Bottom Line: Let's Truly Invest in Children

Oct 15, 2010

By Danielle Ewen

Early childhood education has become a phrase that encompasses much for many-is it early intervention, designed to identify and treat physical and developmental delays before school entry? Is it pre-kindergarten services for four-year-olds to provide learning-related skills prior to kindergarten entry? Is it child care down the block, run by that nice lady, to provide a place for children while their parents work? Is it a panacea that will inoculate young children against all social ills from the time they enter school and beyond?

While early childhood education can be many of these things, it is not a panacea. But regardless of which goal "it" is meeting, early childhood education is an area of public policy that faces many challenges including:

  • Limited funding,
  • An array of program goals and designs,
  • Dual needs of supporting working families across income groups, and children's development,
  • The need to support the whole child, and
  • Hardships associated with growing poverty.

The Brookings Institution and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) waded into this conversation with a new compendium, Investing in Young Children: New Directions in Federal Preschool and Early Childhood Policy. Even the title highlights the disparate views of early childhood education. Preschool policy should be part of a continuum of interventions for young children in their earliest years, rather than something that happens in addition to early childhood. The various essays are thoughtful, well-researched and important for helping the field address its many challenges, yet in many ways they also avoid discussing the daily reality of early childhood for millions of families.

Twelve million children under age  six are in some form of early childhood setting each day for some part of the day. This could be Head Start, a state or locally funded pre-kindergarten program for 3 and 4 year olds in a public school, a family child care setting in the home of a licensed provider, or a for- or not-for-profit child care center. Regardless of the name over the door, these settings vary in quality, in funding and in other resources for children. They may not have enough books, toys, qualified teachers or other staff. Or, they may provide developmentally appropriate services that help support children across the learning continuum by supporting cognitive, emotional, social and physical development while also addressing the needs of the family. Read more.

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