While this year’s election campaign is getting relatively little play with respect to education overall, early childhood education is on the radar of several leading candidates, and advocacy groups are making access to high-quality early care and education a high priority.
Unfortunately, we have few good examples of the kinds of birth-to-five systems of support for young children and their families that are needed to break inter-generational cycles of poverty and narrow stubborn achievement gaps. Indeed, a challenge we have long struggled with is trying to knit together the work of places that provide access to quality pre-k programs with those offering strong parenting supports and the physical and mental health care crucial to a strong early start.
But now a few such districts have emerged. As part of its February relaunch, the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education released the first six of a series of case studies that showcase comprehensive approaches to education that begin at birth. The communities featured –in two of the nation’s largest urban school districts, three smaller cities, and a rural have all built early supports into their strategies. And while the details vary, all take the important steps of ensuring that programs are of high quality and developmentally appropriate, and that they are succeeded by holistic K-12 programs and supports, so that early gains are sustained and grown.
Massachusetts’ high-quality universal pre-k program inspired Boston’s City Connects to adapt its system of comprehensive supports to its youngest students. In New York City, Children’s Aid Society piloted birth-to-five programs in two of its highest-need schools and leverages city funding to provide a range of early childhood services in its other community schools. The East Durham Children’s Initiative and Northside Achievement Zone both benefit from strong state pre-k programs (in North Carolina and Minnesota, respectively), and the latter uses Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund monies to connect disadvantaged families with the highest-quality providers.
In just its second year as a Bright Futures USA affiliate, Pea Ridge, Arkansas secured a grant to place disadvantaged preschoolers in classrooms with higher-income peers, boosting program benefits. And in Vancouver, Washington, a combination of parent support programs, take-home literacy packets, and state and federally funded preschool have won awards and helped get more students to the starting gate ready to learn, as the continued narrowing of achievement gaps attests. These districts also partner with libraries, health clinics, and social service agencies to bolster these efforts with supports for young children’s literacy and physical and mental health.
While very ambitious, early care and education agendas of groups like Make it Work and WithinReach are critical if we are to revitalize our middle class, and our democracy. To get there, we need to be able to point to places that are bridging the gap between where we are now and those lofty future spaces. BBA case studies offer promising examples of how we might begin to do that bridging work. Look for more as we continue to roll them out.
This guest blog post was written by Elaine Weiss. She is the National Coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, where she works with four co-chairs, a high-level Advisory Board, and multiple coalition partners to promote a comprehensive, evidence-based set of policies to allow all children to thrive in school and life.