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October 12, 2008

Federal Agenda for School Readiness

This week, I was attempting to open the video link to a recent Congressional Briefing on “America’s Pre-K Movement” when, sadly, my computer decided it cannot read such applications!  Thankfully, Pre-K Now had other publications to reference on the same page.  I am sure this is old news to some, but I had not read “School Readiness: A Federal Agenda in Support of Pre-Kindergarten Education,” published in 2007.  I found many of the ideas and proposals to be helpful and consistent with what pre-k supporters in MN are trying to work towards.

So much of this information is frustrating to read because, on paper, support for early learning seems so easy and so crucial to the success of our society.  However, as most things go, money and priorities often play key factors in the success of an idea.  There were three main aspects of this agenda that stood out to me.  These large, but manageable, concepts are worth the investment by our federal governing body:

First of all, I agree that pre-k has a place within the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind.  It only makes sense that as access to pre-kindergarten education grows, support from a governing body is necessary.  It is important to note that the field of early childhood education is very different than that of an elementary or secondary school setting.  Provisions must be made in the areas of assessment and academic learning.  Students at the pre-k level must be “assessed” in ways that are developmentally appropriate and consistent with a curriculum that teaches to the whole child.  For example, a milestone for a 4-year-old who has never been in a classroom setting is learning how to use words to share a toy with a friend.  This type of social and emotional development is what will truly prepare students for a lifetime of learning.

Second, the agenda speaks to the use of Title I money to fund pre-k programs within public systems. “ESEA could significantly impact alignment, provided that increased funding is also forthcoming, by changing the language in Title I to permit any publicly-funded pre-k program at the state or local level to use Title I funds for pre-k if they choose.”  This seems to be the most sound investment of these funds.  Currently, many school systems are using Title I funding to assist in remedial teaching.  Investing this money in pre-kindergarten programs allows preventive and supportive strategies to take place during the formative years in hopes that remediation is not necessary later on.

Finally, a growing challenge in the pre-k arena is the growing number of English language learners.  The agenda proclaims, “Title III language instruction program for English language learners should be opened to pre-k students or it should be made more explicit in the law that this is permissible.”  It is important to use best practices with language acquisition.  Pre-kindergarten students and their teachers need the support of a rich curriculum that incorporates various language modalities.  These strategies are complicated because the vocabulary base for many pre-k students is small and they lack exposure to literacy-rich environments.  Access to funding will help support our most challenged learner.

It is crucial to the future of our society that time and money are spent on our youngest learners.  But, more importantly, our law makers and citizens need to practice patience and have hope for the future.  The idea behind a good investment is that over time it yields a profit.  The same is true with our pre-kindergarten students.  The support we give them now will encourage their positive involvement in our world in the years to come.   



Excellent post Karissa. The federal role in pre-k has been slow to keep up with demand and evidence of its effectiveness.
Thanks for highlighting this area of pre-k policy.

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