Blog: The Educated Reporter

Putting the Focus on the Littlest Learners

Huffington Post education reporter Joy Resmovits talks with children at a New Orleans preschool during an EWA site visit in February 2014. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

Massachusetts regularly scores at or near the top of national comparisons when it comes to its public schools, and the newest report from the Education Week Research Center is no exception - in overall education indicators it receives a B, the highest letter grade among the states. However, the Bay State isn’t faring as well with early childhood education.  “Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown” gives the Bay State a “C-” for its programs serving the littlest learners.

States showed little consistency across the early education indicators, Education Week Research Center director Holly Yettick told journalists during an EWA webinar held Wednesday. (The replay is here.) In fact, Mississippi, a state that usually ends up on the bottom of report cards rating the overall condition of education, performed well in Ed Week’s  Early Childhood Index, earning a “B” grade.

The Ed Week report — part of the annual “Quality Counts” series — is loaded with valuable data on states, districts, and schools. It also provides a nuanced look at the early learning landscape, and also the bipartisan political will to expand federal funding for early learning. From the report: 

Red states and Republican lawmakers have taken up the preschool cause almost as eagerly as Democratic politicians in blue states, accelerated by more than a billion dollars in federal funds passed through to states via programs such as the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

But it’s not all smooth sailing. As the new Quality Counts report makes clear, there are critics who contend there’s no need for federally funded preschool, and call into question research that suggests the benefits of such programs.

Another crucial issue highlighted by the report: The challenge of evaluating preschool’s impact on children and developing age-appropriate assessments. The so-called “push down” of academic expectations into the younger grades — sometimes supplanting time for social-emotional development and “play-based” activities —  become a source of tension for many families and educators.

Ed Week also has some interesting local snapshots, including San Antonio’s civic effort to make preschool available and affordable to more families. Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio and now the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, gave the keynote address last winter at our seminar on early childhood education. You can also read my Q&A with him here. Also from our February event in New Orleans: a guest post by education blogger Alexander Russo on whether the research on early learning justifies the cost

For more on these issues, take a look a wrap-up of our session on early childhood education from EWA’s 2014 National Seminar. My colleague Mikhail Zinshteyn has looked at the challenges facing cities eager to launch high-quality preschool programs. And EWA’s Topic Page on Early Childhood & Preschool has the latest news, multimedia from past events, links to research, and questions to ask.