Voices from the Field: Katherine (Katy) Beh Neas

“I think that is one of the most important elements of this is not saying that access is more important, saying that access to quality is what we are trying to achieve.”

Interview with Katherine (Katy) Beh Neas


Vice President, Government Relations
Easterseals Office of Public Affairs (National & Washington, D.C.)

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Katy Beh Neas monitors and analyzes federal legislation and regulations affecting children with disabilities and their families, particularly in the areas of autism, early intervention, early childhood education, special education and budget and appropriations. Neas leads efforts to develop and achieve Easterseals’ public policy goals for federal, state and local government. Neas has been a member of Easterseals’ Government Relations team since January 1995. She has served as one of five co-chairs of the Education Task Force of the national disability coalition, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, since 1996, and oversees the advocacy efforts of the 50 organizations that volunteer on the task force.

Steven: How did you begin your career in support of children with disabilities and early learning in inclusive settings?

Katy: I started my career in the field as a young Senate staffer working for Tom Harkin on the subcommittee on disability policy working on the original ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. And to me, one of the whole elements of what was going to make the ADA the most meaningful was if little kids had high-quality, inclusive early education experiences, so that you had both kids with and kids without disabilities growing up together from their very first days. We had the promise of this incredibly needed and powerful civil rights law. But the practical reality of how was this law going to make a difference would be if it started when kids were really young.

Steven: What do you see as the role of non-profits and advocates in improving the quality of early learning programs?

Katy: I think for us at Easterseals, the government provides a really powerful foundation for early learning whether it is Head Start or home visiting or child care. And non-profits and bringing philanthropic dollars helps build on the foundation the government provides so that you can add more quality. Because you have access to some additional resources, your teachers can have more training. And you can just be more innovative because you have a little more flexibility in how you’re spending your money. And I think that’s where the non-profit world really can and needs to make a difference. The other thing I think a non-profit world helps is, because we are always trying to piece funding together, we may be able to create partnerships and alignments in a way that’s easier than government by itself or public institutions by themselves. So I see non-profits playing a role both in innovation in how you pay for quality but also innovation in bringing like-minded people together in a different space.

Steven: Why is the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning programs important to our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and some of the opportunities, particularly as it may relate to equity?

Katy: I am the parent of a now 17-year-old and I remember putting Maria on a waiting list before she was born at an Easterseals inclusive program. And even with my role at the organization I was still worried about what happens if they don’t have space for her. And this whole notion of access and quality has to be, and I think that is what the President is really trying to push with the Early Learning Initiative, is that it is not one or the other, that you’ve got to have both. I think that is one of the most important elements of this is not saying that access is more important, saying that access to quality is what we are trying to achieve. I think the challenge is how do regular working families pay for high quality education. When an infant care is $1,800 to $2,000 a month, most people will never be able to afford that. We’ve got to figure out a better way to finance early education so that it isn’t just parent fees where we are finding the best way or the only way to deliver this kind of service. If you think about what our priorities are for making sure kids to go to college and how parents have been saving for college since kids were babies and then having the realization they have to spend all that money for child care, for early education, it’s a real problem.

I think access to quality and access to quality services are what we want. And how we are going to pay for it continues to be a huge challenge. Now I am pleased that both of the candidates are at least recognizing the role of early education for families. So I think that’s great, but the other thing I would say is if I was king we would have universal early Head Start and universal Head Start where every kid would have access to that and the wrap around services that come through the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] special education programs, the wrap around services that come with home visiting, and the wrap around services that come from maternal child health. All those things would be available to families and any family that wanted to have a high-quality education experience for their young child wouldn’t have to worry about how they are going to pay for it.

It’s penny wise and mind foolish the way we fund education. We’ve worked all these years to try and get more money for IDEA and the K-12 piece to it. But if we really invested in early education the way we should, we’d have fewer kids who are going to need special education, we’d have fewer kids that didn’t know how to get along with their peers, we’d have fewer kids with all sorts of issues, and more empowered parents who know how to support their child and advocate for what they need. So there are only good reasons why we should be investing more in early education.


Voices from the Field: Tom Schultz

“Investing in high-quality early childhood is part of making K to12 succeed and the foundation of providing equal education opportunity.”

