And How are the Children..?

Posts Tagged ‘policy

Obama’s Right-Wing School Reform | The New York Review of Books.

I wonder what people think of this article (HT to @Thanks2Teachers via Twitter for bringing it to my attention).  Please share your thoughts:

I have been disappointed with what feels like a pretty conservative approach to education reform.  *To clarify, I mean conservative in the ‘slow, cautious, playing-it-safe’ way, not as a ideological label for a group of people (i.e. the political opposite of ‘liberal.’)*  Also disappointing: support for early childhood remains insufficient, continuing to follow the ‘table scraps’ model of funding.

I don’t know anything about this author, Diane Ravitch.  Her headline is sensational.  She’s marketing a book.  But she also seems to make some sound points.  I wish she had provided some examples of possible solutions among her list of complaints and criticisms.  This piques my ongoing issue with educators: a great deal of willingness to discuss problems, but little action toward solving those problems. This is not a personal criticism of Ravitch, and may not be consistent with her record – I will have to do some reading before making that determination.  Perhaps there are solutions discussed in her book.

She does note that she is seeking leadership outside of herself – political leadership.  If she finds that leadership, I wonder how she would participate.  How do any of us engage with leaders who have taken up our cause?  How can educators really be the change we want to see in the world?

Thoughts?  Discuss!

Obama’s Right-Wing School Reform | The New York Review of Books.


When I went to check out the New America Foundation’s Early Ed Watch blog inaugural podcast, I was pleased to see that it was accompanied by a new white paper: The Next Step in Systems-Building: Early Childhood Advisory Councils and Federal Efforts to Promote Policy Alignment in Early Childhood, by Christina Satkowski (New America Foundation, 2009).  As it turns out, the podcast was a vehicle for the paper.  Policy issues are critical to anyone interested in advancing the early childhood care and education field, so I was pleased to come across the publication.

Satkowski’s writing speaks articulately to the topic at hand, though her comments on the podcast seem a bit less well-prepared.  I have to agree with the lone commenter on the blog who challenges her assertion that “we don’t know that much about what works and what doesn’t in early childhood education.” We don’t know everything about it, but we certainly have learned quite a bit.  I wonder if she meant to frame that notion in the context of coalition building, which would make sense.  We do still have quite a bit to learn about successful collaborations, and there’s no harm in admitting that.  Satkowski’s talking points during the podcast seemed a bit vague, but she’s a researcher, not a radio personality.  The paper tells us what we need to know.

The Next Step in Systems-Building describes disconnected systems of early care and education services.  This is a real problem, as such inefficiency limits the quality of services available for groups that are already experiencing high stress and high need.  The Head Start Reauthorization Act of 2007 sought a remedy to this problem by calling for the creation of Early Learning Advisory Councils (ECACs) in every state, but the act went unfunded, and therefore, impotent.  Satkowski explains how one year ago, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA, aka The Stimulus) loaded 100 million dollars into funding a solution to this – and states have been applying for these grants since June 2009 (through August 2010) to form, support and implement the work of ECACs.

Most people who work in the realm of early childhood are familiar with such councils (also known as advisory boards, task forces, etc.).  People interested in early childhood issues get together – usually people with some vested interest, or influence in the field, be it practical, political or financial – and they attempt to shape aspects of early childhood practices in their communities.  As Satkowski describes, some are government appointed, and some are interested volunteers.  She makes the point that it is sensible to involve people on councils who are not so high-ranking that they can’t see the ground, i.e. practitioners  or implementers.  It’s an ongoing challenge in early childhood to balance between roots and wings, so to speak.  How these groups are defined and generated varies widely.  But the ARRA seeks to formalize and institutionalize the existence of early learning councils by funding them with a 70-30 % dollar match, and offering them opportunities to advance their agendas.  This includes the goal of solidifying what may have been loose associations of parties with common goals, and helping them to focus their energies together.  The fact that federal funding is huge – unlike so much ADA/IDEA and No Child Left Behind policy, there are dollars in place to make this happen, though the 70-30 % match is a challenge for many states, and prohibitive for others (to be clear, it is the states that provide 70%, and the Feds provide the remaining 30% ).  It would be a shame to have a council ready and willing, but short on budget dollars.  Satkowski acknowledges the precarious nature of early childhood funding as a barrier to effective early childhood advisory councils being effective in their collaborative work.  It is an ongoing challenge, and putting early childhood issues high on the slash list is a cultural norm.

Satkowski has written a useful document.  It does a good job of outlining what the Early Childhood collaborations scene looks like, describing groups in various levels of proximity, with varying degrees of connection and investment.  Satkowski points out that not everyone that comes to the table has the same goals, likes each other, or works well together, which she speaks to in her recommendations for policymakers.

