What Are the Implications of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization For the Field of Early Childhood Education? | Policy [M]atters, Episode 1

by Teri Talan and Susan Ochshorn

This video chat was recorded on June 30, 2015, by the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. This is episode one of Policy [M]atters, an early childhood education policy video chat series featuring Susan Ochshorn of ECE PolicyWorks and Teri Talan of the McCormick Center.

In this episode, Susan and Teri discuss the implications of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization for the field of early childhood education. They call for collaboration between those at the policy table, which they say should include early childhood education (ECE) professionals. They also call for ECE administrators to get involved, voice their expertise, and attain a bachelor’s degree so they can be on a level playing field when they get to the table. Teri shares a story from her days as an early care and education center director, while Susan provides several anecdotes from her interactions with ECE administrators.

Below are resources Susan and Teri have provided to encourage all ECE professionals to be proactive rather than reactive. 

B.U.I.L.D. Initiative
Child Care Aware
Children’s Defense Fund
Council for Exceptional Children
DEY Project/Defending the Early Years
Docs for Tots
ECE PolicyWorks 
First Five Years Fund 
McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership
National Black Child Development Institute
Network for Public Education
New America Ed Central
Reconceptualizing ECE 
Systems Thinking in Schools
Zero to Three                                



VOICEOVER: This video chat was recorded on June 30th, 2015 by the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. This is episode one of Policy [M]atters, an early childhood education policy video chat series featuring Susan Ochshorn of ECE PolicyWorks and Teri Talan of the McCormick Center.

In this episode, Susan and Teri discuss the implications of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization for the field of early childhood education.

TERI: Hello Susan, it’s really a pleasure to have this opportunity to chat with you about policy and knowing that ECE policy matters. The first question we’re going to deal with has to do with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act better known as ESEA. So what’s your perspective having to do with how this is going to play out for those who are on the ground working in early care and education.

SUSAN: You know Teri, I just want to say I’m delighted to be here, and I was asked, by then Governor Jean Shaheen in 2001 to join her advisory council  for an initative that which she spearheaded at the Education Commission of the state, on early learning. And it was a great, very joyous occasion. The reason there was that I had authored the report called “Partnering for Success,” which documented 68 partnerships between early childhood program, Head Start, child care, comparisons teachers where we had started and the public school district.

And in the report that I wrote for the Child Interaction Campaign what we said was, and this is the premise; that until the United States begins to consider early childhood education as a foundation for the k-12 system, we are not going to get that.

Fast forward a bit, to now. It was great that early childhood was acknowledged as the foundation of the k-12 system, but the problem and the advantages of that, was it confirmed the kind of legitimacy on early childhood education, and also gave the promise of sustainable and reliable funding, which are things that have been missing for early childhood.

It was a Faustian bargain because we also, by joining the system, were now beholden to the kinds of policies and ed reforms that were damaging to children. So, historically education is seen as a way of perfecting the future. Kind of a silver bullet for all of society’s ills. And this is the case with No Child Left Behind, which is the modern version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the foundation of all the reforms today.

But the issue is that as early childhood became part of this standards-based accountability, suddenly early childhood educators were really under the gun. This is a workforce that was marginalized, many living in poverty, really under-educated. And so to meet all of these requirements was a very heavy lift. And the other thing is that the early childhood teachers were nowhere near the policy tables at this time, and that’s a major problem because this is legislation that has a profound impact on their professional course.

TERI: So, it sounds to me Susan like you’re really pleased with the opportunity for early childhood to have a voice in the continuum of education. At least beginning with preschool, and that it really belongs in its own recognized title, perhaps within this act, and essentially
institutionalizes funding for early childhood education in a way that we haven’t had previously.

One of the things that I would say, is that I’m struck by the amazing movement forward in integrating the disparate sectors of early care and education that have been made during this administration, and that I see early learning being a part of the reauthorization of ESEA, as an opportunity to really make the implemented long term, and not just be part of one administration’s vision for how to help children be successful. But I have some concerns, and I think that one of the things that concerns me has to do with the lack of attention to what leaders need when it comes to being able to implement this effectively.

