Early Childhood

The Starting Line: Head Start disruptions, discipline revamps, and new dyslexia laws

Welcome to the May issue of The Starting Line!

It’s a busy time of year for early childhood news. Legislative sessions are ending, lawmakers are signing off on spending bills, and new governors are fleshing out their agendas. We have stories on state preschool expansion in Indiana and dreams of preschool expansion in Michigan.

We also have a look at the bureaucratic tangle that could disrupt Head Start services in New York City and a peek inside a Colorado school that used to give out dozens of suspensions to young students, but has since changed course.

Finally, scroll to the end for a roundup of 2019 legislation meant to better identify and serve children with dyslexia.

— Ann Schimke


HOW THEY DID IT A suburban Denver school used to hand out dozens of suspensions to early elementary students. Last year, it was down to one. Here’s how school leaders changed their approach to discipline.

PRE-K AMBITIONS Michigan’s governor pledged to establish free universal preschool for the state’s 4-year-olds by the end of her first term in 2022.

BIGGER FOOTPRINT Indiana will open up its pre-K voucher program to eligible families statewide — a key expansion of what had been a limited pilot program only available in 20 counties, including most of the state’s larger cities.

DEEP FREEZE Some Head Start providers in New York City have been told to stop enrolling new students in preschool slots funded through the federal program, sending an untold number of low-income families potentially scrambling to find care elsewhere.

PEER PRESSURE New research shows that a state-funded preschool program for low-income children in South Carolina helped boost elementary test scores even for students who weren’t part of the program.

BACKLASH State lawmakers lashed out at Tennessee education officials in April and asked them to hit pause on awarding millions of dollars in early childhood intervention grants after the state’s new process shut out many longtime local providers.

CHANGE OF PLANS The union representing thousands of pre-K teachers in New York City called off a planned strike after the city agreed to begin meeting next week with union and management representatives.

NOT ENOUGH Chicago is floating a plan that would allow gifted children to enter kindergarten early, but parents who’ve seen a draft proposal say it sets the bar too high for most children to qualify.


INCLUSIVE KIDS BOOKS Children’s literature is seeing a “seismic shift” in diversity as authors say they want to make sure children of color see themselves represented. The Guardian

AVOIDING AN UNDERCOUNT As California gears up for the census, state officials and advocates are trying to spread the word through preschools, doctor’s offices, and community centers to count the youngest state residents — infants and children under 5 years old. EdSource

FUNDING FIGHT A U.S. House subcommittee approved a 2020 appropriations bill with big boosts for education programs, including Head Start and child care. But Republicans are already throwing cold water on such spending increases. The 74

STARTUP HELP FOR A PRICE A crop of for-profit companies in California and Colorado aim to make it easier to launch home-based child care businesses, but not everybody likes the idea. Hechinger Report

ONLINE PRESCHOOL EXPANSION The maker of an online program that aims to prepare young children for kindergarten just won a massive grant and critics aren’t happy, according to EdSurge. Meanwhile the group’s CEO talked to Rick Hess about the program for Education Week.

NO HOLDING BACK A proposed law in Illinois would would limit kindergarten “red-shirting” by requiring children in the state to attend kindergarten if they are 5 on or before May 31. Education Week

WHO DOES IT HELP? A California proposal to expand full-day kindergarten would not likely benefit many low-income communities, where the greatest need is for more programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a new analysis. EdSource

MONEY FOR BABIES Ten states and the District of Columbia are receiving $100,000 grants to come up with ways to expand services to young children from the prenatal period to age 3. Education Week

Personal essays and Q&As

What does Montessori mean in the age of school choice? Researcher Mira Debs explains Chalkbeat

Why Do 4-Year-Olds Love Talking About Death? New York Times

Trying To Find Affordable Child Care Is Not The Job I Wanted Refinery 29

On dyslexia legislation …

Lawmakers in several states, including Georgia, Montana, and Colorado, passed legislation this year to improve services for students with dyslexia — a push driven by growing concerns about low rates of reading proficiency and advocacy by parents whose children struggle with reading.  

Georgia’s new law is the most sweeping, mandating dyslexia screening for every kindergartner and requiring future teachers to learn the latest research on dyslexia. But some advocates worry that disagreement within teacher preparation programs about the definition of dyslexia and the best ways to address it could limit the law’s impact.

Montana’s new law also requires school districts to screen for dyslexia between kindergarten and second grade. In Colorado, a push for dyslexia screenings for all struggling readers evolved into a more modest measure that creates a dyslexia working group and establishes a small pilot program on dyslexia assessments. Similarly, a bill awaiting the governor’s signature in North Dakota creates a pilot program for screening students with risk factors for dyslexia — also a watered down version of the original proposal.

In other dyslexia legislation, Arkansas lawmakers passed a bill this session requiring new state prison inmates to be assessed for reading ability and screened for dyslexia. (A new federal law includes a similar requirement, but advocates worry it will be hobbled by inadequate funding and other problems.)