“If we care about equity, we have to build a system that nurtures healthy brain development starting at birth,” Shael Polakow-Suransky, the president of Bank Street College, said last month.

“When we provide babies and toddlers with regular access to a sensitively attuned caregiver, we literally feed the growing brain, helping to build the brain architecture that supports everything in life that follows—our learning, our behavior, and even our health.”

Polakow-Suransky was speaking at an event where Bank Street released a new report: “Investing in the Birth-to-Three Workforce: A New Vision to Strengthen the Foundation for All Learning.”

“We’re at a critical moment in this country where the question is not ‘why invest in early childhood?’ It’s ‘how do we invest in early childhood,’” Sarah Rittling, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, said at the event.

The report lays out a roadmap for how to invest in early childhood, calling for policy changes that would support the infant/toddler workforce, “and transform our nation’s early education system,” according to a press release.

Specifically, the report calls for reforms in four interconnected areas:

• deepening the workforce’s professional expertise

• increasing salaries and benefits

• building a stronger early education system that includes sustainable funding, professional development, and a plan to meet local needs, and

• generating the public will to make these strategic changes and investments

One key features of this effort would be creating residency programs to train new and existing infant/toddler educators. This program would “offer extended time for educators to learn while working in a classroom or early child care setting led by an experienced colleague,” the report says.

Bank Street’s vision of the “essential elements of an effective residency model” include:

• a full-time job as an infant/toddler educator at a high-quality site

• opportunities for “reflective supervision and expert coaching,” and

• a competency-based approach to coursework that is offered online and in-person

Why is this work so important?

“By 24 months, many toddlers living in poverty already show both behavioral and cognitive delays. Thoughtful early investment in quality early care and education, followed by consistent high-quality elementary education, has a significant positive impact on children’s lives and the nation’s economy,” the report’s executive summary says.

“Despite this potential, we have not invested enough in infants and toddlers and the committed educators who help them learn and grow. The U.S. spends $18 billion annually ($5,625 per teacher) on professional development in public K-12 schools, five times more than Head Start and 20 times more than CCDBG quality set-asides (on a per educator basis).”

To boost the report’s impact, check out the social media toolkit for graphics that can be shared on Facebook and Twitter using the #LearningStartsAtBirth hashtag. Links to the report, the executive summary, and a summary of recommendations are posted here. And click here for related articles and opinion pieces.

And most of all share the high-quality work that you and your colleagues do with elected officials.

As the report says:

“Once several localities adopt changes aligned with the recommendations in this paper, evidence demonstrating what works in practice can be used to strengthen advocacy efforts. Eventually, we will gain the momentum to advocate for the kind of quality infant and toddler care that Americans can embrace as a public necessity, just as we do for K-12 education.”

In other words, babies should have the best early educators that smart public policies can create.