Office of Science and Technology Policy Spotlights the Importance of Early Literacy

Editor’s Note: This guest blog was written by Child Care Aware of America staff member Michelle McCready. Michelle is our Director of Public Policy, a working mother to her young son, Aiden, and a dedicated advocate for child care policy.

Yesterday Child Care Aware of America joined the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy to highlight early literacy challenges and successes in communities across the country and share best practices and lessons learned. The word gap refers to children in low income communities starting school with 30 million less words  than their peers of higher socioeconomic status. The day consisted of advocates, led by Too Small to Fail, alongside top researchers and scientists, as well as federal and local policymakers, discussing the importance of creating a strong literacy foundation for all children.


This strong literacy foundation helps prepare students for kindergarten and  sets children up for better outcomes throughout their life. This foundation also supports a workforce needed to compete in the global economy and create a prosperous future for generations to come. In the first three years of life early language and rich literacy experiences are especially important. As research has proven, the brain undergoes its most dramatic development during this time as children acquire the ability to think, speak, learn, and reason. As a mother of a 19 month-old son, I get to witness this dramatic development every day. On our ride home from child care, I talk, read, and sing with him and see how his vocabulary is exponentially blossoming.

But it’s not just my son. On a typical day more than 11 million children under age 5 spend an average of 35 hours a week in the care of someone other than their mother. About one-quarter of these children are in multiple child care arrangements. In these settings, children are naturally communicating with their caregivers on what they think, feel and are experiencing. This “conversational duet” not only promotes language skills, but also critical thinking skills, and strong social and emotional development.

Speaking and honoring home language is also critical.  Children  need to have lots of fun and meaningful chances to talk, read, and pretend-write in their home language. Each of the opportunities to interact build skills that will help all children be prepared for a successful life.

Make sure to visit to get more information on how you and your child’s caregiver can best build your child’s early reading and writing skills. A call to your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency (CCR&R) can give you additional information about literacy resources.

Also, make sure to check out what some of our coalition partners are doing: Too Small to Fail’s Talk, Read, Sing Campaign And ZERO TO THREE’s new web portal, Beyond the Word Gap, which offers multimedia resources to help parents, professionals, and policymakers to support early language and literacy.


Dual Language Learning: Benefits and Practice

Peggy McLeod National Council of La Raza

Peggy McLeod
National Council of La Raza

This is Part II of a three-part  blog series with Peggy McLeod, deputy VP for education and workforce development with the National Council of La Raza.

Here Peggy discusses dual language learning and the benefits and implications for Latino children.

Lynette: Let’s set the foundation here: What does dual language learner (DLL) mean?

Peggy: For children ages birth to five, the term dual language learner is preferred as these children are in the process of acquiring their first language and also learning English as a second language. In K-12 education, the terms more commonly include English Learners (ELs) and Limited English Proficient (LEP). Dual language programs are designed to deliver instruction through both languages to language minority and language majority children with the goal of ensuring that all children become bilingual, biliterate, and develop cross-cultural competencies. Dual language programs are also known as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual programs.

“Children who know two languages often have higher levels of cognitive achievement than monolingual children and almost certainly will have a broader array of social and economic opportunities available to them as they become adults.” – U.S. Office of Head Start

Lynette: How do national and state policies on dual language learning affect Latino children in particular?

Peggy: There is a critical need for federal, state and local policies to address the need for linguistically and culturally appropriate curricular and instructional approaches for DLLs. In the last decade, research has emerged that suggests that a rich language environment, support for home language instruction coupled with English language development, expanded access to Pre-K programs, well designed parent engagement programs, and high quality teachers can improve learning opportunities and outcomes for DLL children.

The most fundamental element needed to support positive outcomes for children are high-quality teachers with the knowledge, skills and abilities to address the unique needs of children whose first language is not English.

The Center for Early Care and Education – Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL) recommends the federal government undertake large scale efforts to increase the supply of bilingual early education and early elementary bilingual/bicultural teachers. An equally important policy objective would be to promote efforts to prepare monolingual teachers and the language specialists who support them to work effectively with DLL children.

The federal government can continue to promote policies to support identification and promotion of evidenced-based practices in dual-language through programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, Title I, Early Childhood Race-to-the-Top, and the President’s proposed Early Learning Initiative/Preschool for All.

