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March 30, 2010

A New Social Contract for America

NSC Occasionally, when I was in the classroom as a pre-k teacher, a student would become persistently disruptive. Aside from the usual proactive steps I would take like spending more time with the child or contacting parents, I might also decide to develop a contract if the situation called for it. It is a tried and true teacher tool that generally works at most elementary grade levels. A teacher explains the behavior they want to see and then offers something in return for that behavior. Usually it involves extra play time, stickers, or other another external reward. Then the child and teacher sign the contract and refer to it whenever behavior issues arise.

A contract is a simple classroom management tool that works. Maybe that is what Lisa Guernsey and Sara Mead of New America Foundation were thinking when they penned their new report, A Next Social Contract for the Primary Years of Education, released today.

I can just imagine Ms. Guernsey and Ms. Mead as a pre-k teacher team speaking to congress and governors during circle time.

We, as a nation, are doing a very good job of squandering human potential and making life harder for all Americans as a result. This has to stop. If our government,at the local, state, and federal level, does not start investing in education systems that reach children before kindergarten, and if it does not get serious about providing children with high-quality instruction throughout the earliest years of their schooling, it is wasting taxpayer dollars, ignoring decades of research and disregarding the extraordinary potential of millions of children who otherwise have very little chance of succeeding in school. This paper lays out the case for a fundamental rethinking of public policy related to children’s primary years in education, starting at age three and reaching up through the third grade. 
And that is just the first four sentences. This is straight talk coming from extremely knowledgeable researchers. Sara and Lisa are calling for real change, not just pushing reform a couple inches to the right or the left, but foundational change that addresses education disparities for some and quality for all. The paper proposes pre-k for all children, universal full day kindergarten, bachelor's degrees and specialized training for early childhood educators (as Pre-K now suggested in A Matter of Degrees), longitudinal and latitudinal collaboration among teachers and service providers, and opportunities for family engagement. Of course, none of this will happen without strong, child-centered, leadership at all levels of local, state, and federal government.

America, you have been served. Will you sign the contract or waste the human capital that is ours to be had for pennies on the dollar?

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