early childhood education

"Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green?"

When a child asks you a question like this, you have a few options. You can shut her down with a "Just because." You can explain: "Red is for stop and green is for go." Or, you can turn the question back to her and help her figure out the answer with plenty of encouragement.

A new report, out today, provides 186 pages of answers to one of the toughest questions in education:

What does it take to get preschool right?

Parents and politicians alike want to know. States are spending roughly $7 billion this year on early childhood education, despite the fact that there are more cautionary tales — like this one from Tennessee — than success stories.

Poor mothers often spend way too much time hunched over a washboard. What if they could use those hours to curl up with their kids and read a book instead? A group of friends at Oxford University plans to find out by developing a combination childhood education and laundry services center, a concept they've dubbed a "Libromat."

AP Photo
S.C. Johnson Wax

Childcare costs in King County are among the highest in the nation, according to a recently-released analysis.

The report shows King County's costs are high even by the standards of Washington state, one of the ten least-affordable states for childcare. Someone earning the median income for single mothers in King County could sink more than half of her salary into the $17,300 average annual cost for infant childcare — a cost already $5,000 higher than the state average.

Eric Gay / AP Photo

Some children have never held a pencil or a pair of scissors when they start the year in teacher DaZanne Davis Porter's kindergarten class.

They enter her classroom at Seattle's Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary at the beginning of the year and "cannot recognize any letters, any colors, any numbers, any shapes," Davis Porter said. "By the end of the year, they are [expected] to be reading."

"When you're starting the journey behind," she asked, "do they ever catch up?"

Seth Wenig / AP Photo

The number of preschoolers enrolled in state-funded early childhood education programs is dropping nationally. A national study released Tuesday shows that Northwest states are holding steady in terms of overall enrollment but continue to rank near the bottom in some key areas.