Early Education Stands at Attention

June 29, 2012

Millions of young people are having the door to military service shut before them. According to Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired military leaders seeking investment in young Americans to ensure the nation’s military remains strong, 75 percent of Americans age 17 to 24 are unfit for military service, largely due to failure to graduate high school, a criminal record, and failure to meet physical fitness standards, particularly due to obesity.

According to Education Trust, one in four young Americans does not have a high school diploma; 30 percent of applicants with diplomas lack the skills to pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test and cannot join. Data from Mission: Readiness shows that 10 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 has a conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanor that disqualifies them for military service. Finally, 27 percent of this age group is too overweight to join the military.

Source: USAG-Humphreys

Early education can help ensure military service remains an option for America’s youth. Pre-K contributes to school success in the short-term of kindergarten readiness as well as the long-term in increased high school graduation rates. Quality pre-K can reduce crime rates, which is crucial considering the number of recruitment rejections due to criminal records. Finally, the social development benefits that start in pre-K are “important to military commanders because this is where we get the ability of our enlisted personnel to be good team players and have the ability to interact constructively with others and control emotions and behaviors,” as noted by Retired Air Force General Norman R. Seip.

A recent report sponsored by the Center for Foreign Relations shed further light on the need for improved education to ensure America’s continued economic prosperity and security. The Center’s taskforce, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, cited low academic achievement, criminal records, and poor physical fitness and called for “a ‘national security readiness audit’ to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results and to raise public awareness.” Mission: Readiness praised the report by noting that early education can help address each of these issues.

Military service has historically provided a path to the middle class for disadvantaged young adults. Of the 3.6 million U.S. service members, 30 percent of active duty members identify themselves as a minority, as well as another 10.8 percent who identify as Hispanic. Recruits of Hispanic and African-American backgrounds who pass the test do so with lower scores, which can stunt career growth in the armed forces. Many more minority young adults are excluded from service due to educational disadvantages that start early, as seen in our recent post on the lack of pre-K opportunities for Hispanic children.

According to Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, “Too many of us, including educators, have comforted ourselves with the notion that kids who aren’t ready for college can find a place in the armed services. These findings shatter that myth and strip away the illusion of opportunity available to underprepared students.”

What steps can schools and communities take to ensure military careers remain an option for the students of today?

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER

Hats Off to the “B-Team” of Early Education

June 4, 2012

Early education has advanced tremendously over the past decade in terms of research, policy, and practice. The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook  highlighted progress and setbacks in access, quality and resources across states during the decade, and media chronicle its condition on a daily basis in headlines. Enrollment in state pre-K programs has doubled to outpace the rate of expansion in Head Start and child care. Resources for pre-K have expanded too, though their ebb and flow creates unpredictable scenarios for states attempting to engage in long-term planning. And overall quality standards for pre-K have improved across most states as policies reflect emerging research on factors contributing to enhanced early learning outcomes.

As the saying goes, “Success has many parents; failure is an orphan.” In the case of early education, many “parents” can take credit for this progress in early education – educators, advocates, policymakers, parents, and researchers. There’s an often over-looked group that has been instrumental throughout much of this change, however, a group sometimes referred to as the “B-team.”

The B-team is comprised of state administrators, often in state Departments of Education or related departments, who day-in and day-out tackle the thorny issues of informing and implementing policy, translating research into practice, and being held accountable to a myriad of constituent-bosses for producing results effectively and efficiently.

In many states, the B-team consists of only one or two people charged with attending to compliance issues, data management and analysis, professional development, public relations, intra- and inter-departmental collaboration, and policy development. Their capes are well-disguised though the bags under their eyes are not.

One organization has been instrumental for many “unaligned” department of education B-teamers to stay on the leading edge of early education administration. The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) has provided a forum for state leaders to gather, share lessons, formulate strategies, and advance quality early education across the states. As Head Start, child care, and early childhood special education provide federal support to convene state administrators regularly as learning communities, many state-level early education B-teamers would remain isolated without NAECS-SDE providing the opportunity to connect. NAECS-SDE also provided guidance and practitioner-leadership to the field of early education, producing prescient position statements such as The Role of State Departments of Education in Early Childhood Program Services Coordination that appeared as early as 1978.

How did they earn the name B-team? As someone told me during the appointment of yet another state Education Commissioner in a relatively brief time span, the B-team consists of those workers who will be there when elected or appointed officials come and they will be there when they go. The B-team provides the necessary continuity and consistency for programs to operate and improve, remaining abreast of developments in the field and establishing working relationships across the spectrum to get things done.

Our recent report shows that state-funded pre-K has changed considerably  in the last decade.  Despite many positive trends, the one major negative has been the failure of funding to keep up with enrollment, especially during the recession.  No aspect of the preschool system has been hurt more than state administrator capacity to support the provision of quality programs.  As states recover from the recession, we hope this situation will be reversed to rebuild the capacity of  state specialists to help ensure young learners get the start they need.  Hats off to the B-team and NAECS-SDE. Your work has contributed greatly to the rise of pre-K across the country. We’re glad you’re still around!

– Jim Squires, Senior Research Fellow, NIEER

Jim served previously as the Early Childhood Education Program Specialist for the Vermont Department of Education and is a past president of NAECS-SDE.

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