Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

“Early education is in the spotlight like never before… yet real progress is elusive,” according to a report being released today by the New America Foundation called: “Beyond Subprime Learning: Accelerating Progress in Early Education.”

“President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for increased investments in child care, pre-K, home visiting, and other programs,” the report says. “Thirty-five states entered the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grants competition, which has so far invested about $1 billion in 20 states’ infrastructure. A long-overdue reauthorization bill for the Child Care and Development Block Grant overwhelmingly passed the Senate this year, with potential in the House.”

In addition, the report notes that philanthropies, governors, and state legislatures increasingly recognize the importance of investing in children.

Nonetheless, the report says, achievement gaps have widened. There aren’t enough seamless transitions from pre-K to grade school. Too many low income children aren’t getting the support they need. And Congress isn’t providing stable funding.

To address these issues: “All policies should stem from the overarching goal of improving the interactions between teachers and children, which research identifies as critically important to children’s future success in school and in life,” Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of New America’s Early Education Initiative and lead author of the report, said in a news release.

The release adds: “New America points to two approaches that will spur the most impact towards that goal: streamlining programs, standards, and eligibility requirements and tapping into sources for predictable, sustainable, and increased public funding.”

“Without taking these actions… we are never going to be able to accelerate access to quality education, birth through third grade,” Guernsey said.

This report follows up on an earlier one called “Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession,” which shared the dismal findings that “in the wake of a financial crash triggered by subprime lending, too many children in America have been experiencing subprime learning. While bright spots are visible in some states, funding has fluctuated wildly, millions of children still lack access to quality programs, the K–3 grades have received little attention, and achievement gaps in reading and math have widened between family income levels. Meanwhile, child poverty rates have shot up.”

To follow Twitter coverage of “Beyond Subprime Learning,” including a tweet chat at 3 p.m. today, use the hashtag #beyondsubprime.

Sharing a New Vision

“We want America’s children to become life-long learners who are able to think critically and inventively, regulate their emotions and impulses, and make smart decisions by drawing upon a rich knowledge base about how the world works. Realizing this goal begins with ensuring a seamless continuum of high-quality, easily accessible early education for all families,” the report says.

The report defines early education as “the learning that happens in the birth-through-third-grade years, sometimes known as P–3.”

The report makes eight recommendations and suggests “specific policies for each recommendation and pinpoint which actors — federal, state, local, community, and educational officials — should be responsible.” The recommendations are:

1. Bridge the Continuum: Streamline Systems Across the Birth-through-Third-Grade Years

“Policymakers should make sure not to create additional silos and instead stimulate robust connections and more emphasis on learning and engagement across the continuum.” For example, federal lawmakers should “Reauthorize and coordinate the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the Higher Education Act (HEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Head Start Act.”

2. Upgrade Educators: Professionalize and Improve the Early Education Workforce

“Early educators lay the essential foundations for future learning and development. But the current state of systems to recruit, prepare, evaluate, and support these educators is mediocre at best. Policymakers should invest in human capital to professionalize the field, creating educators who recognize a shared purpose and responsibility for helping children succeed.”

3. Emphasize Families: Develop Dual-Generation Strategies for Children’s Success

“Children whose parents are financially stable avoid the toxic stress of poverty, have household income sufficient to afford critical items from food to health care to books, and frequently have more educated parents. Federal programs should work to promote families’ opportunities to succeed, rather than create unintended disincentives to improve a family’s overall situation.”

4. Intentionally Support Dual-Language Learners: Embrace Children’s Languages as Assets

To serve the growing population of children who are dual language learners, “Policies should embrace bilingualism — supporting dual-language learners in acquiring English while continuing their growth in their home languages.”

5. Rethink Standards and Assessment: Coordinate Teaching and Learning for Young Children

States should “develop common early learning and development standards birth-to-kindergarten entry that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Head Start Framework.”

The report also says that a common Kindergarten Entry Assessment across states would “allow for the sharing of resources for revising assessments and for training teachers to administer and use assessment data. It would enable policymakers to make comparisons across state lines.” And it could “facilitate conversations between pre-K and K–3 educators about children’s learning and developmental needs and how teachers can most effectively support them.”

6. Strengthen and Improve Accountability Systems: Promote Children’s Learning and Development

“Decision makers should streamline and simplify metrics and procedures to focus on indicators that have the most influence on child outcomes and that are most useful in improving program and teacher effectiveness. These systems should be designed with students’ specific developmental needs in mind.”

7. Collect and Use Data Responsibly: Inform Educators and Policymakers

“Stronger policies around the use of data in the statehouse, on Capitol Hill, and in the classroom are necessary to make sure that information is timely, relevant, and used effectively and with appropriate protections for families’ privacy.”

8. Bring Research Closer to Policy and Practice: Use Implementation Science and Openness

“Too often, key findings on how children learn are never applied in practice,” the report says. And research findings end up in expensive journals, far from parents and educators. Instead, publically financed research should be readily available to the public. And, just as implementation science does, research results should include insights about how to put findings into daily practice.

Making Real Progress

“Our Subprime Learning report pointed to some progress made over the last five years in home visiting programs, 0–5 infrastructure building, standards accountability across many state and federal policies, and Pre-K–3rd grade alignment within a small but growing number of places. But to realize the vision we have outlined in this paper, policymakers must be open to adopting both bold ideas and sensible plans.”

The report concludes: “Early education policies must evolve to help young children and their families reach the top of the staircase, enabling success later in school and in their lives as America’s next generation of adults.”