When I use that term “leaders,” it’s really about school leaders, and Head Start leaders, and community based leaders. That we don’t include the acknowledgement that piece in this act. We have to make sure that workforce is bigger than just the teacher. So what do you think about that?

SUSAN: I mean I think that’s a terrific point and I’m with you on that. When we did Partnering for Success, which looked at collaborations in 68 communities across the nation, between early childhood programs and public school systems, we found that principals and superintendents were the prime movers in making them successful.

After the report was published, we brought together superintendents mostly from New York State, from the main cities, but also from South Carolina, and Vermont, to talk about how they could really establish early childhood education as the foundation for their district’s school system I remember one from Brattleboro Vermont, and he told us that when a child is born in the school district, the district would send the family a welcome letter to say welcome to the class of whatever, 2018.

Obviously I’m ecstatic to hear their super point is so well taken, on the other hand out, and I also think let me just, I think there’s been incredible progress. I mean, the Association of Elementary Schools, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, as you know Teri, has taken up this cause, that’s really important.

But what I see as really critical in moving this agenda forward, is to get early childhood teachers who work directly on the front lines, with parents who know what’s best for kids, as part of the conversation. They need to be really vociferous, they need to talk to parents, to policymakers, and tell them what the research says, what we know works best for kids’ early learning and development.

TERI: So agree with that, I think that the whole issue of collaboration in communities, with community programs, with the elementary schools, is something people talk about, but really haven’t thought very much about what the competencies are for collaborating. And I also think there hasn’t been enough attention to the foundational knowledge that partners that collaborate, truly collaborate, not just collaborate, not just sit around a table together, but truly collaborate, really have to have.

And so one of the things that has struck me is that we want to jump right now to helping program leaders at Head Start community-based centers, principles of professional development together, which I think can really be a very successful model, if we have an even playing field. But if directors don’t have a degree, if they come to the table feeling that they really are a different place, and an unequal situation, it’s very hard for that to be a true collaboration.

And I’m gonna share a story with you from my own experience, when I was a center director, because I think that so much of the policy reform that’s happening now is very well-intentioned,
very exciting, but it’s in the implementation that things go amiss.  And one of the things, and it’s been awhile since  I’ve been a center director, but I was director of a community-based program, and had an earlier version of Preschool for All. I had a different title then, but I was blending funding streams with tuition, parent pay, childcare subsidies, and the State Board of Education’s funding for at-risk children.

And the district decided that it wanted to introduce a program to prepare children to be more ready for kindergarten was called “Jumpstart Kindergarten,” and without really collaborating with its community the community-based organizations that were providing the pre-K program according to district guidelines.

This policy basically said that children would be picked up by a bus at the childcare center and taken to their local school for a part-day program, brought back to the child care center. And without any consideration as to; One, what would they be getting that they weren’t already getting in a program that had Preschool for All, and two; what was the message that families get, that if you really want to prepare children for school it can’t happen in that community-based program. And there was such difficulty with the staffing and the issues of scheduling, and children falling asleep on the bus, and it really was in my opinion, not a very well thought-out implementation of a desire to help with transition planning for children to kindergarten.

And so I think that a program director in the community, doesn’t he have the  knowledge, the background, the chutzpah to say to the superintendent, “let’s think together about what would make the most sense for preparing children for kindergarten given that we’re delivering your program already.”

These children need to transition, it’s not the same thing as children who have had no high-quality preschool experience. So it’s that kind of collaboration where you meet, talk, and as equals, that really can’t happen if we don’t have well-educated, well-prepared center directors to engage with principals about what children need from their perspective. So to me this is sort of the unsung, under the surface, big gap that needs to be addressed.

