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Early Childhood Opinion

Can We Get Some Real Coverage of Early Childhood Issues?

By Sara Mead — October 21, 2011 2 min read
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Lots of people have been tweeting or forwarding me Wednesday’s Nicholas Kristoff column calling for increased investment in early childhood education as a response to growing economic inequality. And with good reason--it’s rare that early childhood education gets such high-profile media coverage.*

But at the same time, this column also demonstrates how superficial media attention to early childhood education really is. Kristoff writes:

President Obama often talked in his campaign about early childhood education, and he probably agrees with everything I've said. But the issue has slipped away and off the agenda.

The irony here is that this article appeared on the very day that over 30 states submitted applications for the administration’s new Early Learning Challenge program. This program, called a “early childhood Race to the Top” and designed to support states in building comprehensive early childhood systems and better coordinating funds and programs to improve school readiness, is basically a scaled down starting point to carry out the administration’s campaign pledges on early childhood education. And it was widely hailed in the early childhood education community and by the administration as a historic investment.

Yet Kristoff doesn’t even seem to know it exists. And that’s not surprising, since Early Learning Challenge has gotten essentially zero attention in the mainstream media, particularly compared to the hype around the first Race to the Top. Now, granted, at $500 million, the ELC is not a very big program--particularly given the need and compared to the size of other federal investments such as Head Start. It’s not focused on expanding access to the kind of pre-k programs Kristoff is writing about here. Nor is it how I’d choose to spend $500 million to get the best bang for the buck in early learning outcomes if I were in charge.

But those are interesting issues in themselves! Yet no one in the mainstream media is writing about the fact that, no, ELC is not actually a pre-k program, or about what it actually does, or about what states are doing in response to it, or about whether this is a smart thing to be doing or not. And those are potentially interesting stories!

There are hosts of stories in early childhood practice and policy that are much more interesting than the standard “rich people have trouble getting into fancy Manhattan preschools” and “should educated professional women feel guilty about putting their kids in daycare” fare. It’s a field filled with colorful characters and internecine disputes just as impassioned and probably at this point more interesting than the “reformers vs. unions” debate in K-12. And a lot of people are actually interested in these issues. Early childhood education is increasingly part of both families’ lives and our system of public education, yet it’s still largely ignored in the mainstream media, or treated on only the most superficial of levels.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook 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.