Year in Review

December 18, 2015

Looking back over 2015, it’s been a year packed with action around early childhood education at NIEER, in the states, and across the country.

young childUS News wrote here about their 5 biggest stories in early education, including the expansion of NYC UPK (we addressed that early, here); the release of Vanderbilt’s study of TN pre-K (which we also mentioned and discussed); an overhaul of Head Start performance standards; calls for transforming the early childhood workforce; and an increased national awareness of the need for parental leave.

In January, child care was highlighted in the State of the Union address, in February we reviewed that and the federal budget implications for pre-K. The Common Core State Standards were in the news often this year; NIEER provided clarity with expert help in a comprehensive blog forum.

Also this year, Head Start turned 50, and DHHS proposed revisions to standards for Head Start.

In May, we released the State of Preschool Yearbook 2014: “State pre-K programs may have turned a corner in 2013-2014, but progress remains slow. . . . At the 2013-2014 growth rate it would take about 75 years for states to reach 50 percent enrollment at age 4 and 150 years to reach 70 percent enrollment. Even a return to the average rate of growth since 2001-2002 would leave the nation 25 years away from enrolling 50 percent of 4-year-olds in state funded pre-K.”

This summer, experts wrote for us about leadership in early education. As Presidential campaigns revved up, early childhood issues were front and center in the mix of topics important to candidates and the public, for a while.

Throughout the year, people have been paying increased attention to the importance of the early childhood workforce; see our 2015 favorites blog post list below for some more highlights on that.

In November, Congress reauthorized CCDBG; CLASP covers that here. Even more recently, we’ve seen the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed (see some useful links on that courtesy of NAECS-SDE in this week’s newsletter), and increased funding for some early childhood programs proposed this week.

ICYMI, we are currently counting down our most-viewed blog posts of 2015 on Twitter (@PreschoolToday). Here’s a summary of greatest hits. Note that some of our most-viewed are not from 2015, but cover issues of enduring interest: Children, poverty, and preschool; The highly qualified workforce early education needs and deserves; and Children and technology.

From 2015, the following were popular:

We look forward to sharing much more coverage of important early childhood issues in 2016.

 


Finishing the job we started: the next best step in early childhood education

December 16, 2015

By Valora Washington and Jeffrey Gross. Valora Washington is the Founder and Director of the CAYL Institute (www.cayl.org) and CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition (www.cdacouncil.org). Jeffrey Gross is Director of the New Americans Integration Institute at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition (www.miracoalition.org).

Massachusetts has often been on the cutting edge of early child care and education reform. Both political parties, a generation of educators, and business leaders across the Commonwealth have affirmed that investing in young children matters a great deal to the state’s economic vitality and social progress.

The progress we have made will be sustained to the extent that we stay abreast of changing economic and demographic realities, even as we continue to push for higher standards and quality improvements. Those new realities include the fact that both our young children and the early childhood workforce that supports them are increasingly English language learners.

Child listening to bookThese two new realities are not changes on the margin. They must be central to our thinking about how we sustain our place as a national leader in early childhood education. One out of four young children in Massachusetts now speaks a language other than English at home. In Massachusetts, and nationally, the immigrant share of early childhood workers has tripled since 1990 and is now 20 percent of the workforce. During this time, the state’s early childhood workforce has also grown by about two-thirds, from 27,000 to 45,000—nearly 40 percent of that growth from immigrant workers. Most of these early educators are women, over age 40 and working in family or home-based child care.

Just 13 percent of all early educators in Massachusetts are considered English language learners. Among immigrants, this figure grows to 55 percent, most of them speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, or Chinese. Immigrant workers are also three times more likely than their native-born peers to lack a high school degree and almost twice as likely to lack a bachelor’s degree—the aspirational standard for early educators in Massachusetts.

What is at stake here? We must recognize that no matter how motivated, English language learners in our child care workforce face steep odds navigating a career pathway to the bachelor’s degree increasingly required for early education teachers. This growing workforce is often segregated in same-language communities and low-skilled positions, robbing young dual language learner children of linguistic and cultural supports that can help them succeed. The potential gains for these children—in terms of improved health, a decreased achievement gap, and stronger long-term outcomes—stand to benefit all of us.

These changing realities represent a challenge and an opportunity for the Commonwealth. We are no strangers to change: we created the Department of Early Education and Care, the first such agency in the nation, and pioneered the roll-out of model language standards for English language learners in early childhood. Looking to the future, both the CAYL Institute and MIRA’s partners at the Migration Policy Institute have independently issued reports that call attention to these new realities—and ways Massachusetts can work to address them. Based on extensive research and lessons learned in other states, we know there are effective ways to create stronger educational and career pathways for these early childhood educators.

Implementing these strategies starts with the commitment of political and higher education leaders. Collaborative work across many Massachusetts agencies is needed to mine local and regional data, target outreach initiatives, offer comprehensive supports, and create flexible higher education teaching and learning options. Regardless of what language these educators speak, we all must realize that they touch the lives of tens of thousands of children growing up here—children whose school readiness we all have a stake in.

Given the complexity and cross-departmental nature of the challenge—and how much is at stake for the future of both our children and the early education workforce—we call on Governor Baker to convene a task force to better realize the aspirations that he and many others have set forth: a highly qualified and competent early care and education workforce that can provide the best possible start in life for all children. Let’s finish the job we started, face current realities, and create the synergy that will keep Massachusetts a leader.

 


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