Tom Schultz


Former Project Director for Early Childhood Initiatives
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Tom Schultz served as the project director for Early Childhood Initiatives at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Prior to joining the CCSSO, Schultz worked at the Pew Charitable Trusts, where he co-authored the seminal report, Taking Stock: Assessing and Improving Early Childhood Learning and Program Quality. He holds degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Oberlin College.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Tom: In 1970, I was teaching 4th grade in the Chicago Public Schools and I was struggling, as were my students. A college friend told me about a job that was being advertised for a new federal office in the Department of HEW (Health, Education, and Welfare) that was part of what was the new Office of Child Development, which managed Head Start programs in the Midwest. I applied and was hired as a 700-hour temporary budget analyst for Head Start at $6,500 a year. I reviewed proposals for summer Head Start programs at a time when Head Start was funded at $375,000 a year. I was then able to get hired for a permanent job and was responsible for managing the Head Start programs in the state of Minnesota, and worked on this in an era where Head Start was pioneering a lot of innovations that were fun to implement. We had strong parent involvement guidelines that were promulgated, there were performance standards and program monitoring for the first time, they started the CDA (Child Development Associate) credential initiative, and we began to work with children with special needs for the first time. I had the chance to work with local programs in a diverse state, but also with a wide range of federal initiatives to improve a local program, and it was probably my favorite job in terms of the opportunities to learn. That started me off in early childhood, and I’ve never left.

Steven: What do you see as the role of state chiefs in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Tom: I guess I would highlight three things. I think chiefs are very important advocates and opinion leaders in public education, so I think it’s important for them to argue that high-quality early childhood is an integral element of school reform, that if we want to prepare all children for success on challenging standards, we can’t wait for kindergarten. Investing in high-quality early childhood is part of making K to12 succeed and the foundation of providing equal education opportunity. In doing that, it is important to be able to convince school boards, school superintendents, public school teachers, and administrators to understand that priority and be convinced that we need not just the K to 12 system, but a Pre-K or birth to 12 system.

I think that chiefs are responsible for managing sizeable programs—most of the state pre-k programs, early childhood special education, and childcare—and I think it’s important to recognize that we’ve got more than a million kids in state pre-k, and we’ve got around a million in Head Start and Early Head Start. So we need chiefs to be managing the publicly-funded programs that are under their auspice so that they are high quality and to be holding them accountable for meeting standards and for helping them engage in continuous improvement and also being a part of efforts to improve the workforce. To me, the third piece would probably be try to continue to improve collaboration with the different types of provider communities and the different funding streams so that the money gets well-used, and to improve quality but minimize unnecessary bureaucracy in terms of how that happens.

Steven: Why is the President’s proposal to provide high quality early learning programs important to our country, and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities, particularly as it relates to equity?

Tom: I think having a President of the United States make early childhood a priority in several State of the Union speeches is tremendously important. Setting aside what has happened in terms of federal legislation and federal funding, I think it really did heighten the visibility of high quality early childhood, and I believe it helped to support the efforts of governors, mayors, other leaders, and foundations to invest more in early childhood education. I’m tremendously grateful that the President made that a high priority, and has sort of been a spokesperson for that. I guess the opportunities are to provide a sustained public debate on how we get this to happen and how we fund it, and to continue to make this a national priority that we grapple with, whether people want to solve it at the state or community level, or they’re willing to entertain a much larger federal role in how it happens and the costs of failing to change the learning opportunities for young kids, particularly children of color and children in poverty, and the pay-off if we do invest in and lead efforts to make sure that when kids are in publicly-funded programs, those programs are of the highest quality. One challenge for me seems to be the difficulty in developing bipartisan support for new federal initiatives, and I think underlying this is really a question of how we create a funding system that will support the kind of workforce that we need, and be sufficient to support high quality.

Steven: Is there anything else you want to add or anything you’d like to tell us about?

Tom: I would say that given how long I’ve had the opportunity to work on early childhood, it’s amazing how much progress we have made over the long haul. For example, Head Start was a summer-only program when I began working with it. I think California had a state pre-k program, and New York had something called the Experimental Pre-K Program, and there may have been some funding in a couple of other states I can’t remember directly—I think one was Wisconsin. But, there were a handful of states and Head Start was a small, summer-only program, and the idea was that if we just take disadvantaged kids for six to eight weeks we can get them fully ready for kindergarten. I think we now have much more advanced research and understanding of what we need to do and how to do it well for kids, and the kind of program design we need, and we’ve come a long way in terms of public funding. On the other hand, I’m just totally dismayed and frustrated that we haven’t made more rapid progress. We’re much farther along, but we’re by no means where we need to be. But I think it’s important to recognize that the success of advocacy and research folks, and program leaders that have put us in a much better position, and we need to keep pushing and keep moving forward.

Voices from the Field: Sharon Lynn Kagan

“I think we’re very seated in pedagogies from the 40’s if not before, and these are different children. They’re living in a different world and living in different kinds of families, and the field needs to abreast itself on this much more robustly.”

Interview with
Sharon Lynn Kagan
Co-Director, National Center for Children and Families
Teachers College, Columbia University and
Professor Adjunct at Yale University’s Child Study Center

Sharon Kagan

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Sharon Lynn Kagan has served as Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Early Childhood Education, as well as President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Co-Chair of the National Education Goals Panel on Foal One, Chair of the Family Support America’s Board of Directors, a member of President Clinton’s education transition team, and National Commissions on Head Start and Chapter 1 in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Dr. Kagan is co-author of A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Lynn: I began as a Head Start teacher, became a Head Start director, and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, then when back and got my doctorate in Early Childhood Education at Columbia University. There’s a little bit of a preamble. My parents were very strong civil rights activists, and so when I went into Head Start I had no education training, so it was much more from the background of civil rights and social action. Early childhood came as a by-product of my Head Start experience, and was actually secondary to my civil rights background.

