To share what it has learned about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sweeping expansion of pre-K programs, New York City recently hosted a “learning lab” for early education leaders and administrators from other cities.
“Municipal governments must work together to share best practices and lessons learned, and this summit is an essential step in building a strong network of policymakers who, together, will continue to advocate for expanded access to quality early education for every child nationwide,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The learning lab is meant to be “an opportunity for pre-K leaders to build relationships and identify thought partners for ongoing collaboration on how to implement high-quality pre-K. By building a national network of cities, municipalities will be able to learn from each other about how to create high-quality pre-K programs that best meet the needs of their respective children and families.”
Funding comes from the Catherine & Joseph Aresty Foundation, through the Fund for Public Schools.
New York has grown its preschool program quickly. As Politico reports, the program “launched in the fall of 2014, just nine months after de Blasio took office. The city has distinguished itself among the growing number of cities offering pre-K for the scope of the program — there is a seat available for every 4-year-old — and its dramatic growth from 20,000 full-day seats to 53,000 in a year. The program now has more than 70,000 seats.”
Among the learning lab cities is Philadelphia, which is “planning a universal pre-K system of its own, but is phasing in the initiative over five years,” Anne Gemmell, director of pre-K for Philadelphia, told Politico. “The city is focusing on training 50 to 100 new pre-K teachers every year, and is looking to New York’s workforce development plan for ideas. New York added about 1,000 new pre-K teachers during the first year of the rollout.”
The other learning lab cities are Boston, Chicago, Dayton, Mesa, Ariz., Montgomery County, MD, Nashville, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tulsa.
Mixed in with New York’s success are notable challenges. Some of the city’s programs are racially segregated. And quality varies across programs. But some programs are thriving. For example, the Audrey Johnson Day Care program in Bushwick, a high-poverty neighborhood in Brooklyn, “has partnered with Columbia University on a math program that sends coaches into the classroom and with New York University for a literacy initiative that allowed the school to create a lending library for families,” according to the Hechinger Report. Partnerships like these could be models for other cities.
Summing up the learning lab’s overarching goal, New York’s deputy chancellor of education, Josh Wallack, explained, “By hosting this forum, we are building a national dialogue dedicated to expanding and improving early education both within our respective cities and nationwide, so that every child has a chance to succeed, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents earn.”
Cities are leading the way. We hope to see the nation follow.