Curriculum

Early-Education Advocates Face Tougher Sell

By Linda Jacobson — September 13, 2007 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Supporters of programs in early-childhood development viewed a conference held in this resort town last week as a focused—even groundbreaking—opportunity to refine and strengthen their message that such efforts are a valuable economic investment for the states.

They learned, though, that they face big challenges in persuading more business leaders to buy into the cause of expanding preschool and other services, particularly for children considered at high risk for later academic or social problems.

Phyllis Eisen

“I can tell you this is not the top topic in any business meeting,” said Phyllis Eisen, a senior vice president of the Manufacturing Institute of the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers. “Their stockholders aren’t saying, ‘Are you worried about early-childhood education? Do you have a plan?’ ”

Other participants at the Sept. 9-11 conference made frank comments about the struggle of communicating their conviction that high-quality services for young children have an economic benefit, even as a number of state governors have embraced that cause.

Seeking New Evidence

Paul Hirschbiel, the chairman of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the owner of an investment-consulting business, said the public and lawmakers might be tiring of hearing about the return on investment from the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study, begun in Michigan in the 1960s.

The famous study is probably cited more than any other to make the case for expanding preschool programs, because of its finding that participation in such programs is linked to lower rates of crime and higher educational attainment later in life. (“Research Updates Lives of Perry Preschoolers,” Nov. 24, 2004.)

“With the data that’s out there, [the research available is] starting to feel a little thin,” Mr. Hirschbiel said.

And some people at the Telluride conference acknowledged that not all business leaders are interested in a strategy that won’t pay off for 20 years or more. For many business executives, current workforce needs are likely to be paramount.

In Connecticut, for example, companies are concerned that baby boomers are retiring and that younger workers are moving out of the state, said Robert W. Santy, the president of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, which promotes the state as a favorable place to do business.

“We have an immediate workforce need,” he said.

‘Building Human Capital’

Organizers of the three-day Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment called it a “Davos forum on building human capital” through spending on early-childhood programs, comparing the event to the annual international gathering of economic and government leaders held in that Alpine village in Switzerland.

Robert H. Dugger, an investment-company manager who leads the Partnership for America’s Economic Success—a consortium of business leaders, economists, and philanthropists that sponsored the event here along with the local Telluride Foundation—said the list of participants could be considered “the highest-powered assemblage of talent” to address the subject of preschool and other services for children from disadvantaged families.

Conference-goers heard from state leaders who described their struggles to build legislative support for early-childhood education in the face of tight budgets.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, of Kansas, a Democrat, cited a recent study showing that half of all Kansas 5-year-olds were not ready to meet the expectations for kindergarten.

“We can never catch some of those kids up,” she said, contending that money spent on K-12 is being wasted because children are not prepared in the early years. “What we need now is the political will.”

Colorado Lieutenant Gov. Barbara O’Brien, a Democrat, said that, in her state, few resources are available to whittle down the waiting list for preschool because of annual increases in the state’s prison budget.

It was clear that the participants realized that they have a large task ahead of them in making early-childhood services a high national priority.

One measure of the challenge they face: data presented by Eugene Steuerle, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Urban Institute, showing that the share of the federal budget for children’s programs is actually expected to decline, largely because of the growing U.S. population of retirees.

Even if funding is in place, states continue to struggle over issues such as which children should be eligible and which providers can participate. (“States Press Ahead on Preschool Programs,” June 6, 2007.)

Arthur J. Rolnick

But Arthur J. Rolnick, a senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and a champion of early-childhood education, described a new initiative in Minnesota that, in his view, shows business leaders are coming to share the belief that spending money on young children now will save government money in the future.

So far, $15 million has been raised toward a $30 million pilot program that will provide preschool scholarships and mentoring to low-income families in an area of St. Paul. Mothers in the program will be paired with mentors even before their babies are born, and incentives that encourage parents to send their children to high-quality preschool programs will be built in.

Although the pilot program is being offered in an area of the city not now served by good programs, Mr. Rolnick believes that will change.

“I know how the market works,” the economist said. “The market will create the quality.”

‘States Are the Key’

Some speakers cautioned that support from businesses and foundations can go only so far.

“I don’t think this is a private-sector responsibility,” Gov. Sebelius said. “I think this is an American responsibility.”

The Kansas governor also made bold comments about the role she thinks the federal government should play in providing preschool programs, saying Congress should “put resources on the table and then get out of the way.”

Ron Haskin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, went even further.

“We’re not going to figure this out at the federal level,” he said, pointing to the confusing mix of programs for children already paid for by the federal government. Among the various programs he displayed on a chart were Head Start and Even Start, child care, and programs involving preschool services for children with disabilities. “The states are really the key to this,” Mr. Haskins said.

Participants at the meeting—which didn’t include the usual audience of early-childhood advocates and researchers—also plan eventually to come up with a list of what they hope will become known as the “Telluride principles” to guide their future work.

And plans are under way to make this an annual meeting, similar to the way other resort towns, such as Aspen, Colo., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., have become gathering spots for influential leaders concerned about policy issues.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Calif. Deletes Popular Affirmation From Curriculum After Suit Claims It's an Aztec Prayer
This lawsuit is one of the first major legal challenges to the state's model ethnic studies curriculum.
Kristen Taketa, The San Diego Union-Tribune
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Curriculum Librarians Fight Back Against Efforts to Ban Books in Schools
Book defenders have employed a variety of strategies, including petition drives, protests, and direct pressure on school board members.
David Montgomery, Stateline.org
8 min read
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo
Curriculum From Our Research Center The Topics That Lead Book Ban Requests, According to School Leaders
A new survey of teachers, principals, and district leaders sheds some light on book ban and censorship requests.
3 min read
Image show a page of fiction with black marks hiding sentences or words.
Getty
Curriculum Opinion The Evidence-Based, Broadly Appealing Way to Teach Kids How to Succeed
There is broad-based support for teaching that getting a degree, job, and married—before kids—makes one more likely to avoid poverty.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty