School & District Management Opinion

It’s Time We Were Ready to Support School Readiness

By Learning First Alliance — January 17, 2013 4 min read
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By Marla
Ucelli-Kashyap, Assistant to the President for Educational Issues, American Federation of Teachers

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.” //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.

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.

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

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 //tinyurl.com/SMLearlychildhood.

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.

The opinions expressed in Transforming Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.