A few months ago, most commentators expressed high doubts that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be reauthorized this year. But hopeful signs – including bi-partisan announcements from members of Congress – have emerged over the past week. If reauthorization does in fact move forward this year, we must ensure that Congress includes measures to strengthen early learning.
Because early education includes children’s learning experiences from at least pre-kindergarten up through third grade, any provisions related to the success of elementary schools should be recognized as tools for strengthening what happens in those early grades. Moreover, anyone with a serious understanding of what it takes to be “college-ready” knows that it starts with the building blocks of language and social-emotional development that emerge in children’s earliest years of life.
Last year, the Early Education Initiative led the drafting of a set of recommendations for ESEA built from many months of conversations among a wide variety of education groups. The ideas were submitted as a formal letter to the Senate and House leadership. We recognize that calls for new programs will not be received well as our policymakers try to figure out how to reduce the government’s footprint and enact austerity budgeting. But, we believe that, in the long-term, high-quality early learning programs will require sustainable funding levels.
This is not, however, all about money – not by a long shot. In fact, many of our recommendations simply suggest ways to erase ambiguity and strengthen what already exists to ensure that the early years and early grades are given the attention they need.
We encourage you to read our letter to understand the reasoning behind each recommendation. For a brief version, here are the bullet points:
- Increase the federal investment in education to enable and provide incentives for Title I dollars to flow more freely to early childhood and PreK-3rd programs.
- Ensure that Title I funding set-asides do not supplant pre-k funding where it already exists.
- Encourage districts to embed high-quality PreK-3rd strategies as one of their priorities for turning around low-performing schools.
- Reward states for creating high-quality early learning programs and aligned PreK-3rd systems.
- Change the funding formulae within ESEA so that they are based on communities of children age 3 to 17 instead of 5 to 17 while safeguarding current funding levels.
- Explicitly include early childhood teachers in professional development programs.
- Emphasize the need for more teacher training and professional development based on the most current research in child development and the needs of young English language learners and other special populations.
- Strengthen professional development for elementary school leaders to assist them in designing and implementing comprehensive, aligned systems that include early childhood programs and extend through third grade.
- Ensure that the collection of federal longitudinal data in K-12 is more fully integrated with data collection in programs that serve children before kindergarten entry.
- Require districts to report how Title I funds are used for children under age 5.
- Ensure that schools and districts are rewarded for creating and sustaining high-quality classroom experiences throughout the preschool years and early grades.
- Spur the development of valid and reliable measurement tools that are appropriate for young children and the classrooms in which they learn.
- Recognize high-quality early childhood programs as an eligible use of funds designed to extend learning time.
- Redefine “parental involvement” to reflect a shared responsibility of “family engagement.”
Fifteen groups signed on to the letter, and many others provided input and advice in crafting specific provisions. The signers include:
- Association for Children of New Jersey
- The Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL)
- Children’s Defense Fund
- First Focus Campaign for Children
- Foundation for Child Development
- FPG Institute
- Generations United
- Montgomery County Public School
- National Black Child Development Institute
- National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE)
- National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
- New America Foundation
- Pre-K Now, a Campaign of the Pew Center of the States
- Voices for America’s Children
- National PTA
If ESEA is reauthorized and early learning is left out, our country will miss a huge opportunity to have a significant and positive effect on the success of schools, teachers, families, and most importantly, students. We must start making changes that will give the class of 2030 – the children being born this year – a better chance to get the early learning experiences they need to succeed in school.
Be sure to check out Early Ed Watch's ongoing coverage of early learning in ESEA.