and correct implicit or explicit biases, and conducting universal developmental and behavioral screening and appropriate follow-up
  • Setting goals and analyzing trends in data to assess progress in reducing expulsion and suspensions
  • Making use of free resources to enhance staff training and strengthen family partnerships

In addition, HHS announced over $4 million in investments to support preventive and intervention practices, including early childhood mental health consultation, a capacity-building practice for early learning teachers and families, with demonstrated effectiveness in reducing and preventing expulsions and suspensions.

Partners outside government also made several key commitments in this space. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that they will release a policy statement on evidence-based early childhood social-emotional interventions, which will mobilize pediatricians around the country to strengthen the social-emotional and behavioral health of our youngest children. The Irving Harris Foundation announced a $3.5 million commitment to extend new support to the 15 U.S. based programs in the Harris Professional Development Network, a network of 18 early childhood and infant mental health leadership sites located in 10 States, DC, and Israel. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committed $11 million, in part, to support the integration of child development, social and emotional skills building, and health supports within early care and education settings, at the national and local level.

Combined, these policy statements and investments will help bring us closer to eliminating expulsion and suspension practices in early childhood programs, but they will not get us all the way there. They are a first set of steps. To fully address these issues we need more longitudinal research to inform and strengthen intervention; we need policymakers at every level to step up and establish fair policies and make strong investments to enhance the quality of early learning programs; and we need stronger partnerships between early childhood programs, families, and the communities in which they live, including with pediatricians, mental health professionals, and education leaders.

The truest test of our economic and social longevity as a nation lies in the foundation that we set in our youngest children. We cannot afford- morally or financially- to exclude children from the high quality early learning experiences we know set them and our country up for success and a bright future. This issue warrants an all-hands-on-deck approach. Let’s get to work.

This blog post may be found on The Family Room section of the ACF website: View Link Here

thumb-Karin Alnervik Poster 2014_09_23

Upcoming Event: From Italy to Sweden to New York City

 What: From Italy to Sweden to New York City: Pedagogical documentation as a tool for transformation

Where: Brooklyn New School auditorium at
610 Henry Street
When: Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Who: Featured Speaker, Karin Alnervik

free childcare is provided with R.S.V.P.
Contact for more information.