Marci Young, Director, Pre-K Now
October 27, 2011 — Ten years ago, Pew launched the Pre-K Now campaign to encourage more states to invest in high-quality, evidence-based pre-kindergarten programs. Since then, state investment in pre-k has more than doubled and nationwide enrollment has increased to more than a million. Several high-profile education leaders, including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have publicly supported the expansion of pre-k programs.
The campaign concludes its work at the end of this year, and its final report challenges policy makers to transform public education by moving away from the current K-12 system to a more effective Pre-K-12 one.
Pre-K Now Director Marci Young discusses the state of pre-k education and how the campaign’s momentum will be carried forward.
Q: Congress may consider proposed revisions to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act before the end of the year. Are high-quality pre-k programs a part of the bill?
"There is a solid commitment from a range of diverse perspectives to continue this movement on pre-k long after the Pew campaign ends."
Early childhood education is woven throughout the bill in a really clear way. In the past year, Pre-K Now has been working on how our public education system can be transformed to ensure that pre-k is a fundamental component, and this is a step in the right direction. Early learning is a priority in the Race to the Top application, the Investing in Innovation Fund, and the Promise Neighborhoods program. Pre-k is also an option in the turnaround school models. We are very optimistic.
Q: Some very important figures in education are publicly advocating for pre-k, including Arne Duncan, social activist and educator Geoffrey Canada, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. What does that high-profile involvement say about the pre-k movement at this point in time?
It underscores what substantial research demonstrates. Pre-k is one of the best investments we can make in terms of education, our children’s future, and our economic prosperity. Leaders of different political backgrounds and viewpoints spanning across the education spectrum—whether its early learning, elementary, secondary, or higher education—have reached consensus that pre-k is a wise investment and should be a fundamental component of education.
Q: Time magazine's recent article about pre-k education addressed Pre-K Now’s call for a paradigm shift from K-12 to Pre-K-12. What challenges remain for pre-k to become entrenched in the educational system?
We have some work to do to ensure that pre-k is embedded in our nation’s education system. It must be seen as being as important as any other grade, like first grade or second grade. I think it will require traditional education stakeholders to expand their thinking about education so that it includes pre-k. It will require those in the early childhood field also to expand and transform how they’ve been thinking about the early years so that there is a connection between early education and K-12. One of the things mentioned in the Time article and our Transforming Pre-K report is this notion that there are foundational skills developed in early education that are the basis for later learning. We call them soft skills, such as persistence, paying attention, and working well with peers and adults. Those kinds of skills are important to develop in the early years of a child’s development and they should be extended through kindergarten and beyond.
Q: Looking back at the past decade of Pre-K Now, what has been the project’s biggest success?
Working in partnership with advocates around the country, we transformed pre-k into an issue that’s known as an important education issue, not as something that is ancillary. We helped ensure there was a common knowledge base around what the research says about pre-k. There are many stakeholders coming from many different vantage points—business leaders, law enforcement, military leaders, and philanthropists—who are all getting behind the idea that pre-k is a sound investment. Even though Pew will be leaving the early education field in the next couple of months, there are many different pre-k champions committed to continuing the momentum and ensuring that pre-k becomes an essential component of our public education system.
Q: As the campaign concludes at the end of 2011, how will Pre-K Now’s momentum be carried forward?
At our capstone event in mid-October we had many different voices expressing their commitment to continuing to advance high-quality pre-k. For instance, Governor Peter Shumlin from Vermont said that his state recognizes how essential pre-k is and this year lifted the cap so that all three- and four-year-olds have access to high-quality pre-k. Ralph Smith from the Casey Foundation talked about how school readiness is an essential component of its third grade reading campaign. Colorado’s Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia talked about the state’s early literacy program and how pre-k is an essential part of the plan being developed around education policy. There were business leaders saying that we have to invest in early education in order to have a competitive workforce in the world market. There is a solid commitment from a range of diverse perspectives to continue this movement on pre-k long after the Pew campaign ends.
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