Virtual Pre-K? General Assembly considers controversial proposal for NC experiment

Photo of Kenneth A. Dodge, the founding director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy April 18, 2019

Kenneth Dodge was quoted in NC Policy Watch about a controversial proposal recently introduced by North Carolina lawmakers that would offer state-funded online preschool for low-income families. In the article, Dodge says that North Carolina’s four-year-olds would be better served by more preschool seats than an online school.

“My hypothesis is that it would be a failure because the value in Pre-K is less about the skill-learning in reading and math and more about skill-learning in social-emotional domains such as self-regulation, turn-taking, cooperation, waiting in line, social problem-solving, relating to peers and adults, and the other behaviors involved in going to school,” states Dodge. “I think the state’s response to the shortage of preschool seats should be to increase the number of preschool seats.

NC Policy Watch »

BLOG: Leslie Babinski serves as Principal for a Day at Durham elementary school

April 15, 2019

I always knew school principals had a big job, but my recent stint as “Principal for a Day” made it very clear how complex and multifaceted even just a few hours of a principal’s life can be. Thanks to the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and their efforts to bring business and community leaders in schools together, I had the pleasure of shadowing Dr. Shaneeka Moore-Lawrence, principal of Bethesda Elementary School in Durham Public Schools, on her morning rounds.

Within the first 15 minutes, Dr. Moore-Lawrence handed me the school’s intercom speaker and the hand-crank tornado siren. My task was to first introduce myself as “Principal for the Day,” then announce the state-wide tornado drill – all while cranking an incredibly loud siren, which immediately halted all school activities.

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OPINION: Paid leave is about our families and our future

Man carrying his sleeping son. Newborn baby boy in his father's arms. April 11, 2019

In an op-ed on, Jeannine Sato, Communications Strategist at Duke OIT, writes about the need for paid family leave in North Carolina and references new Center research that examines the possibilities for instituting statewide paid family leave insurance in NC. “The Duke Center’s study shows that we can do better. Not only can North Carolina create a healthier environment for kids and families, we can do it for less than $2 per week per worker,” writes Sato. “I urge the General Assembly to seriously review the benefits a paid family leave program would provide to our state.” »

People Kill People. But the Bullets Seem to Matter.

Philip Cook, Duke University March 27, 2019

At the center of the debate about gun control lies the question of whether the availability of deadly weapons increases the seriousness of crime. Critics of gun control contend it doesn’t. As the popular bumper sticker argues: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

In a study published last year in JAMA Network Open, Center Faculty Fellow Phil Cook set out to test that slogan — and found the type of weapon matters.

In an interview with the New York Times, Cook shares about findings from the study, which examined the type of weapon used in every fatal and nonfatal shooting in Boston from 2010 to 2015. The study found that regardless of the time of day, the number of wounds or the circumstances of the crime — the size of the bullet affected which gunshot victims lived and which ones died

New York Times »

Research Into Police Probes Is Crucial, Ignored Part of Gun Violence Prevention

Philip Cook, Duke University March 25, 2019

“In the pursuit of evidence-based gun violence prevention, it only makes sense that the research incorporate the front-line capacity for preventing violence and determine how to make it more effective,” says Center Faculty Fellow Phil Cook in an op-ed in Youth Today. Cook explains the vital role of effective law enforcement in gun violence prevention and makes the case for why developing and evaluating police investigation methods should be a central aspect of the research agenda for preventing gun violence.

Youth Today » Juvenile Justice Information Exchange »

Paid Family Leave Insurance in North Carolina Would Improve Family Health and Economic Outcomes, Study Suggests

Man carrying his sleeping son. Newborn baby boy in his father's arms. March 13, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. – A paid family and medical leave insurance program in North Carolina would reduce infant mortality, nursing home costs and use of government assistance, according to a new report from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

Paid family leave insurance (PFLI) is a type of paid family leave that is publicly provided and operates statewide. PFLI programs allow employees—and sometimes employers—to pay an insurance premium and gain access to a fund from which they can draw for qualified leave purposes.

The programs aim to help workers balance both work and family, and are already established in California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Programs also are starting up in Massachusetts, Washington State and Washington, D.C. Statewide programs help workers who can’t afford to take advantage of the federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which requires employers to provide leave but does not require them to pay employees during their time off. In North Carolina, 64 percent of eligible working people cannot afford to take unpaid medical leave.

In the report, “Paid Family Leave in North Carolina: An Analysis of Costs and Benefits,” researchers model the costs, benefits and feasibility of two policy proposals for instituting a PFLI program in North Carolina.

“We analyzed two policy options to help North Carolinians see what different types of paid family leave programs might look like,” said Anna Gassman-Pines, a professor in the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and an associate director of the Center for Child and Family Policy. “The proposals vary in the length of leave and the dollar amount of the leave benefit.”

