How ESSA Is Boosting Early Childhood Education

A child who enters preschool as a 4-year-old in 2018 may graduate from high school by 2032. What will the world be like? What careers will be available? How can each child grow and learn in a way that unlocks his or her potential?

Research reveals that starting with preschool optimizes opportunities for success in school and later in life. This research in early childhood education comes from three strands—reading instruction and intervention, cognitive processing, and motivation and engagement—and the studies demonstrate positive outcomes for students who attended preschool. Here's what we've learned:

  • From reading research, we know that exchanges between teacher and student may be key to student success or failure. (NY Times Magazine, 2018)
  • From cognitive processing research we know that 90 percent of brain development occurs by age 5. (First Things First)                                    
  • From motivation and engagement research, we know that early childhood education provides long-term positive effects. (Abecedarian and Perry)

In addition, early education has also been studied extensively by economists. We have found out that an 8.3 percent reduction in grade retention yields an 11.4 percent increase in high school graduation. 

This evidence-proof may have influenced policymakers in the development of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Specifically, the act identifies early childhood education as an allowable funding target. To date, 38 states have included early learning within their Well-Rounded Education Initiatives, and 31 states plan to use Title II professional dollars to support leaders in meeting the needs of children ages 8 and younger, according to the First Five Years Fund.

This federal focus on early learning can positively impact several ESSA initiatives and student outcomes in the following ways.

  1. A focus beyond reading and math: This is not to diminish the importance of reading and math but to advance the importance of a well-rounded education. In fact, reading and math are better served when children are learning about and participating in the arts, health and fitness, social studies, and science. Each discipline is intrinsically valuable, and college and career readiness starts in pre-kindergarten. Early learning experiences in all subjects establish a foundation for all future learning, and now this impetus is embodied in 38 state ESSA plans.
  2. A shift to thinking in terms of P–12: Pre-K and early learning experiences need to align closely to the elhi continuum. One main goal of this expanded continuum of learning is to ensure that children's first experiences are connected in content and pedagogy. And most importantly, these introductory learning opportunities can help close the gap before it begins as children demonstrate kindergarten readiness.
  3. A greater focus on PreK teachers: A recent New York Times Magazine cover story read, “Your child's preschool teachers may be the most important educators she'll ever have. So why do they get paid the least?" I'm a firm subscriber to the adage that "teaching is a profession that launches other professions." It is my hope that this intensified focus on early learning will result in more support and resources for early educators. When 31 states invest in leaders, it should be evident that their most important role is to establish a culture that respects and rewards teachers.

It's very exciting to think about how to prepare for the class of 2032 and what the infusion of ESSA funds and encouragement can mean to improving children's readiness for school and life. My granddaughter will be part of that class, and her preschool experience contributed to her declaration at age 3:

I'm going to be a teacher

I'm going to be brave in my life.

I'm going to save people.

For more on supporting your early learning program, register for my upcoming HMH webinar on May 17: Using Books to Promote Social-Emotional Development. 

Read my previous posts on navigating ESSA here