“There’s progress, but…”
That’s the theme of the new “The State of Preschool” 2015 Yearbook, published by NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research).
On NIEER’s Preschool Matters blog, in a post called “Slow and (Un)Steady Does Not Win the Race: What Other States Should Learn from New York,” W. Steven Barnett, NIEER’s director, shares his frustration with the troublingly slow pace of policy action. (We’ve added the bold face and underlining for emphasis.)
“The economist John Maynard Keynes famously wrote: ‘The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.’ Typically, this phrase is cited to support government intervention over waiting for the eventually self-correcting private sector. As this year’s State of Preschool marks 14 years of tracking state government support for preschool education, I find myself citing Keynes in exasperation with the slow pace of government intervention. At the current rate, it will be another 50 years before states can reach all low-income children at age four, and it will take 150 years to reach 75 percent of all four-year-olds.”
Still, there was important progress. The yearbook explains:
“Nationally, the 2014-2015 school year showed continued improvement in state funded pre-K as states recovered from the Great Recession. Enrollment increased. More states met the benchmarks for minimum quality standards. State funding for pre-K increased: for the third year in a row, spending per child exceeded the previous year.”
“Does this mean that state funded pre-K is back on track after being derailed by the recession?”
The answer depends on where you look. New York and other states have made advances.
However: “not all states moved forward. Some even moved backwards, including two of the nation’s most populous states, Texas and Florida. For the nation as a whole, this means that access to a high-quality preschool program remained highly unequal, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future unless many more states follow the leaders.”
In a post about the yearbook, New America’s EdCentral blog notes: “The number of students enrolled in state-funded pre-K grew modestly in 2015, with an increase of about 37,000 children bringing the total of all children nationwide enrolled in state-funded pre-K to almost 1.4 million.”
The caveats: “Most of the enrollment gains produced as a result of the New York City pre-K expansion were canceled out by enrollment cuts in other states. Most of the enrollment growth came from three-year-olds, with only about 7,000 more four-year-olds served in 2015 compared to the previous year.”
Though Massachusetts is known as a national leader in education, the NIEER data exposes the commonwealth’s mediocre standings for pre-k investment: we rank 34th in 4-year-old access and 29th in state spending.
Amy O’Leary, director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All campaign, sees an opportunity for the state to lead.
“Far too many young children lack access to high-quality early learning programs in Massachusetts,” O’Leary says. “The state could level the playing field for these children by enacting a long term plan and committing the resources necessary to expand access to high-quality programs. Leaders in several of our local communities are working together on strategic plans to expand preschool and need public support to implement and sustain these plans.”
Here in Massachusetts, state investment in high-quality early education has not yet returned to FY2009 pre-recession levels, but we’ve made steady progress over the past three fiscal years, and we hope that the FY17 budget will continue this trend.
Behind the Numbers: the Workforce and Dual Language Learners
This year for the first time, as EdCentral explains, the yearbook “includes a special report on the pre-K workforce and policies for Dual Language Learners (DLLs).”
“Responding to the pressure from states for more detailed information about state pre-K policies on supports for children who are dual language learners (DLLs), NIEER supplemented the 2015 survey with a special set of questions on policies to support DLLs in pre-K,” the special report says.
NIEER’s yearbook survey “included a second set of questions on state policies regarding compensation and other supports for the pre-K workforce.”
A key focus was parity with K-3 teachers.
“We inquired about parity with respect to not just salary, but also fringe benefits, professional development supports, and paid planning time for professional development for both lead and assistant teachers.”
Early educators and readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that the data shows “the majority of states do not have policies supporting compensation parity for the pre-K workforce.”
A Call for Action
The time to act is now, Barnett writes in the Preschool Matters blog.
“Our nation pays a high price for our failure to invest in young children. Most of the achievement gap is set before our children walk through the kindergarten door. A recent report from NIEER and the Center for American Progress estimates that high-quality full-day pre-K for all would significantly reduce the achievement gaps at kindergarten entry. For African American and Latino kindergarteners, access to high-quality pre-K could close the achievement gap in reading entirely and lessen the gap in math by large percentages.”
Barnett concludes: “Cities and states across the country should take note. In a global economy, the race is not to be won by the slow and unsteady, but by those who move ahead at a New York pace and stay at it year after year.”
Winning this race would be a major victory for young children.