The proposals are based on existing policies in other states and recommendations from the bipartisan American Enterprise Institute (AEI)-Brookings Institution Project on Paid Family Leave.

Proposal A offers an eight-week paid leave with 55 percent wage replacement, while Proposal B offers a 12-week paid leave with 80 percent wage replacement. Proposal A includes a weekly benefit cap of $486, which is lower than other state-enacted policies and lower than the AEI-Brookings recommendation (about $600). Proposal B includes a weekly benefit cap of $875.

In both proposals, funding for the PFLI program would come only from employees and would allow employees paying into the fund to take leave for their own health, a new child, or taking care of an ill family member.

Proposal A Proposal B
Maximum Duration of Leave 8 weeks 12 weeks
Amount of Benefit 55% of wages up to max 80% of wages up to max
Maximum Weekly Benefit $486 $875
Wages on which premium is paid Up to $25,292 Up to $45,526
Waiting Period One week No waiting period
Eligibility Worked at least 80 hours in the last year

At least $1,560 total earnings in the last year

Worked at least 80 hours in the last year

At least $1,560 total earnings in the last year


In evaluating the proposals’ effects on families and society, researchers estimated that both options would reduce infant mortality, low birthweight, nursing home costs and the use of state government assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Under proposal B, researchers project 26 infant lives in North Carolina would be saved each year.

“The effect of PFLI on infant mortality is of particular significance for North Carolina, which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country,” said co-author Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat.

“Saving 26 infant lives would represent a three percent decline in infant mortality, reducing the North Carolina infant mortality rate to 7.1 per 1,000, from its current 7.3 per 1,000.”  Ananat is a Sanford School professor and a fellow with the Center for Child and Family Policy.

“Given the growing elderly population in North Carolina, we also looked at the potential effect of PFLI on nursing home usage and costs,” said Gassman-Pines.

Researchers estimated 205 individuals would be kept out of nursing home care each year, cutting costs by between $16.7 million and $18.6 million, depending on the room type occupied.

Previous studies have shown that PFLI reduces the likelihood that families will use TANF. In this report, researchers estimate a PFLI program would reduce the number of individuals receiving TANF by 956, saving $451,232 to $780,096 in North Carolina’s TANF costs annually.

For more information and findings from the study, access the full report here.



Experts say SC ‘Scared Straight’ program for troubled kids is child abuse

Photo of Kenneth A. Dodge, the founding director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy February 26, 2019

Child psychologist experts call ProjectSTORM, a Scared Straight jail program for at-risk children and teens in South Carolina, child abuse. A Rock Hill Herald photographer observed the program twice during the past year and shared video footage from those visits with six experts. After viewing footage of interactions between deputies and children, all six experts criticized the program and five called the treatment child abuse, including Ken Dodge.

In a video interview with The Charlotte Observer, Dodge says the Scared Straight-style approach is based on the mistaken assumption that delinquent behavior is a matter of choice. “It’s not a matter of choice. It’s a matter of skills, social competence to get through the day,” he said. “You don’t will that. You have to learn it.”

The Charlotte Observer »

In some NC counties, traditional schools are being squeezed by charters

January 31, 2019

Charter school enrollment in North Carolina has grown by more than 200 percent in the past 10 years. Today, there 109,389 students being served by charter schools, about 7.3 percent of the total public school population of 1.5 million. CCFP faculty fellow Helen Ladd has concerns about the growth in rural areas because of the burdens they place on school districts. She explains in NC Policy Watch that charters often leave traditional schools with students that are more challenging to educate. “They [charter schools] attract the ones who are less costly to educate and what that does is impose cost on the remaining traditional public schools,” says Ladd.


NC Policy Watch »

New study finds pre-k benefits endure through eighth grade

January 22, 2019

New research from the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy was featured on NBC Nightly News as part of a story about the benefits of Pre-K. In a newly released working paper, Kenneth Dodge, former director of the Center, Clara Muschkin, Helen “Sunny” Ladd and Yu Bai, share findings from their analyses, which show the benefits of Pre-K last longer than previously thought — through eighth grade and possibly even beyond. NBC Correspondent Kerry Sanders interviewed Dodge about these benefits during the episode, which aired January 20.



NBC Nightly News »

Benefits of Pre-K do not fade with age

Kindergarten teacher and children with hands raised in library January 14, 2019

New analyses from the Center for Child and Family Policy reveal that positive benefits of NC Pre-K and Smart Start do not fade with age. Ken Dodge writes in the News & Observer about findings from his recently released working paper, co-authored by Helen Ladd, Clara Muschkin, and Yu Bai, which show that the positive impacts of NC Pre-K and Smart Start continue through grades 6, 7, and 8 grades. By eighth grade, for children in counties with average funding, NC Pre-K has reduced the likelihood of placements into special education by over one third. Dodge writes, “To grow these benefits, state funding for these early childhood programs must grow and must be coupled with equally healthy funding for high-quality public schools.”

News & Observer »