U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has proposed establishing an Office of Early Learning within the Department of Education. Jacqueline Jones, who has been the secretary’s senior advisor on early learning, announced the plan earlier this month in Orlando at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Jones, a former assistant commissioner of early childhood education for the New Jersey State Department of Education, will head the new office. She has been the department’s point person on the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, and it seems likely that she will oversee its implementation.
“For too long, federal programs and funding streams for early learning have functioned in isolation, lacking strong, coordinated collaboration across agencies and even within our own Department,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan writes on Huffington Post. “Establishing a dedicated office underscores a critical step in progressing the national dialogue about improving outcomes for young children. It will institutionalize, increase, and coordinate federal support for high-quality early learning, manage outreach to the early learning community and enhance support for building high-performing early education systems in states across the country.”
At the NAEYC conference, Early Ed Watch reports, “Jones addressed a packed room of early childhood teachers, center directors, advocates and researchers who cheered when she announced the plan for the new office. Jones said the office would encompass birth through third grade early learning and allow for better coordination of federal programs that contain early learning such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods, as well as other programs authorized under ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Staffing and other details are still forthcoming.”
The office is certainly welcome news, but as Early Ed Watch notes, its creation also raises questions. Among them, Early Ed Watch asks:
- How will this office coordinate with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant?
- How will the K-3 grades be handled within this new office?
- How will the earliest end of the spectrum – the programs for children starting at birth and extending to age 3 – be incorporated into the education department’s strategies and guidance to states and districts?
Early EdWatch also points out an item on the Eduflack blog, by education communications strategist Patrick Riccards, praising the move. “Let there be no mistake,” Riccards wrote. “This is an important step forward for both ECE [early childhood education] and the P-20 learning continuum. It is no secret that the percentage of students failing to read at least grade level by third grade is remarkably similar to the high school drop-out rate. And there is little question that those with a strong, evidence-based pre-k experience are far better prepared for hitting that early reading proficiency rates. Kudos for the EdSec for acting on early learning. Now let’s make sure the new office is empowered to have real impact.”