These recommendations for policy on both state and federal levels are arguably the most useful part of this white paper.  The state-level recommendations have to do with ways to create a more comprehensive network with sustainable leadership. For example, one recommendation is to  nurture leadership, relationships, and communication among mid-level managers:  A smart idea.  The problem is that while logically speaking, mid-level management is in a good position to function as ECAC leadership, practically speaking, this grade of leaders is often subject to layoffs due to budget cuts, in a field that takes financial instability as a norm.  The recent debacle of the state budget crisis in Illinois is a perfect example of this: hundreds of organizations across the state either closed altogether or laid off workers, leaving the ranks of human services stripped of many mid-level managers.  The next recommendation goes on to say that ECACs should be positioned as key players in the policy process.  This is truly important, and compounds the challenge of the prior recommendation, because one way to gain influence on policy issues is to be an influential person.  Such influence is seen less in the realm of middle management, more among executives and board members, those workers that may be “further distanced from those individuals responsible for day-to-day implementation of policy.”  On the federal level, she recommends systemic approaches to not only support ECACs, but to institutionalize support of ECACs so that progress can continue into the future, not necessarily attached to any one funding push or administration.

I hope that people will at least take the time to read through the policy recommendations.  Satkowski provides a truly useful guide to how to think in terms of early childhood systems when steering and navigating these waters.   If the economy actually does continue to improve, and we see more money coming into the field, we will all have to step up to the plate and offer services that are smarter, more comprehensive and more sustainable than they have been in the past.  We will have to put our money where our mouth is, and deliver on all that we’ve been promising for years.

This is what makes me sooooooo frustrated…

Early childhood programs are generally assumed to be more or less worthless in the court of popular opinion.  Some people think they are great IF you can afford it.  Some people actually think they are bad (free babysitting for lazy people, parents should teach children at home, the “Nanny State” trying to hijack the minds of their children, etc..).  When budgets are to be cut, and sacrifices to be made, no fiscal surgeon falters before cutting what appears to be a easy-to-reach chunk of fat blocking the strained arteries of any given budget.  When compared to other line items, early education and child care funding just aren’t as critical, right?  Quality programs are costly.  They’re not saving us any money, are they?

Actually… WRONG.  They are.  They do.  In the long and short term.  We can prove it!

The problem is that we, the practitioners in the field of early childhood, need to stop resting on the laurels of what feels certain to be the moral high ground.  We need to get some PR on our side, and fast.  We’ve got research on our side, we’ve got a potentially very mediagenic cause… we need to sell it.  It doesn’t matter that providing access to Pre-Kindergarten education improves community outcomes and stimulates the economy if no one knows about it.  Or rather, no one in a position to make any useful policy changes knows about it.

Speaking of research – Take a look at this important info from the Pew Center on the States:

Press Release: Cutting Early Childhood Programs Worsens Fiscal Problems

Research Brief: The Costs of Disinvestment

From the PEW press release:

“The brief also provides evidence that early childhood programs act as an economic stimulus.  Because child care and pre-k professionals tend to spend much of their earnings locally, their jobs cause wage dollars to move multiple times through their communities.  Facilities maintenance and supplies for early childhood programs are heavily local, spurring spending when and where it is most needed.  Also, parents whose children are in reliable, quality care are able to work more productively and rely less on public assistance, while parents out of work can better search for jobs and participate in training programs.  Such public investments can help attract new business by signaling the state’s commitment to workforce development.”

We, the ECE practitioners of America have a problem of passion over politics.  We work hard for this cause, and feel so deeply about it, we forget that no one else really cares. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.  Or rather, very few people in positions of financial, legislative or political power know about the proven benefits of quality early care and education systems.  And they’re usually so effectively prejudiced and misinformed about our work, that when it is explained, they dismiss it.

If you are a person who would like to see more funding and policy decisions made in favor of early care and education in this country, you would do well to shift the focus toward how your work is good for society, and good for the economy in particular.  Because if people are going to invest time and energy, it won’t be because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s going to be because they expect some return on their investment that affects their daily lives, usually in the form of comfort or money.

Sell it.  Let’s involve some marketing and PR professionals, ’cause non-profit people rarely know how to do this:  Let’s explain to cash-strapped America how it could use an Early Care and Education Stimulus.  Let’s show our under-performing industry how the human infrastructure of early care and education holds up the workforce like a bridge; Just consider the chain-reaction of absences and lateness caused when a single child care provider doesn’t show up to work.  Make people understand that there’s more to it than unfamiliar groups and unknown children; everyone is touched in some way.  Everyone is affected.  You are affected.  That’s the idea we have to sell.

My goal this week is to try to talk to someone outside of the early childhood field about the importance of what we do, in a way that makes them want to write to their legislators and demand that ECE programs and funding be maintained and increased.  You should try it, too.  Read the PEW Brief (it really is brief, a quick read), and talk to someone about it.  Good luck to us all.  We can do it!

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