Advocates for high-quality early education see opportunity in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind). The New America Foundation, Pew’s Pre-K Now and others – including us here at Strategies for Children and our Early Education for All Campaign — are urging Congress to include pre-kindergarten in the reauthorization of ESEA. With hearings of the Education and Workforce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives set to begin this week, Pre-K Now is urging people to tell Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to put pre-kindergarten at the top of his committee’s 2011 agenda.
The New America Foundation’s Early Ed Watch blog recently reiterated the recommendations contained in a letter sent to Congress last year. “We believe that, in the long-term, high-quality early learning programs will require sustainable funding levels,” the blog notes. “This is not, however, all about money – not by a long shot. In fact, many of our recommendations simply suggest ways to erase ambiguity and strengthen what already exists to ensure that the early years and early grades are given the attention they need.” Early Ed Watch’s summary of the recommendations follows:
- Increase the federal investment in education to enable and provide incentives for Title I dollars to flow more freely to early childhood and PreK-3rd programs.
- Ensure that Title I funding set-asides do not supplant pre-k funding where it already exists.
- Encourage districts to embed high-quality PreK-3rd strategies as one of their priorities for turning around low-performing schools.
- Reward states for creating high-quality early learning programs and aligned PreK-3rd systems.
- Change the funding formulae within ESEA so that they are based on communities of children age 3 to 17 instead of 5 to 17 while safeguarding current funding levels.
- Explicitly include early childhood teachers in professional development programs.
- Emphasize the need for more teacher training and professional development based on the most current research in child development and the needs of young English language learners and other special populations.
- Strengthen professional development for elementary school leaders to assist them in designing and implementing comprehensive, aligned systems that include early childhood programs and extend through third grade.
- Ensure that the collection of federal longitudinal data in K-12 is more fully integrated with data collection in programs that serve children before kindergarten entry.
- Require districts to report how Title I funds are used for children under age 5.
- Ensure that schools and districts are rewarded for creating and sustaining high-quality classroom experiences throughout the preschool years and early grades.
- Spur the development of valid and reliable measurement tools that are appropriate for young children and the classrooms in which they learn.
- Recognize high-quality early childhood programs as an eligible use of funds designed to extend learning time.
- Redefine “parental involvement” to reflect a shared responsibility of “family engagement.”
Massachusetts has taken steps to implement several of the above recommendations. For instance, early educators sit on stakeholder groups in turnaround elementary schools, the regional readiness centers are charged with including early educators in professional development, and the Departments of Early Education and Care and Elementary and Secondary Education are working to create aligned data systems. An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, legislation filed last month in the Massachusetts Legislature, would address several other recommendations, including the use of developmentally appropriate assessments and strengthening professional development.
“If ESEA is reauthorized and early learning is left out, our country will miss a huge opportunity to have a significant and positive effect on the success of schools, teachers, families, and most importantly, students,” Early Ed Watch cautions. “We must start making changes that will give the class of 2030 – the children being born this year – a better chance to get the early learning experiences they need to succeed in school.”