Corporations are donating millions of dollars to improve programs. PNC Financial Services Group announced last week that it was spending $250 million over the next decade to expand an effort begun in 2004 to improve early education programs.
Still, experts say much more needs to be done, a theme echoed by speakers at an early childhood education conference hosted by The Washington Post last week (and sponsored by PNC). Here are some issues under debate.
Q.What does “high quality” mean when talking about early education programs?
W. Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, said that quality programs for 3- and 4-year-olds develop skills and knowledge in language and literacy, math, science, social studies and the arts, while also addressing social, emotional and physical development. The Center for the Child Care Workforce says that such programs also have qualified and well-paid staff, low staff turnover, low student-teacher ratios, provision of comprehensive social services and nurturing environments, and periodic licensing and/or accreditation. The results of such programs, research shows, are students who succeed better academically, graduate from high school more often and are more economically productive later in life. Economic impact studies have shown that every $1 invested in early childhood education saves taxpayers up to $13 in future costs.
Is there too much focus on academics in early childhood education today?
There is no question that formal early literacy learning is important for many children, especially those who live in poverty. New census data show that 22 percent of American children live in poverty. Research is unequivocal that language skills, which are the foundation for school readiness, are based primarily on exposure to language, and one landmark study showed that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than other youngsters before the age of 4. Still, there is growing concern among some early education advocates about the best ways to provide students with language-rich experiences. Experts including Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., have warned that the current focus among reformers on school “accountability” robs young children of time to learn through play, which is how youngsters grow and learn best.
Where is the Obama administration on early childhood education?