Naila Bolus is the President & CEO of Jumpstart.
“Maybe we should take a lesson from the rich and invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born.” This is the conclusion of Stanford Professor Sean Reardon in a revelatory opinion editorial published in the New York Times (“No Rich Child Left Behind,” April 27, 2013). Reardon continues, “That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it.”
With 20 years of experience working to help children from low-income communities enter kindergarten prepared to succeed, Jumpstart is anxious to “just get on with it.” We are not alone. There has been a groundswell of support for early education from Democrats and Republicans, military officials, business leaders and law enforcement. The reason? Research has consistently shown that the smartest, most cost-effective way to support children’s academic success is to start early, when children’s brains are developing at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives.
This theme has been echoed by President Obama. During his State of the Union Address, the President put a stake in the ground when he proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.” Since then, the President’s proposal for Preschool for All has taken shape, and details have emerged in his FY’14 budget request. Early education has remained a priority in the speeches he, Secretary Arne Duncan and others in his administration have given.
These are terrific first steps. In the months ahead, the issues addressed in the President’s proposal will be debated at the national, state and local levels. We hope the experiences of innovative, entrepreneurial organizations like Jumpstart will be taken into consideration. There are many issues to deliberate in this debate, including:
1. The meaning of high quality early education and care:
The President’s proposal goes a long way to promoting high-quality early education and care. By high-quality the President means programs that include full-day programs, low staff to child ratios, small class sizes, developmentally appropriate curricula and learning environments, on-going program evaluation, and on-site services for children.
He also means strong staff qualifications, including educators who have received bachelor’s degrees, and educator and staff salaries that are comparable to K-12. There is no question that well-trained and prepared educators are the foundation of high-quality early education. Programs that develop a pipeline of future educators and leaders should be encouraged and supported. Jumpstart’s training for college students and community members (called Corps members) provides practice on strategies to effectively support children’s language and literacy skills as well as social-emotional development. Corps members gain an understanding of how young children think and learn, how to create a supportive learning environment and how to engage children in positive learning experiences.
2. The role of innovation:
The flexibility in the President’s proposal should be applauded as each state has different systems and needs, and states should have discretion on specific strategies to boost quality and access to early education and care programs. The proposal ought to also include incentives for states to look to innovative solutions, based in evidence and research. Many public-private partnerships rooted in results-driven approaches to high-quality early education and care are already operating in communities across the country. Jumpstart has leveraged Federal Work Study and partnered with AmeriCorps and Foster Grandparents to mobilize local resources and provide community members opportunities to serve in classrooms. Additional investments – and incentives to make such investments – in programs such as these could be an extremely cost-effective way to achieve the proposal’s goals and help effective programs scale to serve even more children.
We need a national commitment, not just from the President but from the public, to make sure that every child has access to high-quality early education and care. We invite you to join us in calling for the passage of the President’s proposal.