Everyone knows that high-quality early learning and development programs are vital to children’s future success in school and life, and especially so for disadvantaged students.
Yet across the country, early childhood programs vary dramatically in quality and availability. Programs are often driven by market demand and available funding streams, rather than children’s developmental and educational needs. And for decades, many programs have measured success by process and inputs, not by what’s best for kids.
Last March, the U.S. Department of Education, together with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced a new program to dramatically strengthen the quality of early learning across the U.S. Through the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge, the Obama Administration is committing $500 million toward making high-quality early learning and development programs the norm, not the exception.
The Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge marks a new era for early education by helping put an end to the counterproductive practice of uncoordinated early childhood programs operating in silos and information vacuums. Through a national competition, we’re encouraging states to build early learning and development systems that improve program quality while increasing access to successful programs, particularly for low-income and disadvantaged children who need it the most.
The Challenge will incentivize states to comprehensively organize programs and boost quality by making improvements around five key areas of reform:
It is no secret that the most active period of child development takes place from birth through kindergarten entry. But when children fail to receive the support they need early on, their chances of falling behind and getting stuck in a lifelong game of catch-up increase. A child’s earliest years lay the groundwork for their ability to perform at pace with their peers in grade school, graduate from high school, enter college and even pursue a career. Engaging them in a high-quality early learning program can put them back on a track for success.
Systematically improving early education has the potential to benefit the nation for generations to come. It is simply one of the most cost-effective investments America can make in its future.
As President Obama has said, "In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity, it is a pre-requisite.”
That is why it is his goal that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. And it all starts with high-quality early learning.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.