To maximize the return on its investments in early childhood education for disadvantaged kids, the federal government ought to encourage states to adopt a "common approach" to setting learning content and program standards in publicly-funded programs that serve children up to age 5.
That is one of 10 new policy recommendations being released today by the Center for American Progress in a new report that draws on ideas from an array of experts who make up the Center's advisory panel on early childhood.
In calling for this so-called "common approach," the report invokes the Common Core State Standards initiative—the rigorous new K-12 standards for math and English language arts adopted by nearly every state—as "momentum" to build on in getting states to move toward a more uniform set of standards for their early childhood programs that would connect directly with the K-12 common core.
Other key areas to focus on, the report says, are developing better assessments of how programs are working, including using more observation tools, and better assessments of how children are doing in those programs. The federal government should use its leverage to insist on a more professional workforce in early childhood, both in where and how it invests in teacher preparation programs and pushing for teacher certification as is required in K-12. The report also says more attention needs to be paid and investment needs to be made in training a workforce with second-language skills, as the number of children entering such programs without knowing English increases.
Many of the recommendations in the report echo the priorities in the Obama administration's Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, in which nine states are splitting $500 million to improve the quality of early-childhood education for tens of thousands of low-income children who rely on a patchwork of publicly financed child-care and preschool programs.
There's much more to sink your teeth into from this report, including recommendations around data collection, technical assistance, and requiring more early childhood program participation, especially in neighborhoods and communities with struggling elementary schools. There's also a case study on the Harlem Children's Zone.
All of this will be under discussion today at 1 p.m. Eastern time at the center's Washington headquarters. Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will be there, along with several early childhood experts. You can watch it live here.