As an early childhood educator it comes naturally to me to be hopeful because I see potential in the eyes of students every day. When I started getting into researching and writing about early childhood policy I started to get a little more tarnished if not actually jaded. I ran into people who didn’t think pre-K was a good idea. I felt the same way my friend Marsha Ratzel, an economist turned teacher did:
“No duh is what I always want to say. I’m no EC whiz kid, but it only makes sense. After listening to a report a few years back on the long term impact of Project Head Start on people 20+ afterwards, I’m sold. What else do people need besides common sense and a little data to nudge them over the edge?”
It was a no brainer to me too but then I ran into Jo Lynne DeMary who challenged my thinking in an educational policy issues class to convince her that funding pre-K is important without only using the economic argument. She had been the State Superintendent of Virginia and even though she supported the beginning of state funded pre-K during her tenure, when it came down to money, pre-K was always the first place to look at for a cut. To her it made sense, in a pragmatic way, to invest in kids in middle school who might drop out or might not depending on what we do instead of kids who had most of their educational career ahead of them. Since then I have tried to take a different track. I have tried to tell stories about why pre-K is important and use a more palpable logic in my arguments to support pre-K. Still, it does make me happy and thankful when a respected conservative finally gets the head-slapper and agrees with most early childhood people when he says invest in pre-K. Some day I hope to personally thank Mr. Kristoff for saying this publically,
“the question isn’t whether we can afford early childhood education, but whether we can afford not to provide it. We can pay for prisons or we can pay, less, for early childhood education to help build a fairer and more equitable nation.”
I also want to take a second to thank Arne Duncan. I have had many misgivings with Mr. Duncan’s tenure as the Secretary of Education, but thankfully not as many as I had with the last Secretary of Education. Just recently Duncan’s office announced it was creating an office of Early Childhood Education and appointed Jacqueline Jones to lead it. The office will focus on supporting education Birth to age 8. I am thankful for Arne Duncan because he is the first Secretary of Education to acknowledge the critical important of early childhood by speaking at a NAEYC conference and now he has created an office in the department of education. For years public pre-K has been grant grant funded and always the first on the chopping block. This move makes it even more likely that funding for pre-K will become more systemic and embedded in state funding structures.