Steven: What do you see as the role of teacher education programs in improving access to high-quality early learning programs?

Lynn: Necessary, but not sufficient. Necessary, in that obviously they are major training grounds for people who will be occupying lead positions in early childhood, and increasingly as we move toward bachelor’s degrees, these will become more the case. Having said that, I also think that to get quality, there are a lot of other factors in addition to teacher education that have to be in place, so I don’t want to put the burden of quality solely on the backs of teachers or teacher preparation institutions. We need much more streamlined governance, we need much, much, much more focus on our monitoring systems, and we need much more focus on financing. To me, the bigger picture quality rests on many factors, with teacher education and teacher competence being one of the key factors, but certainly not the only one.

Steven: Why do you think the President’s proposal to provide high quality early learning programs is important to our country, what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities with what he has proposed, particularly as it relates to equity?

Lynn: Historically, early childhood in America has been a market-driven service, and as a result, the market responds to those who can and who elect to purchase in. Inherently, it breeds inequity. The President’s efforts are in my mind, a major contributor to alleviating the gross inequities that exist in our country in terms of access to services. Indeed, that inequity and imbalance is characteristic of all countries where there is a reliance on the market totally. So if you look at the countries where you’ve got the greatest equity provisions in early childhood, they are those where government sponsorship is strongest. To me, it is a corollary that if we want equity we are going to need government provisions much like when we want equity in access to K-12 education and the government takes it on as their responsibility. Some parents opt out, but essentially the government is responsible. So I do feel that the President’s efforts to achieve greater equity in access are critically important in the big scheme of things.

For challenges, I would say that that there is too little attention paid to all of the infrastructure, and by that I mean all of the things, including teacher preparation and teacher quality that we discussed in my response to the second question. I think there are some important ideological issues that need to be addressed, and I think there are obviously important financial issues in terms of salaries and the compensation of individuals who are working in the field. But, the point that I will make is that I do see this as an iterative process—social change never happens overnight. I think that ties into the first question. For me, engagement in early childhood is all about social change and social action, so I see that we’re on a very long road. Not just we in the United States, but countries all over the world are moving in the direction of greater governmental provision. My concern is that they don’t focus so much on access, and that they forget the critical quality ingredients, because without quality, access means very little if we’re looking for learning outcomes.

Steven: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Lynn: Yes, I would add two comments. One point is that I think we have been, as a nation, far too parochial in our work to understand what other countries are doing. I think there are some amazing lessons to be learned from much more of a global approach to early childhood, and it really saddens me that we don’t see this as a part of our intellectual repertoire. Point two is that I do feel that the field is not fully in-tuned with where 21st Century children are, not only in terms of their use of technology, but the whole nature: the entire multiculturalism of the country, the entire mobility, the entire nature of different kinds of relationships among adults, and different patterns of families.  I feel that if you said to me what are the two trends you would prognosticate for the next 20 years, I think that internationalization would be one, and I would call that the contemporization of early childhood. I think we’re very seated in pedagogies from the 40’s if not before, and these are different children. They’re living in a different world and living in different kinds of families, and the field needs to abreast itself on this much more robustly.

I think that when you take a look at the world, you can look at countries where provision is universal, and that’s who we routinely compare ourselves with—the Finlands and the Swedens. That’s not our reality, but there are better things going on in market economies. There are really interesting policy things to be learned, and there are interesting pedagogical things to be learned. So it feels like there’s a reset button on those two major issues – internationalization and contemporization – that we really need to be cognizant of going forward.

Voices from the Field: Jana Martella

“All children, whether in poverty or a matter of ‘my’ kids or ‘your’ kids, deserve the best that we can give them.”

Interview with
Jana Martella
Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO)

Jana Martella

Jana Martella with state leaders: (from left to right) Jim Squires, Lindy Buch,
Penny Milburn, Jana, Rolf Grafwallner, and Jim Lesko

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Jana Martella is the Co-Director of the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) at the Education Development Center. She has worked on multiple initiatives designed to advance high quality in early education, and is focused on education system and program improvement through standards-based reform. Prior to joining EDC, Martella was the executive director of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) and the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA Licensing), providing leadership and support to states and organizations on early childhood initiatives. She has dedicated over 30 years to education and has served as a state legislative liaison, coordinator for federal programs, school administrator, and teacher.


Steven: How did you begin your career in Early Learning?

