Those who have been following the presidential campaigns may have noticed that neither Obama or Romney have given early childhood care and education much attention. According to some panelists at an event on early childhood and the economy hosted by National Journal and sponsored by the First Five Years fund yesterday, that’s because few politicians give it top billing on their priority lists.
Jon Schnur, a former Obama campaign adviser, and former Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) squared off during the first panel on the political effects of early education. Both agreed that the debate on early education makes for strange bedfellows, given its economic and social benefits. As Schnur noted, while 80 percent of Americans think education in the nation is in crisis, the same number also think their community’s schools are just fine. That lack of urgency, not to mention people’s complacency with their own circumstances, may knock education down the priority list in the national debate.
Both panels were moderated by Fawn Johnson of the National Journal. Though everyone on the panel had interesting things to say, there were a few highlights:
- Arthur Rolnick, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, took exception with the earlier panel’s agreement that one of the main challenges facing early education is a lack of available funding. Rather, he said, it was a question of priorities – an enthusiastic applause line with the early learning community attending the event.
- Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, spoke about the school readiness gap – the many children who show up for the first day of kindergarten or first grade without the foundation they need. She said more elementary school principals should be spending time with pre-K and kindergarten classrooms, communicating with them about the school’s expectations and goals for their students.
- Rees also discussed the practicality of early ed reform. She called it a “waste of funds” for public pre-K to dominate the field, because it has forced private providers to scale back to child care for children aged zero to three. Instead, she said, public-private partnerships would be a more efficient use of funds and a better distribution of resources.
- Laura McSorley, who heads up Teach for America’s Early Childhood Initiative, was one of the first to pipe up on parents: only when parents treat their child care providers better with higher salaries and a better understanding of providers’ roles in early learning, she said, will the perception of the field begin to change. That could lead to higher salaries and elevated teacher qualification requirements. Rolnick followed up, point out that without parents’ interest and understanding of their children’s needs and status, the effects of early childhood education cannot be sustained for those children.
- To elevate early learning debates in the public arena, the panelists had some varied ideas. Rees suggested that, with the focus on the economy this election cycle, affordable and high-quality child care is a natural tie-in. Barry Downing, a business leader with an early ed-focused foundation in Wichita, said public opinion can’t carry the sword on this one; instead, we need focused politicians with the will to pursue change.
To read more about the event, visit First Five Years Fund here. For video of the event, click here.