On the Heels of the State of the Union Address, a Bipartisan Push for Early Learning

On the Heels of the State of the Union Address, a Bipartisan Push for Early Learning In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.

This quote from President Obama’s State of the Union address got us excited. Like the President, we know that the early childhood years are a critical time in each student’s academic journey.

Expanded federal-state collaboration was a key aspect of the proposed early learning plan. Here are two highlights from a recent White House policy update:

Providing High-Quality Preschool for Every Child: The President called for a new federal-state partnership (and cost-sharing model) to help close America’s school readiness gap. Specifically, he advocated for the need to 1) provide high-quality preschool education to low and moderate income four-year olds, 2) expand these programs to reach additional children from middle class families and 3) incentivize full-day kindergarten programs.

Growing the Supply of Effective Early Learning Opportunities for Young Children: To expand high-quality early learning opportunities before preschool, the President proposed a significant investment in a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership. Competitive grants will support communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care providers that can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers, serving children from birth through age 3.

The President’s ‘cradle-to-career’ plan is certainly one that parents and educators can get behind, but it will cost money – money that is hard to come by in today’s economic climate. The good news is that there is already a sign of bipartisan support for the core tenets of the plan.

Just last week, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced the bipartisan Continuum of Learning Act to help children transition from Pre-Kindergarten to elementary school. According to Congressman Polis’ website, this act was developed with input from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). The bill is also endorsed by the National Head Start Association and the First Five Years Fund, among others. You can view a fact sheet about the bill here.

According to the Congressman Polis’ synopsis, the aims of the Continuum of Learning Act are to:

– Help states improve early leaning guidelines for preschool-age children and early learning standards for children in Kindergarten – 3rd grade

– Ensure that early learning guidelines and standards are developmentally appropriate and cover all domains of child development and learning

– Encourage local educational agencies and elementary schools to use school improvement funds to offer early childhood education programs from birth to school entry, as well as to assist schools, teachers and program coordinators to prepare them for early childhood education

– Promote professional development activities to include training in early child development and learning and provide joint training for elementary school staff and early childhood education program staff

So what are the next steps? In the coming weeks, we expect to see a lot more dialogue, good ideas at the state and local level, and a lot of innovation.

For states to be able to access the federal funding to accomplish the President’s early learning goals, they would need to meet quality benchmarks that are linked to better outcomes for children, which include:

– State-level standards for early learning;
– Qualified teachers for all preschool classrooms; and
– A plan to implement comprehensive data and assessment systems.

Preschool programs across the states would likewise need to meet common and consistent standards for quality across all programs, including:

– Well-trained teachers, who are paid comparably to K-12 staff;
– Small class sizes and low adult to child ratios;
– A rigorous curriculum;
– Comprehensive health and related services; and
– Effective evaluation and review of programs.

All of these requirements are in place at higher grade levels and certainly achievable at a Pre-K level. So what needs to happen now? What do you think about the early learning priorities that are being set by the administration? What would you change or add to his plan?