“Education policy has become as polarized as the rest of American politics. In the new administration, disagreements over standards, funding, school choice, and students’ civil rights are sure to intensify. Yet despite this polarized state of affairs, liberal and conservative education priorities are converging in a number of important respects, driven in part by mounting research findings. Common ground is emerging where conservative commitments to character formation, strong families, and local solutions meet liberal commitments to services that help low-income families overcome obstacles to improving their quality of life.
Borrowing a term from the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, I suggest that a number of educational priorities, described below, are “purple”—they resonate with both red and blue constituencies. Further, these priorities animate a powerful reform movement that is spreading across the country ….”
“As many American parents know, hiring care for young children during the workday is punishingly expensive, costing the typical family about a third of its income.
Helping parents pay for that care would be expensive for society, too. Yet recent studies show that of any policy aimed to help struggling families, aid for high-quality care has the biggest economic payoff for parents and their children — and even their grandchildren. It has the biggest positive effect on women’s employment and pay. It’s especially helpful for low-income families, because it can propel generations of children toward increased earnings, better jobs, improved health, more education and decreased criminal activity as adults.
Affordable care for children under 5, long a goal of Democrats, is now being championed by Ivanka Trump …
A powerful new study — which demonstrated long-term results by following children from birth until age 35 — found that high-quality care during the earliest years can influence whether both mothers and children born into disadvantage lead more successful lives. The study was led by James J. Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago.
“They’re engaged more in the work force, they’re now active participants of society, they’re more educated, they have higher skills,” Mr. Heckman said. “So what we’ve done is promoted mobility across generations.”
See the article for discussion of other new studies as well.
As Paul Reville says, “What we actually have now is a felicitous dovetailing of our moral obligations and our economic imperatives.”
Here is another case in point countering the idea that all social services discourage work. From “Supply-Side Economics, but for Liberals” in the New York Times:
“Economists have often taken it as a given that there is an inherent trade-off in which the larger the social safety net, the fewer people will work …
But what if that framing is backward? Certain social welfare policies, according to an emerging body of research, may actually encourage more people to work and enable them to do so more productively …
Child care subsidies appear to work [this way]. It’s a pretty straightforward equation that when government intervention makes child care services cheaper than they would otherwise be, people who might otherwise stay home raising their children instead work. More women work in countries that subsidize child care and offer generous parental leave than in those that don’t …
For example, the food stamp program was introduced gradually in the United States from 1961 to 1975. [Researchers] have found that low-income children who benefited from the program were healthier and more likely to be working decades later than otherwise similar children in counties where the program arrived later. There is similar evidence of long-term economic benefits from high-quality childhood education.”
This post updates a theory of action and 7 associated principles that I first posted last year. I’ve revised a few of the principles, and the principles line up with the graphics much more clearly now. I also draw attention to three distinctive features of the theory of action. According to the blogging platform Medium, this post is a 12-minute read. See this page for an overview of the core ideas. Many thanks to friends and colleagues for all the helpful feedback. ¹
Over the last 10 years, research, policy, and expert opinion have converged on the idea that addressing achievement gaps requires a comprehensive focus on the first 8-9 years of life, beginning with prenatal care and continuing with high-quality supports through third grade (P-3). The goal of this work is to improve the teaching and learning of cognitive and academic skills while deepening supports for physical and mental health, social-emotional learning, and family partnerships.
Community partnerships of elementary schools, community-based preschools, and other organizations serving young children and their families have great potential for achieving this goal and addressing achievement gaps. When these organizations take concerted action around a common set of goals and strategies, they are among the most effective and powerful ways of improving educational outcomes for lower income children.
Quality Within, Continuity Across
In order for early childhood education and early elementary school to be most effective, communities need to address two obstacles. The quality of both early childhood and early elementary education is highly inconsistent, and the mixed delivery system is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation. Addressing these twin obstacles–inconsistent quality within organizations and fragmentation across organizations–requires a collective response on the part of communities, efforts that require state and federal support as well.
Communities need to raise the quality of education and care in the various community-based organizations and public elementary schools that serve young children and their families in their locale; they also need to create meaningful linkages that align and coordinate the work of these organizations. Developing this capacity requires partnerships of schools, community organizations and families focused on quality and continuity–what I call P-3 Community Partnerships.
EDC recently published a short Round Table discussion on early childhood. Topics include the role of pediatricians in supporting social-emotional development, early childhood education in developing countries, and new research by James Heckman. I close out the Round Table with a discussion of community partnerships.
Sara Mead’s take on some of 2016’s positive developments includes a number of interesting links to new programs and research. She sets up this article from U.S. News and World Report saying,
“But there are also lots of good things happening in our world today. And one reason I’m glad to work in early childhood education is that it kept reminding me of that this year. It’s not just that the kids are cute, or that their incredibly capacity for joy and learning fill me with wonder on an ongoing basis.
To be sure, working in early childhood is still very frustrating: Sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming. There are still too few resources; early childhood workers are paid much too little; too many children remain in childcare settings that are really not good places for them; and as a society we’re still squandering tremendous opportunities to help all of our littlest learners meet their full potential.
Yet, I also see evidence that things are getting better. It’s happening in lots of small ways we barely notice – and also in some big ones. And while they may not always be sexy or dramatic, these small steps are often the way big changes ultimately occur, and offer a path to lasting changes that really improve outcomes for kids and families.”
We are aware that building a coherent system is more time consuming and less flashy than just adding more slots or more dollars to an existing system. But we have an opportunity to … build a system that coherently knits together our existing resources and thoughtfully brings in new resources to meet the needs of our youngest residents.
–Richard Rossi, City Manager, Cambridge, Massachusetts
This is about as important as it gets, frankly. Achievement gaps do not begin in the fifth grade or the third grade. They begin much earlier. The right way to reduce and eventually eliminate achievement gaps is to start early…I believe whole-heartedly that with this effort to get there, we can make that difference. It is about coherence. The adults have to come together.
–Jeff Young, Superintendent of Schools, Cambridge, MA, speaking to a joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee
On November 16, the City Council and School Committee in Cambridge, MA met to review an ambitious set of recommendations to develop a citywide Birth through Third Grade (Birth—3rd) system. The recommendations were presented by the City Manager, the Superintendent, and the city’s Early Childhood Task Force with the aim of expanding access to early childhood services and improving quality across the organizations that serve young children and their families. These recommendations are intended to guide a significant financial investment the city will make in improving Birth—3rd services, projected at $1.3 million in the first year, $2.6 million in the second year, and potentially increasing further in subsequent years. Continue reading “Building a Citywide Birth—3rd System: One City’s Plan”