Jana: I started as a teacher and I had a looped classroom of second and third graders, and I saw a remarkable difference between a second grader and a third grader. Their needs were significantly different, as was their development as an early learner. Flash forward to my policy world. I first came to Washington in 1984, which is right after A Nation at Risk came out. I began working on policy initiatives and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the second authorization that I went through, my boss at the time, who was State Superintendent from Washington, informally worked during the 1987 reauthorization, for the House Education Committee, and in particular on Chapter I [now Title I]. She was absolutely committed to changing the face of compensatory education to include early childhood as three distinct strategies. Your query made me pull out some testimony that I wrote for her as she appeared before Congress—she was the only witness—and she spent three pages on early childhood education. At the time, the 1989 data point showed that only 1.5 percent of Title I dollars—it was Chapter 1 at the time—was spent on Pre-K, and less than 5 percent was spent on kindergarten. That was the very beginning. Then I began full-time on K-12 policy until 2001. Since then, I have been full-time on early childhood policies, and I feel so fortunate because that’s when all of the brain research kicked-in, like Neurons to Neighborhoods and Eager to Learn. When we were in Baltimore, Marcy Whitebook said that from the beginning, as teachers we knew that early childhood was really important and now we have the science on our side. I feel like that’s been the course of my career, too—I’ve had passion along the way and now we have the science on our side.

Steven: What do you see as the role of the State early childhood specialists in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Jana: I am an unapologetic school person. I’ve been in public education for more than 30 years, and I am totally committed to improving the way states do business as well. That’s been the gate to the policy world for me. All of my work over the last 30 years has been state-focused. It’s on the ground. It’s in communities where children experience schools, and settings where they experience their environment and great teachers. But I do think that it’s the state’s skeleton that holds the body up.

Steven: Why would you say the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning programs is important to our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities, particularly as it may relate to equity?

Jana: I’ll start by really giving high praise to the administration. One of the things I really appreciate about the last seven—soon to be eight—years is that the approach has been comprehensive, and that it’s been very intentional and woven throughout, so that if there’s an initiative on data, early childhood has been included. If there is an initiative on assessment, early childhood has been included. If there’s a systems approach, and particularly the Challenge grants, then that’s kind of giving a nod to the states and their needs to have policy infrastructure in order to serve kids in the best way possible. It has certainly been about access, but it also has been about building capacity in the states, and I think that that footprint is not going to go away anytime soon. That’s the upside; the challenge is that you have woven early childhood throughout virtually everything so that there are multiple initiatives trying to find alignment. That’s always challenging, but I also think it has driven all of us to think about collective impact and making sure that we’re putting one foot in front of the other and going on that long walk.

Steven: Is there anything else you want to add?

Jana: Particularly about equity, because the focus has been about building data capacity, and building teaching capacity, and building state policy capacity, and in a sense from the research—and particularly from an equity perspective—kids are going to do better in second grade if they get what they need in first grade, and it is a continual drum beat from birth through third grade and beyond. I think even third grade, to be honest, is kind of an arbitrary line of demarcation that resulted from the fulcrum of reading. In fact, everything we know about domains of learning continues into adulthood and that we ought to attend to play and experiential learning throughout a child’s educational career. That’s challenging because it’s putting a lot of complex things together. The other thing is in terms of investment, all children, whether in poverty or a matter of “my” kids or “your” kids, deserve the best that we can give them. We have the brain science and we have economic science as well, but I think that sometimes we read that for one dollar you get seven dollars of return, or for one dollar you get seventeen dollars of return—whatever the dollar return is mentioned—it’s not that, it’s an economy of scale. It’s $7,000 or $10,000 of investment that will get you that return on investments, so the economic promise of investment is there, but it’s dependent on quality and threshold.

Voices from the Field: Hedy Nai-Lin Chang

“It turns out that attendance matters as early as preschool in high quality programs.”
Interview with
Hedy Nai-Lin Chang
Executive Director
Attendance Works

Hedy Chang

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Hedy Nai-Lin Chang directs Attendance Works, a national and state level initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence. Deeply committed to promoting two-generation solutions to achieving a more just and equitable society, Hedy has spent more than two decades working in the fields of family support, family economic success, education and child development. In February 2013, Hedy was named by the White House as a Champion of Change for her commitment to furthering African American Education.

Steven: How did you begin your work in Early Learning?

Hedy:  I began my career while I was at California Tomorrow, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping schools, public agencies, communities and families ensure equal opportunities to succeed while drawing strength from our ethnic and linguistic diversity.   While the work focused on California, we also worked nationally since the demographic changes we were experiencing were soon being felt everywhere.   I focused on early childhood programs because this was the first time many young children had the experience of being cared for by someone outside their family and in some cases, interacted with other adults and children from other backgrounds.  I sought to ensure this would be a positive experience that helped strengthen a child’s and family’s sense of identity while also equipping them with the ability to appreciate and negotiate differences.  I still draw upon much of what I learned from that research on best practice and policy in early childhood programs in the work that I do today on chronic absence.

