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It's Time We Were Ready to Support School Readiness

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By Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, Assistant to the President for Educational Issues, American Federation of Teachers


As the nation's capital prepares for a Presidential inauguration, governors across the U.S. are giving or getting ready to give their state of the state messages. And speaking of "getting ready," early childhood education and school readiness are, appropriately, on the agenda in a number of states from Connecticut to Hawaii. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put it in his address last week, "We need more early education. Every expert will tell you that early education makes a difference and it makes the difference for life." http://eyeonearlyeducation.org/2013/01/15/governors-put-early-education-and-literacy-on-2013-agenda/


AFT believes that every child deserves that chance--including those whose parents can't afford quality programs or even find ones to access close to home. At our biennial convention last July, AFT delegates passed a resolution to strongly advocate for the right of every child and family in the U.S. to a high quality early learning and care experience. http://www.aft.org/about/resolution_detail.cfm?articleid=1651


Early care and education settings include child care centers, family child care homes, and Head Start and pre-kindergarten classrooms.  Whatever the setting, for the rhetoric to match the reality, it comes down to people and programs. Early childhood teachers and staff in the U.S. are among the lowest paid, least prepared, and have the highest turnover rates of any occupation serving the needs of children.  Specialized staff training and good working conditions--including post secondary education and decent salaries and benefits--as well as low staff turnover are key predictors of program quality and positive outcomes for children. Early childhood teachers must be knowledgeable and well prepared to have long-lasting positive effects on educational achievement, economic productivity, social responsibility, and a significant return on investment.  For programs, "quality" isn't indicated by simple compliance with health and safety standards. Programs should have transparent, clearly delineated standards that provide guidance in areas such as appropriate educator qualifications, availability of curricular resources, and provision of social services and supports for families. Standards should include a common definition of levels of quality, safe and age appropriate facilities, coherence among programs, use of best practices, and decent pay and benefits for workers in the field.


Why does this matter? For the simple reason that early childhood programs with knowledgeable and well-prepared teachers lead to better educational outcomes--including enhanced school readiness and academic performance, less need for remedial education and special services, reduced criminal activity and substance abuse, and higher earnings in adulthood. In addition, early childhood investments yield strong returns on investment.  For every dollar spent on high quality early care and education, taxpayers save between $6-$12 because of the reduced need for academic, welfare, and criminal justice services.


We must ensure that our nation's children and their families have access to early childhood teachers who have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs well.  Teachers in high quality early childhood programs:  support children's development to work and play well with others; have the content knowledge to provide children experiences that help them learn and be ready for school; push children's thinking and help motivate them to learn; and build positive relationships with children, families and communities.


What can we as a nation do to ensure every young child has a teacher that supports her/his development and learning? We can invest in early care and education so that:

·       all young children have access to early childhood teachers who know and use effective teaching practices;

·       all early childhood programs provide supports for teachers in their efforts to enhance children's development and learning;

·       all early childhood educators  have access to affordable and effective education and training, including higher education and research-informed training; and

·       all early educators are fairly compensated.


The Obama administration's education agenda calls for increased access to high quality early childhood education as well as increased access to higher education. By lowering the financial barriers that many in the early childhood education workforce face to pursuing continued education and professional development, great strides can be made to increasing access to high quality early childhood education and care.


The AFT is committed to doing our part to increase development opportunities for our early childhood education members. For example, we are currently supporting training in the Mind in the Making Curriculum developed by Ellen Galinsky, which focuses on helping educators guide children's development of critical thinking skills http://mindinthemaking.org. And all early childhood educators and advocates can access a free collection on ShareMyLesson.com that provides resources ranging from anti-bullying to preparing for a Common Core-aligned elementary curriculum http://tinyurl.com/SMLearlychildhood.


The AFT represents 1.5 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators. AFT is also actively participating in the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) partnership on Educating America about the Value of the Early Childhood Teacher.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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