Children’s experiences during the first few years of life shape the architecture of the brain. The developing brain can be compromised by exposure to toxic stress—unrelenting stress from repeated abuse, chronic neglect, severe maternal depression, parental substance abuse, etc. that occurs with or without the added burden of poverty. The wear and tear of toxic stress can contribute to a lifetime of impairments in physical and mental health, learning, and behavior. Children’s stress levels can be buffered and brought back to baseline by relationships with caring, responsive parents and high-quality providers of early care and education. Influencing a baby’s brain early in life is easier than reviving it later, and less expensive than the subsequent costs of remedial education, clinical treatment, public assistance, incarceration, and so forth. How can cutting-edge research on early brain development inform state policy decisions on issues ranging from child care to foster care, from education to workforce preparation? What role can public policy play in ensuring Wisconsin’s children get off to a good start in life?
Seminars on Education / Early Childhood Development
Young people have been hit harder by unemployment than any other age group in the current recession. Unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds has doubled over the past decade, with low-income, minority teens especially hard hit. For decades, efforts have been made to reform K-12 education, promote college enrollment, and enhance work-based learning. Yet academic achievement and college graduation rates have failed to improve. Many U.S. employers still complain that today’s young adults do not have what it takes to succeed in the 21st century labor market. This seminar will present cutting-edge research on the most effective, evidence-based strategies for preparing our youth for success in the workforce. Two approaches will be featured that have some of the strongest evidence of improving life chances for youth—investments in early childhood education and Career Academies for making high school more engaging and career-relevant. Working together, youth, families, schools, employers, and policymakers can help ensure today’s generation of youth do not get left behind in the global economy.
In July, Wisconsin’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.8% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, some workers have been hit harder than others. Nationally, compared to all workers over age 20, unemployment rates are four times higher among displaced workers (those who lost jobs because plants closed or moved, their position/shift was eliminated, or work dropped off; Center for Labor Market Studies, 2011). The percent of teens and young adults who are working is now at the lowest level since the end of the Great Depression (Harvard, 2011). However, high unemployment is not due entirely to lack of jobs, but also to the difficulty employers face in finding talent to fill vacancies. Families are key to producing the human talent that businesses require to remain competitive and innovative. This human talent is essential for efforts to attract and expand businesses in Wisconsin, so workers are prepared to step into these new jobs. What evidence-based programs will equip workers with the skills to meet current labor force needs and help businesses be more productive?
In the U.S., the recession is over, but employment continues to fall, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Between December 2007 and August 2009, Wisconsin lost 138,900 jobs, which is almost equal to the number of working-aged adults in Madison. According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, the state’s unemployment rate has already doubled from a year ago, and further drops in state employment are likely before a rebound occurs. In the next year or two, 21% of leading Wisconsin CEOs plan to expand in the state, with 52% planning to expand in another state or country. What workforce strategies can attract and retain employers in Wisconsin? What job opportunities are emerging in the clean energy industry? How can Wisconsin ensure the economic future of its workforce and its families?
The economy may be undergoing one of the most fundamental transformations in history. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, Wisconsin ranks low compared to other states in new business creations and venture capital per worker. Wisconsin has seen plants close, jobs lost, and per capita personal income steadily decline. In 2006, per capita personal income in the state was 5.9% below the U.S. average—the lowest level since the late 1980s. As the economy has changed, what is the role of state policy in responding to these changes? Are there evidence-based polices that can strengthen the state economy?
Wisconsin’s school funding formula has been designed to ensure that all school districts, regardless of property tax base, have roughly equitable amounts to spend on education. Yet recent court cases and the increased level of education spending have prompted legislators to shift the school finance debate from a focus on equity per pupil spending to a focus on outcomes such as educational performance. This seminar overviews state initiatives to achieve adequacy in school funding, and identifies questions legislators can ask to evaluate school funding formulas. Also learn about innovative strategies to enhance student achievement outside of the classroom setting, such as early childhood care, out-of-school time, and parent involvement in schooling.
In recent polls, Americans believe parents are primarily responsible for child rearing. Yet Americans also believe that government should support parents in raising the next generation, and in ensuring that child care is of high quality, healthy, and educational. This seminar features the latest research on whether quality of child care matters. Also learn about what steps Wisconsin and other states have taken to improve the quality of early childhood care and education, while still recognizing the primary role of parents.
Many forms of childhood damage are more prevalent among the poor. Leading experts discuss three policy responses: how other states are supporting children and families while promoting self-sufficiency; the track record of the earned income tax credit in raising low-income working families out of poverty; and the effectiveness of early interventions based on one of the country’s best evaluated childhood education programs.
Given society’s expectation that students graduate from high school and employers’ demands for a qualified labor force, we are increasingly expecting more of our educational system. Despite modest improvements in educational achievement over the last decade, the need for more students to acquire a higher level of knowledge and skill remains. This seminar overviews what we know about improving student achievement and discusses three policy alternatives: change in the school aid formula, strategies for involving families and communities in school reform, and ways of improving teacher practice.