Steven: In what way is the issue of chronic absenteeism a factor in improving outcomes for young children in preschool through third grade?

Hedy: It turns out that attendance matters as early as preschool in high quality programs. Research shows that preschoolers who miss 10 percent or more of the school year – in excused or unexcused absences – arrive at kindergarten without the school readiness skills they need.  If they are chronically absent in more than one year, they are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade, and more likely to be retained in elementary school. Absenteeism affects all children, but its impact intensifies among children whose families lack the resources to make up for lost time.

Steven: Why is the President’s initiative, Every Student, Every Day, important and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities?

Hedy:  This is a huge opportunity for many reasons. The release by the Office of Civil Rights of the first ever national data set is a wake-up call letting us know that because too many students are missing so much school, they don’t have an equal opportunity to learn. At the same time, the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor Initiative offers a concrete example of how schools and communities can work together to use relationships to motivate daily attendance and help students and families overcome barriers to getting to school, especially if we adapt the concept to work with our youngest students as well as address the needs of those in middle and high school.   Equally important, the national summit, held on June 9th and 10th, created a fabulous opportunity for state teams to learn about how communities and states across the country are beginning to successfully tackle the issues. Given the opportunity to weave attention into ESSA implementation, state action is especially essential.  The challenge is making sure that the growing awareness of chronic absenteeism results in prevention and early intervention rather than in blaming families and adopting punitive responses.

Early Learning Career Pathways Initiative: Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field

Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field Report Released

Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning
U.S. Department of Education
Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Between 2012 and 2022 there is a projected 30 percent increase in job openings for early educators (USDOL, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). That means 184,100 job openings for qualified child care teachers and 76,400 for preschool teachers. But who will fill these critical roles?

Spearheaded by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Early Learning Career Pathways Report examines comprehensive career pathway systems in the early childhood education (ECE) field. Career pathways, defined as comprehensive education and training systems, provide a sequence of coursework and credentials aligned with employer and industry needs. Pathways offer a much-needed solution to fostering the educational and workforce training needs of adult learners to meet national and regional workforce demands.

This report, Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field, draws a national landscape of all of the 50 states’ requirements for ECE staff. The report documents many notable practices which comprise a strong set of recommendations for states and the field as they work to improve and design strong, comprehensive pathway systems intended to meet the skill, employment, and advancement needs of low-income, low-skilled adults who are in or entering the ECE field. In addition, the report offers 14 recommendations illuminated with state examples.

 Highlights of the Report Findings

  • All 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC), and Puerto Rico have early learning standards and guidelines in place for at least some part of the birth through age five continuum.
  • The Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) provides a common lens for comparing early learning programs within a state. Of the 50 states, including DC, and Puerto Rico, 98 percent have a QRIS in some stage of development.
  • The vast majority of states have implemented registries of child care providers
  • Nearly half of the states offer T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood programs, an initiative that provides assistance and support services to individuals in the ECE workforce who are completing coursework leading to credentials, degrees, and teacher licensure.
  • 94 percent of states have ECE workforce core knowledge and competencies in place.
  • 39 percent of the 50 states exceed the minimum requirements of a high school diploma or equivalent credential and a specific infant/toddler credential or certificate for staff working with infants and toddlers in publicly-funded programs.

A Snapshot of Five States

The report details the work of five states – California, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Carolina, and West Virginia – to show how their existing credentialing systems could be used to support career pathways efforts. This involved a close look at target populations and their points of entry; systems and services offered; the review or development of competency models; the development of career ladders; and whether or not programs lead to industry recognized and/or post-secondary credentials. These states offer a variety of examples of infrastructure at varying stages of development, and much can be learned from their work.

 The report includes appendices with extensive resources. The full report can be read http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-earlylearningchallenge/index.html

A second report, to be released in summer 2016, will focus on issues of access to jobs and advancement in the ECE field.

Voices from the Field: Stacie G. Goffin

”The role of higher education is crucial to early childhood education
becoming a recognized professional field of practice.”

Interview with
Stacie Goffin, Ed.D.
Goffin Strategy Group

Stacie Goffin

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

A recognized leader and author in early childhood education, Stacie Goffin serves as Principal of the Goffin Strategy Group and has led significant change initiatives spanning higher education, local, state, and national organizations; organizational development; and advocacy, resulting in change for systems, policy, and practice.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Stacie:  I began my career as an early childhood special educator. After practicing as a classroom teacher for a number of years and earning my doctorate, I became an early childhood teacher educator, teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I then went to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and had the privilege of being its first program officer for early care and education. From there I went to NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and directed the Accreditation Reinvention Project, which involved both the redesign of the association’s early childhood program accreditation system and developing the criteria to accompany the program standards that came out of the first national commission. These experiences gave me the opportunity to expand my understanding of early childhood education in terms of how it was viewed in different contexts and how differing responsibilities offer new levers for advancing the field. When I left NAEYC, I wasn’t sure what next I wanted to do. I became a consultant, presumably only for a short time, so I could reengage with the field in a broader way. Now, 12 years later, I am principal of the Goffin Strategy Group, which is dedicated to strengthening early childhood education’s ability to provide effective programs and services for children and families through leadership, capacity, and systems development.

