Act Early, Act Often on ECE

While Eduflack has spent a great part of the last half decade focused on high school redesign, the horrid state of drop-out factories, and the general college and career readiness pipeline, I’ve also called out for greater investment in early childhood education.  Like many others, I have recommended that we pay greater attention to high-quality ECE, particularly as it relates to pre-reading programs and a general embrace of evidence-based instruction for our youngest learners.

In January 2009, I wrote of the importance of expanding our literacy commitment to include PreK.  We had hope in mid-2009 as a Pew study showed a renewed interest in ECE.  And earlier this year, Eduflack praised President Obama for putting some muscle behind his early childhood rhetoric with the establishment of the Early Learning Challenge Fund.
Yet I always wondered if earlier calls to establish a U.S. Department of Education office committed to early childhood education (rather than letting Health & Human Services and its Head Start office having all of the ECE fun).  That wondering has now ceased, thanks to the announcement made late Friday by EdSec Arne Duncan’s ECE advisor, Jacqueline Jones, at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Conference.  ED is now creating of Office of Early Learning, operating under the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE).
In his public announcement, Duncan cited:
Effective early learning programs are essential to prepare our children for success in school and beyond.  A dedicated early learning office will institutionalize, elevate and coordinate federal support for high-quality early learning, while enhancing support for state efforts to build high-performing early education systems.

And in an emailed note circulating over the weekend, the EdSec noted:

Improving early
learning programs for children birth through third grade is critical work and
plays a fundamental role in building a cradle to college and career education
system for our children. Research consistently shows that high-quality early
learning programs benefit children, our society, and our national prosperity.
It is simply one of the most cost-effective investments America can make in its
future.  

In this year’s State
of the Union address, the President posited that “if we raise expectations for
every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the
day they are born until the last job they take – we will reach the goal that I
set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have
the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

Our children deserve nothing
less than a strong start to a life filled with opportunity, and it all starts
with successful early learning programs. Through the courage, skill, and
commitment of states across the country, early learning has already begun its
transformation. An Office of Early Learning will allow our Department to better
support their efforts, deepen public awareness of the impact of this work, and
leverage early learning investments in ways that raise quality and expand
access for more children.


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First order of business, the new Office will focus on the administration of those Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grants.  Beyond that, the charge of the office is anyone’s guess.  But let there be no mistake.  This is an important step forward for both ECE and the P-20 learning continuum.  It is no secret that the percentage of students failing to read at at least grade level by third grade is remarkably similar to the high school drop-out rate.  And there is little question that those with a strong, evidence-based preK experience are far better prepared for hitting that early reading proficiency rates.  

Kudos for the EdSec for acting on early learning.  Now let’s make sure the new office is empowered to have real impact.

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