JD Chesloff

I recently met with JD Chesloff, deputy director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care, in the Roundtable’s offices overlooking Boston Common. We had a wide-ranging conversation that touched on everything from early educators to engaging the business community as advocates for high-quality early education and care.

Chesloff also revealed his own favorite book as a child. That tidbit comes at the end of this blog post.

Chesloff traces his interest in early education to his tenure as legislative staffer for the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means in the late 1990s. After serving as issues director for Shannon O’Brien’s campaign for governor in 2002, he spent two years as legislative director of Strategies for Children and our Early Education for All Campaign. Chesloff moved to the Roundtable in December of 2004. He is active in the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, an initiative of the Pew Center on the States.

Chesloff has a personal as well as a professional interest in early education. He has two daughters, ages 4 and 2. He likes to share the story of telling his 4-year-old about being appointed by Governor Patrick to the chairmanship of the EEC board in January. The job, Chesloff explained, is like being the boss. No, his daughter replied, Mommy is the boss.

Here’s an edited and condensed version of our interview.  Listen to an excerpt from the interview with JD Chesloff.

Question: What is the business community’s interest in early education?

Answer: For the Roundtable it’s a workforce pipeline issue. When you present business leaders with the research, it’s clear that early childhood is a good place for investment. In Massachusetts, they engage through the EEA (Early Education for All) Campaign. The strength of EEA is the unlikely allies. When you go up and testify, and you have labor and business sitting at the same table, that’s a pretty powerful message to send to policymakers. Other states have different models where business leads an organized advocacy campaign. The Iowa Business Council made early childhood their No. 1 issue. The Minnesota Early Learning Fund essentially gave out scholarships for early education – not all public dollars.

When the business community gets behind an issue, particularly an education issue, they can be very influential. With education reform in 1993, the business community was coalesced as a business community and had a very active voice. The business community can help move an education agenda.

Question: What would it take to get the business community more engaged in Massachusetts?

Answer: It has to be a very coordinated effort to bring research to the desk of someone who decides it’s the issue. I think EEA could it. They have the research. They have the data. It’s happening around the country. It should absolutely be able to work here. If business leaders determine that it’s important enough to be at the top of the agenda, they can help move the early childhood agenda and improve the chances of more public investment in better fiscal times.

Question: Is our new focus on ensuring that children become proficient readers by the end of third grade something that could interest the business community?

Answer: If business leaders are confronted with compelling research they could be convinced it’s a good issue to get behind. Early literacy in general is an issue that folks get. I think Nonie Lesaux’s report (“Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success”) was terrific in framing an important issue and its link to the larger goal of closing the achievement gap.

Question: What are your goals as chairman of the EEC board?

Answer: My goals at the outset were more management goals, getting the board to act more effectively in its decision making and organization so we can be clear in the directions we send the commissioner. We shouldn’t be implementers. We provide strategic guidance, vision and policy guidance.

I would love for us to be a national model, to build a system that has the most efficient delivery of early childhood services to children and families. We also need to be an equal partner in the statewide strategy to close the achievement gap. I don’t think we’re equal, but we’re close. We’re all at the same table.

Question: What about the role of early educators?

Answer: Folks in the field are doing an incredible amount of very difficult and very important work every day. They are heroes in the state’s education system. We can’t meet our mission without them. It’s unfair the amount of money they make as a societal issue. And it’s an important element of quality. Investing in the early childhood workforce is an investment in quality early education and care.

Post script. As we embark on a campaign to ensure that Massachusetts children become proficient readers by the end of third grade, it’s important that we not lose sight of the magic of the printed word in all the discussions about policy and best practice. Whether they imprint memories of a parent’s lap or spark journeys of the imagination, early experiences with books can be powerful and lasting. And so, a final question for JD Chesloff.

Question: What was your favorite book as a boy?

Answer: “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” I remember the image of the steam shovel working as hard as it possibly could and the dust and the smoke flying everywhere. When it’s all over, she’s exhausted but done. I just remember reading it over and over again with my mom. Now as a parent it was the first book I got for my kids. They have no interest. I remember the olive green bookshelf we had. It was the first book I always pulled out.

Here is the first page of Chesloff’s favorite: “Mike Mulligan had a steam shovel, a beautiful red steam shovel. Her name was Mary Anne. Mike Mulligan was very proud of Mary Anne. He always said that she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week, but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”