At the state level, the policy efforts have centered on efforts to implement early learning standards and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Most states have early learning standards for the express purpose of increasing program quality for preschool children and improving teacher professional preparation; yet with a few exceptions, these standards have not specifically addressed the needs of DLL children.

Lynette: How do early learning settings that embrace dual language even at the earliest settings, such as in child care, lead to long term success in school?

The benefits of high-quality dual language programs to children are starting to be better understood. In her review of recent evaluations on DLLs, ECE researcher, Linda Espinosa, reports that “a balanced dual language approach is an effective model for both DLL students and native English speakers”.

Espinosa argues that dual language instructional practices are one of the few instructional approaches that can fully close the achievement gap for DLL students while not showing any adverse effects for non-DLL students.

The CECER-DLL has released 10 briefs on the strategies for young bilinguals and on benefits of bilingual instruction. Among the benefits that they have found are: enhanced ability to control their attention while engaged in nonverbal and linguistics tasks, such as mathematical problem solving and use of vocabulary with meaning; better attention span and better able to focus, remember and make decisions.

Other researchers have pointed to the social emotional benefits for bilingual children such as maintaining strong ties with their entire family, culture, and community – all aspects of a child’s developing identity. Children who read in their home language have a stronger foundation from which to build as they learn a second language.

Read Part I of our Q&A with the National Council of La Raza
Stay tuned for Part III, Stories of Success.

Lynette is the Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of America.

Peggy is the Vice President for education and workforce development for the National Council of La Raza.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is an organization whose mission is to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. The largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, NCLR, has nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations, and touches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.


Q&A with the National Council of La Raza

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is an organization whose mission is to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. The  largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, NCLR, has nearly 300  affiliated community-based organizations, and touches millions of Hispanics each year in 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.  

Peggy McLeod National Council of La Raza

Peggy McLeod
National Council of La Raza

I recently spoke with NCLR about their perspective on child care and early learning for Latino children in the United States. In the spirit of National Hispanic Heritage Month, here is the first of a three-part blog Q&A  with Peggy McLeod, NCLR deputy VP for education and workforce development.

Lynette: Set the stage for us. What is the state of child care and early education for Latino children in America today?

Peggy: The positive benefits of preschool appear to be stronger for Latino children, especially for children from homes where English is not spoken. Consider this: In 1991, about 24 percent of 3 to 4-year-old Latino children were enrolled in preschool compared to 37 percent of White and 42 percent of African-American children. In 2005, those numbers rose to 53 percent for Latinos compared with 70 percent of White and 69 percent of African-American children.

However, new data from 2005-2009 show a decline to 48 percent for Latino enrollment while attendance rates remained steady for both African-American and White 4 year-olds. Further, the 2009 data also shows that Latino children are now less likely to attend preschool part day or full day than their White counterparts.

Lynette: To what do you attribute this decline and what  other environmental factors are at play here?

Peggy: The vast majority of Latino children are U.S.-born to Latino and Latino immigrant families from throughout Mexico and Latin America. These families are primarily Spanish-speaking, and approximately 40 percent of the children are “linguistically isolated” – that is, no one over the age of 13 speaks English in the home.

Latino children and adults are disproportionately affected by a variety of health conditions including obesity, diabetes, and asthma. Latinos are more likely to lack health insurance than any other group, with fully one-third not having regular form of health care. The Urban Institute found that children in immigrant families are more likely than other children to lack access to regular medical care and when coupled with poverty, inadequate health care plays an increasingly important role in the development of young Latino children and their readiness to enter the educational system ready to learn.

Lynette: Tell us about the effects of these factors on Latino children and their long-term education.

Peggy: Children from Latino and immigrant families experience economic and social stresses beyond those of the typically poor family that leave them far behind their peers in the area of education. This year, the National Center for Education Statistics reported the achievement gap between non-English Language Learners and English Language Learner students was 36 points at the 4th-grade level.

The early gaps in academic and social skills tend to persist through the school years and those who score poorly at kindergarten entry are likely to do less well in school. For Latino children to succeed academically, it is critical that their parents have access to resources and services that will ensure their children are ready at entry into kindergarten and successfully reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Next up, Part II of our Q&A with NCLR – “Dual Language Learning: Benefits and Practice”

Lynette is the Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of America.

Peggy is the Vice President for education and workforce development for the National Council of La Raza.