It’s been a big week for pre-K in the news.
Education Nation, NBC’s annual education summit, presented its second offering this week, and it had a heavy focus on early learning. Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, moderated the panel “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters” featuring early learning notables, including researchers, practitioners, advocates, and a little star power from actress-advocate Jennifer Garner. While the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge was clearly a point of interest, the panel also discussed a number of issues NIEER has recently explored, including policies on family engagement, how to reform Head Start, and the 10 states that do not offer state-funded pre-K. More of Education Nation’s early education coverage can be found here, including NIEER data making a cameo appearance in this Today Show interview as well as in the Start Early, Aim High panel discussion earlier this month.
Also this week was the release of Pre-K Now’s final report, “Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future,” which reflects on the growth of state-funded pre-K during their decade of advocacy while pushing for increased alignment with the K-12 system moving forward. Their recommendations include expanding preschool-for-all programs to more children, aligning standards with state elementary and Common Core standards, supporting early educator professional development, and re-assessing governance structures to make effective use of existing resources.
The report succinctly lights a path for early learning advocates to follow as Pre-K Now closes its doors, though these goal reached a whole new audience thanks to a Time magazine article, “Rethinking Pre-K: 5 Ways to Fix Preschool.” The article, which was among the most popular of the week, provided “reality checks” on which aspects of the report’s recommendations are most likely to be implemented. Program data used in the article from the 2010 State of Preschool Yearbook makes clear that resource constraints have taken a toll on state-funded pre-K programs and could continue to slow growth going forward. In particular, at a time when accountability is the watchword in education reform, NIEER Director Steve Barnett is quoted in the article saying, “Evaluations take a lot of time and money. With budget cuts, I’m afraid they will be the first to go.” Indeed, the 2010 Yearbook did see a slackening of accountability standards in many programs, a trend we fear may be repeated in our 2011 report. Look for NIEER data also in the article “The Preschool Wars,” which looks at the battle for pre-K in North Carolina and elsewhere, in the October 10 print issue of Time magazine (available online now for Time subscribers).
NIEER, Pre-K Now, and Education Nation made a number of other media appearances this week. An MSNBC interview with Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association draws attention to the need for greater access to high-quality pre-K programs, especially for children who may not be school ready. Another piece with Mark Shriver, of Save the Children’s U.S. operations, calls for increasing investment in early interventions, even in an era of budget cuts.
After this week of much discussion, it is clear that early childhood education has made great strides in recent years, but still has far to go to help all children who can benefit. For those in the field—educators, researchers, advocates, and parents—who know the challenge of advocating for increased resources during these austere times, there may be motivation in the President Obama’s address to students this week: “It means that you have to stay at it. You have to be determined and you have to persevere. It means you’ve got to work as hard as you know how to work. And it means that you’ve got to take some risks once in a while.”
– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER