Yesterday at the New America Foundation, Sara Mead released a list of 10 ways NCLB could be tweaked to bolster prekindergarten programs. In a panel discussion, which I moderated, she highlighted three items:
1.) Require districts to use their unspent money for tutoring and choice on preK in schools that are in need of improvement;
2.) Allow schools required to restructure to transform into "early education academies" serving preK-3; and
3.) Expand Reading First so districts can use the money for preK literacy.
The ideas aren't meant to be a comprehensive preK agenda, Mead said. They can be "a bridge to get to places that people want to go to get a greater federal investment," she said.
But respondents on the panel wanted to see a comprehensive early-childhood education agenda.
"These are constructive suggestions, but they are at the margins," said Kathy Patterson, the federal policy director for PreK Now.
Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust said some of Mead's proposals would distract from improving K-12 schools more than they would help build preK programs. The proposal to spend leftover money from tutoring and choice, for example, would leave the preK programs with "an unstable funding source," she said. And the plan for preK academies wouldn't seriously address the needs of 4th and 5th graders, who would be moved out of the restructured school.
"I think we should be bold and say we want more than this," Wilkins said.
Mead explained that her ideas aren't meant to be "the cornerstone" of the federal preK investment and that New America supports House and Senate bills that would create a new title in NCLB to support preK initiatives.
Patterson said those bills are PreK Now's highest priority under NCLB. The group will be lobbying for them whether or not NCLB reauthorization is advancing next year. The idea has bipartisan backing and is a politically popular proposal that could win support in an election year, she said. (Learn more about the bills here, here, and here.)
I'm putting the issue on my watch list, mainly because the Senate bill is sponsored by a certain senator from New York who is running for president.