Steven: What do you see as the role of advocates and others in improving the quality of early learning?

Stacie: As advocates, we tend to spend most of our time helping others to understand the importance of children’s earliest learning years, convincing them of the importance of the work we do, and developing supportive public policies on behalf of that work. I think we need to attend more to what I call “internal advocacy.” Children and their families deserve access to competent practitioners regardless of the program setting, and I believe we need to advance ECE as a recognized professional field of practice. This transformation would allow us to define ECE as a field of practice and assume responsibility for ensuring its practitioners have the knowledge, skills, and disposition necessary for effective practice, and to ensure systems are in place for verifying that our practices well serve serve children and their families.

Steven: How do you see the role of high education?

Stacie: The role of higher education is crucial to early childhood education becoming a recognized professional field of practice. One of the ways professions ensure their practitioners have the knowledge and skills necessary for effective practice is by focusing on the preparation that takes place in institutions of higher education. We need to attend in a deeper way to the role higher education plays in advancing early childhood education as a recognized profession. The issue is not only about what the field’s prospective professionals are learning in terms of their knowledge and skills; it’s also about the knowledge and skills of those preparing future early educators so, as a field of practice, we can be more confident that we are delivering on ECE’s promise.

Steven: Is there anything else you want to add?

Stacie: This is a defining moment for early childhood education. We increasingly are being made aware of the gap existing between our promises as a field of practice and our ability to fulfill those promises. In the absence of our assuming responsibility as a field of practice regarding this issue, individuals outside of ECE are defining our work. The time has come for us to develop consensus around the future we want for early childhood education and to begin working on bringing that aspiration to fruition.

Voices from the Field: Myra Jones-Taylor

“I think that is where we really need to take all this brain science that has allowed us to be in this position where we are now: talking about the importance of the earliest years and really infuse that in the daily practice of the providers who care for our children.”

Interview with Myra Jones-Taylor, PhD
Connecticut Office of Early Childhood

Myra Jones-Taylor

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Myra Jones-Taylor, PhD was appointed the first commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC), established in 2013 by Governor Dannel P. Malloy. The agency’s mission is to coordinate and improve Connecticut’s birth-to-five programs and create a cohesive, high-quality system that supports the state’s youngest children in their development. She also oversees Connecticut’s Preschool Development Grant.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Myra: It was a very circuitous route. I was getting my PhD in Anthropology and American Studies and I was planning on looking at welfare reform and I was thinking about issues of poverty. Everybody said you need to understand childcare. If you really want to understand the policy shifts that are happening, you should really pay attention to early childhood education and childcare. After I heard the 10th person telling me this, I thought maybe I should really pay attention to this. And I completely changed paths and focused on all these reforms that were happening around early childhood education and specifically how providers on the ground were reacting to them. So I ended up doing ethnography on early childhood education policy. And then that was it. I was going to go on and do my next project, which was also going to be about education and poverty. I was going work at the University of Pennsylvania, and then somebody called me and they said, remember that big mess that you were uncovering in early childhood education in New Haven? They want someone to come in and create a plan to fix it at the state level and I think you should give it a shot. I was really torn about going into academia anyway. I have this sense of urgency that I just wasn’t sure academia was going to be able to keep pace with. So when this opportunity presented itself, I really jumped at it. I thought, well, I can at least create this plan and come up with some way to have an impact. It was an incredible honor to be appointed to the lead agency that was the outgrowth of that plan.

Steven: What do you see as the role of state leaders, like yourself, in improving access to high-quality early learning programs?

Myra: There are two things that try to I focus on.. One is really figuring out this system of early childhood education. Twenty years from now, or ten years from now, I no longer want to be talking about blending and braiding funding. We really just need to figure out a better way to reflect the real need and get our federal partners and our state partners to rethink the way we currently fund early care and education. I think part of it is coming up with a new vision for the way that we serve young children in our early childhood education. That can start with three-year-olds and four-year-olds but it certainly needs to include birth to three-year-olds.

The other piece is: How does early care and education actually improve outcomes? Once you do all the tactical work of aligning policies to achieve quality and access – and not pitting one against the other – what does that quality piece look like? I think that is where we really need to take all of the brain science that has allowed us to be in this position where we are now – talking about the importance of the earliest years – and infuse that in the daily practice of the providers who care for our children. That comes through high-quality professional development. It comes through changing the conversation in communities around what is important for children and how we all need to rally around them to make sure they get that.

