Building a strong foundation with early childhood education
During the past two decades, momentum for public investment in early care and education has grown significantly across party lines. Mayors and governors in red and blue states are adding early childhood initiatives to their legislative agendas, and a number have already delivered with sizeable funding increases and policy shifts that invest in early learning programs and infrastructure.
States across the country are implementing innovative early childhood system strategies through Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge grants and additional dedicated state and local funding. At the federal level, we appear to have reached a pivotal moment in early education policy with the bipartisan passage of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), early learning mentioned in the past three State of the Union addresses, two major grant initiatives in 2014 (including Early Head Start–Child Care Partnerships and Preschool Development/Expansion Grants), and the December 2014 White House Summit on Early Childhood Education.
There is still a long way to go. Head Start, Early Head Start, and CCDBG are underfunded and cannot serve all eligible families. Evidence suggests that for many families with low incomes who have access to early care programs, program quality may be poor or may not be a priority. Although one of the most significant predictors of a high-quality early learning environment is a qualified workforce, 46 percent of early childhood educators must rely on some form of public assistance because wages have not significantly increased in the past 25 years. While neuroscience has decisively confirmed that rapid brain development occurs during the first five years of life, and while longitudinal studies have demonstrated the positive impact on society of investment in high-quality early learning, the nation’s education policy has not kept apace with the research and science.
To fully extend America’s promise of a world-class education to the next generation, learning must start well before the first day of kindergarten. As a nation, the United States must provide the building blocks for a strong foundation for tomorrow’s workforce and leaders. Because the first eight years of life are a period of dynamic growth, the policies that address those critical years must be intentional and support the development of young children. This means the promise to children must be at the forefront of US political culture. We early childhood educators, administrators, specialists, researchers, and advocates have an unprecedented opportunity for collective advocacy to ensure that all young children are prepared to succeed in school and in life.
For nearly 90 years the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has been the voice of high-quality early learning in the United States and around the globe. Born out of concern about uneven licensing structures supporting the quality of early care and education for children of working families, NAEYC developed internationally recognized standards for programs for young children and professional preparation standards of excellence for educators. These standards raise the bar for early childhood programs and teacher preparation programs so that all children can have a strong start in life.