Blog: The Educated Reporter

Early Childhood Ed: ‘We Have Lots of Numbers and No Information’

At the National Child Care Policy Symposium yesterday in Washington, a senior U.S. Department of Education official highlighted the Obama administration’s efforts to fine-tune federally backed early childhood education services.

Jacqueline Jones, the Department of Education’s senior advisor on early learning, told the audience, “In a world primarily focused on K-12, to think about health and social emotional outcomes [in early child education] has really not been the focus.” She stressed the need to put additional focus on child development issues in early education, which she defined as starting at birth and ending at third grade.

The education department is looking to improve its data systems to better share information among the agencies that deal with early child care.  It also aims to develop the teacher corps that educates young children. In commenting on how to help educators along in providing students with the best set of services, Jones invoked what she called the “Evil A’s: Assessment and Accountability.” She was quick to explain that shouldn’t mean bubble tests—either for students or, subsequently, the evaluations that assess a teacher’s performance. Jones said that improving teachers’ powers of observation and documentation should be the goal. On personnel quality, standards should clearly define what instructors should know, otherwise assessments would not reveal much, she said.

While No Child Left Behind helped ensure teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree in K-12, that trend has extended to pre-K services. A recent Government Accountability Office report noted of the 1.8 million early child care and education professionals in the United States, half of the child care workers had attained only a high school degree or less, as did 20 percent of preschool teachers. Pay was also low, with preschool teachers earning on average $18,500 a year.

Regarding  data systems, Jones said, “We have lots of numbers and no information.” In the department’s Early Learning Challenge, the Race to the Top grant for which nine states were approved to receive a share of a $500 million pot, Jones said the goal was to have “systems that really talk to each other.” Jones said the competition was made to be complicated because the issues are complicated. Among the ELC’s goals is better interaction between the various early education “silos”—Head Start, IDEA and state programs.

Going forward, Jones said the administration is asking for more money for education, with more School Improvement Grants funding in particular being directed toward early childhood programs.

Indeed, the president’s budget asked for $1.7 billion in additional education spending compared with last year’s $68.1 billion. A fresh round of RTTT grants that would require an additional $850 million was also requested, the bulk of it funding early education initiatives, Jones said.

The symposium was arranged by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), a group that advocates on behalf of childcare providers on the state and federal level.