Steven: The President has proposed, for four years in a row now, high-quality, voluntary preschool for all four-year-olds. What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities, particularly as it relates to equity.

Myra: I really hope that we get it this year. I hope that we could go further. The PDG, this has been huge for our state. It is allowing us to provide things in our state-funded preschool programs that we have always wanted to have but have not had the resources to include, such as delivering comprehensive services directly to children in the classroom; higher salaries; and more intensive coaching, mentoring and consultation for our providers. We can all point to what I was alluding to earlier, which is, there have been so many studies now, talking about the importance of the earliest years of a child’s life. We have all that research from neuroscience and we have all the studies that make a connection to the importance of high-quality early experiences for children, but more often than we had hoped our field falls short of providing early experiences that deliver on the promise of those studies. And every once in a while there will be some new study that may throw everything into question. But if you really peel it back, you will find that children may have had a high-quality early learning experience, and then they go into a K-3 experience that has not kept pace with the amazing experience that they had in their early learning setting. Or, you will find that a state put money into an early learning program where quality was absent. We will not see the outcomes studies tell us we should be seeing with access alone. Quality and access must go together. We know that together they make a difference. And no one should be asking these questions anymore about whether it is really worth the investment.

We need to be defining what quality looks like and how you support providers to make that happen. I think those are the biggest challenges right there. Quality costs money and providers need a lot of training. And this is a field that has been undervalued and underpaid for a very long time. And if we really want to get the good outcomes that we’re talking about, we have to have providers who can afford to take the classes that we’re saying they need to take, and who aren’t coming to work frazzled and stressed, and bearing the signs of poverty that they are just barely getting out of themselves. At the end of the day we need to ask ourselves: how do we really make this a system, regardless of the setting, that’s a high-quality setting with a workforce that is up for the task?

Open Discussion on the Role of Education Technologies in Early Childhood STEM Education

On April 21st, the U.S. Department of Education came together with the White House and numerous public and private partners to announce our shared commitment to improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in early learning (Preschool – 3rd Grade).  Early engagement in STEM is critical for our youngest learners because opportunity gaps in STEM can begin prior to preschool—and they can continue grow as students progress through school.  There are a host of ways that the public and private sectors can partner to better address this STEM opportunity gap in early learning, such as integrating STEM with the arts and literacy, and using education technologies including screen media (e.g., television, computers, videogames, tablets).  We believe that the use of technology can be an important tool for closing these gaps when used intentionally and appropriately in conjunction with other forms of pedagogy.

The U.S. Department of Education would like to initiate a discussion with the early learning and STEM communities on how best to engage and support parents, caregivers, educators, researchers and developers on how to eliminate opportunity gaps in early childhood STEM education, especially by leveraging education technologies. This conversation will inform federal policy decisions in the coming months.

Call to Action:

We ask early childhood educators and researchers, in particular, to help address these fundamental questions:

  1. Recommendations for screen media use in early childhood vary. It is difficult for educators, parents and caregivers to make informed decisions about which content is effective and how and when to use it. For example, how can educators, parents and caregivers best determine what content is age-appropriate?
  2. How can we make it easier for educators, parents and caregivers to select applications that are high quality and proven effective? What research gaps do we need to address to inform these types of decisions?
  3. How do we effectively support professional development (PD) for educators to facilitate the effective use of education technologies to close STEM opportunity gaps in early learning settings? How can education technologies help provide effective PD?
  4. How can we help media developers address the needs of diverse students and those with special needs to increase student engagement, and to promote social emotional learning?
  5. How can we bridge the opportunity gaps between STEM education, literacy, and the arts? What, if any, is the role of technology and screen media in these efforts?

Please submit your comments and questions in this open forum by 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, May 13, 2016.  We seek open and robust discussion of these issues so that we can improve education outcomes for all young children and provide effective guidance for parents, caregivers, and educators.

Recommended Reading (in chronological order):

Media Use By Children Younger Than 2 Years
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011)

Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8
Fred Rogers Center and NAEYC (2012)

Envisioning a Digital Age Architecture for Early Education
New America Foundation (2014)

Tech in the Early Years: What Do We Know and Why Does It Matter?
Fred Rogers Center (2014)

Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight
Zero to Three (2014)

Getting a Read on the App Stores : A Market Scan and Analysis of Children’s Literacy Apps
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2015)

Beyond Turn it off: How to Advise Families on Media Use
American Academy of Pediatrics (2015)

Apps en familia: Guía para usar apps con tus hijos
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2015)

Use of Technology to Support Early Childhood Practice: Full Report
Health and Human Services Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (2015)

Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2016)

Note: These resource materials are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

Thank you for your comments. The comment period is now closed.  Please join our list serv at www.ed.gov/early-learning for updates and progress on the joint statement.

Voices from the Field: Tammy Mann

“We talk about equity, but how do we break down this idea that children are being educated in environments that are segregated by virtue of the funding streams that support them?”

