A newly published analysis of early education for children ages birth-through-eight focuses on objective indicators pertaining to student achievement, family well-being, and funding. Not surprisingly, it has issued a mixed report card. Subprime Learning: Early Education in America Since the Great Recession was written by Lisa Guernsey, Laura Bornfreund, Clare McCann, and Conor Williams, staff members of the New America Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy institute. On the basis of extensive research, the authors evaluated changes from 2009, the year of the ‘subprime lending crash,’ through 2013, using five grades: improving, in stasis, in flux, imperiled, and ignored.
High scores go to improved infrastructure at both state and federal levels and to policies that reflect greater understanding of the close linkage between early education and later school performance. The authors laud expanded home visiting programs and champion the states that have aligned Pre-k standards with those of K-3. They commend the 35 states, including Massachusetts, that have instituted Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and cite a recent recommendation in Science that the QRIS include classroom observation of student-teacher interactions. They endorse the use by a few states of Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEA) that include social-emotional development as well as literacy and numeracy. Massachusetts has recently begun implementation of a KEA program that will include social-emotional development as one of ten developmental domains.
“The last five years have not worked in the favor of young children who need access to environments and opportunities that would give them a strong start in school and life.”
On the deficit side is the growing gap between rich and poor: Dual language learners are overlooked or get inadequate programs; full-day kindergarten programs, shown to give children the entry skills they need, are required by only 11 states and the District of Columbia. Pay for Pre-k teachers remains very low with a nationwide median salary of $25,700 (Salaries in the Commonwealth align with these findings with a median of $25,000). Principals tend to place more effective teachers in the upper grades and are not themselves trained in childhood development.
Unreliable funding appears to be the largest hurdle for zero-to-eight education. Since a major federal infusion of $32.6 billion from the fiscal stimulus in 2009, Washington has barely maintained its investment at about $21.5 annually. Special education and Head Start programs have suffered, along with many other, state-based initiatives. The report applauds the non-profit and philanthropic groups that have picked up some of the slack.
Finally, the report notes that research in early childhood education has been innovative and prolific and that the derived policies show promise. What is needed next is thoughtful implementation and consistent financial support.
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