SUSAN: Right, I’m with you, that is wonderful, and zooming in on chutzpah, I’m a nice Jewish, New York girl, what’s most important is that early childhood teachers feel that they have a voice, that they can sit at policy tables, and that they can articulate what’s best for young children, what best practice looks like, what families need, and how the current education policies are not often in sync with all of the above. I was in research for my book, I was honing in on the North Fork of Long Island, which is the epicenter of the movement in New York State.

And I talked with kindergarten and first grade teachers, and one of the first grade teachers after our conversation came up to me, and she was in tears. She said to me, “Susan, I can’t do this anymore. My wisdom is not honored.” This is a woman who had a master’s degree, was certified in teaching first grade, and to me that sounded off. Another of her colleagues, who herself is staff
developer, and a kindergarten teacher is working in a school where they honor play, of course, but she said we fight to keep it like a desperately needed coffee break.

So, what you were talking about, these collaborations are critical. But there’s another layer to it, and that is educating everybody about stuff that we know that you know, is about why the early childhood workforce, and in particular the leaders, and the directors, need to own their expertise, and need to be voicing what they know is best for children.

Because in the story that you told, Teri, children were not at the center as they need to be, nor were families needs. In the ecosystem of child development that is critical, and that has to be the heart of collaboration.

TERI: Yeah I mean, I see the move towards–with the whole preschool development grants for full school year, “full days” meaning full school year day for Pre-k, for kindergarten. But is that really meeting the needs of working parents, who I mean a six hour day is a lot better than a two and a half hour day, but we still really need to understand that parents sometimes need more than that, and so we’re going to need the child care sector, we’re going to need there to be the consistent standards, and implementation, and qualifications, and curriculum support ,and teaching support in all of our speakers.

And I think we’re getting there but it’s like the policy might be coming first before we have all the pieces of impact.

SUSAN:  Yeah, exactly, you know couple of years ago a terrific cross-sector, collaborative professional development initiative in California, and as your degree was working on it, and it was amazing! It was great, not only early childhood educators and directors ,but people across all sectors, you know occupational therapists, and social workers, because we need to have a holistic view of the children.

You know, we live in a society that tolerates the child poverty rate. That is obscene. One out of every four children in the United States is living in poverty. And that rate is even higher in communities of color across the country, on Native American reservations. And we are, that’s a third world nation, that’s not a first world nation.

So all of this is related because we cannot go forward without the kind of collaboration that you’re talking about, without the kind of cross-sector reaching out, and without the kind of education, you know, that all of these folks need to be able to collaborate. Or maybe that’s the heart of it.

TERI: I want to close with a phrase that’s been on my mind and that is that we have to be careful not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And I do think that there are many things that need to be in place to make this the most effective coordinating source of funding for early learning, but I also think this is a huge venture and opportunity.

And we can’t not move forward with it, because it’s not yet perfect. And so to me, I think I remind myself of that statement, and realize that our voices need to be heard to help improve the implementation and some of the details, but we should definitely embrace this as really good policy.

SUSAN: There’s a great book I discovered when I was doing my research for Squandering America’s Future, it’s called “Tinkering Toward Utopia” by David Tyack and Larry Cuban, they’re former professors at Stanford. And they say that we are always sort of searching to protect society through education reform policy, yet those reforms can never live up to aspirations operation.

So, I agree with you Teri, although I’m a little more radical on the spectrum in terms of what we need to do to move this forward.

What I see as the the answer, is to really raise the profile and voice of those who have the expertise, and those are early childhood professionals who need to be at the table when these policies are implemented, and in future discussions.

TERI:  You know, I just want to say one more thing and that is that I think we both are talking about voice, and we’re both stressing the importance of having the experts at the table when these policy decisions are made, and oftentimes it seems to me that people are reactive rather than proactive, and so one of the hopes I have is that they’ll be people who will tune in to this video chat and think, “oh my goodness, I need to know more about, this can really impact me, how do I get involved?” So if it does have that impact then I will feel like this was really a worthwhile experience for us to be initiating here.