In 2001, the Pew Charitable Trusts made a 10-year commitment to press for high-quality pre-kindergarten and launched Pre-K Now. As noted in an earlier posting (Pre-K Now Issues a Call to Action), the campaign ends this year after a decade of advocacy. More than one million children nationwide are now enrolled in pre-kindergarten, up from 700,000 in 2001, Pre-K Now reports, and state investments more than doubled to $5.1 billion. Here in Massachusetts, we are grateful to Pre-K Now for its support of our policy and advocacy work on behalf of young children and families.
“We wanted to change how people thought about pre-k,” Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, says in the video.
The video also features U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America. “This is about America’s kids,” Canada says. “If we want our kids to be prepared for what is increasingly going to become a more sophisticated labor market, where you need higher skills, we’ve got to make some investments that are going to pay off down the road.”
In a recent article in Education Week (Pre-K Now Wraps Up Work After Decade of Advocacy), advocates reflect on the Pew campaign. “Pew’s contribution wasn’t a particular model [of pre-k],” Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, tells Ed Week. “They provided proof points and assurance that pre-k was doable.” Smith is leading a nationwide campaign to ensure that children become proficient readers by the end of third grade.
Some advocates express concern about the effect the closing of Pre-K Now will have on efforts to extend high-quality early education. “We need more champions at a very high national level on these issues,” Lisa Guernsey, director of the New America Foundation’s early education initiative, tells Ed Week. Others, including Pre-K Now, say the movement can weather the change. “We feel confident there are really strong and diverse players who will continue to be advocates moving this agenda forward,” Marci Young, Pre-K Now project director, tells Ed Week. “We’re talking about ensuring pre-k is seen as just as essential as second grade or any of the other grades,” she added.
In the video, Duncan stresses that much work lies ahead. “We have to continue to invest,” he says. “There’s arguably no better investment than early childhood education. There are still far too many children in need who don’t have access to high quality. OK, what are we going to do next year to get dramatically better? What are we going to do next year to get dramatically better? How do we significantly increase the rate of change?”