 Interview with Tammy Mann
President and CEO
The Campagna Center

Tammy Mann

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

For over 20 years, Dr. Mann has worked in the nonprofit sector in agencies devoted to improving outcomes for young children and their families. At the outset of her career, she worked on the frontlines as a psychologist, providing home visiting services to low-income pregnant women and families with very young children, holding senior executive positions at the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at UNCF and ZERO TO THREE. In 2012, she was appointed Commissioner of the Children, Youth, and Families Collaborative Commission in Alexandria where she serves as the first elected chair. 

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Tammy: I went straight into graduate school right after I finished my undergraduate degree in psychology. I was really focused on working with adults, honestly, and my first practicum sort of introduced me to people who were surprisingly all very fascinated with their early experiences and how they sort of thought about those and the young people that they had become. So it was simply being curious about what kind of power that represents for people. I was living in a city at a time where there was a lot being written about young children being exposed to crack cocaine. I was in Detroit in the 80s. And I was surprised to hear the doomsday kind of statements that were being made about young children. That sort of interchange along with people also talking about the early years just kind of made me fascinated. And fortunately I was in a program after I finished my masters, where I got to work with a guy in developmental psychology who was very much committed to mentoring and supporting me. I got involved in developmental health and became a clinician in Detroit, working as a home visitor with moms with young children under three dealing with depression and a whole lot of other issues. So it was really about the desire to want to see how we could intervene and support families, when their children were the youngest and vulnerable, to avoid years of having to fix things down the line. I kind of came in to this from a curiosity perspective and fell in love with the work, the people that were doing the work, and the power that the work represented — and just never looked back.

Steven: What do you see as the role of community-based providers like The Campagna Center in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Tammy: From Campagna’s angle, we are serving a little over 500 children under the age of 5 as the thrust of our work, and we are committed to doing our best to make sure that the children and the families we serve are gaining access to what they need and that the children are benefiting socially and emotionally and intellectually in all the areas of development that set them up to be on track for being able to do well when they transition in the school. That’s our commitment and what we try to live up to, and I think because we are part of the community that operates from a non-profit perspective, clearly our ability to partner and work with others, whether they are other non-profit providers and or with our schools, represents a very important opportunity to ensure that not just what we are doing under our umbrella is the best it can be, but we are working together with others in the community who are committed to that same goal and making sure we are sharing resources and supporting each other and the work. So we have a terrific collaborative here going on in our community that’s really fashioned around building a broad tent for people that have their hands on working with children during this age. We are a very important part of the tapestry of the early education community that is so vital to providing access, not just four years of age but really looking at children from birth forward.

Steven: Why would you say the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning and development programs for our children is important to our country, and what do you see as some of the challenges and the opportunities, particularly as it relates to equity?

Tammy: In terms of what it represents for our country — and I won’t go through the research case with you, I know you get that case very well — I will say one of the things that I was most excited about in terms of the plan was that it focused on appreciating the 0-5 perspective, on what it means for our country to invest in the education and well-being of young children. And I think that’s a really important message so I was pretty excited to see that. And the thrust is making sure what we are doing is aligned, which is a buzz word I really hate using, but I will use it for the sake of brevity, and recognize that the connection that it offers into our K-12 system and for the benefit of children and families that there is truly coherence to what is happening outside of their homes when children are in our care and the care of other early learning organizations and schools that we are truly working together to make sure kids have what they need. These invests early on can make big dividends down the line. I was really excited about the 0-5 vocal point and the opportunity to partner with child care where significant numbers of children are having early learning experiences every day across the country. This whole sense of we can’t get too myopic where we’re focusing because we miss hundreds of thousands of children who are absolutely being impacted by the quality of the experiences that they are having. So the opportunity to partner and bring to life the resources in learning — the two way street of learning from what they are experiencing and what we bring — is beautiful. I will just say I had a pretty long taxing day yesterday and I came to my office before I was leaving here at 7:30 pm or so, and someone had placed on my desk a copy of the before and after picture of learning environments. We did elect to compete in the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, and our community of infant toddler care is really by and large delivered through a network of family childcare providers that are regulated. Even though it is one of the hardest places to get to the high mark that we want to see happen in terms of all the credentialing and everything, we elected to go there because that’s where children in our community at that age are being served. I took a look at a picture that our staff had taken of what the home environment looked like before we were able to deploy resources and supports with the 16 providers that we’re connected to and then what the environments looked like afterwards. It just made my heart sing because it’s not just the children that we are serving that qualify for Early Head Start that benefit, but it is also the other children who are in those environments that are having the residual opportunities to benefit. We talk about equity, but how do we break down this idea that children are being educated in environments that are segregated by virtue of the funding streams that support them? I believe we have an opportunity to be a little bit more creative. It’s not easy work to do — and that’s not because these are people who don’t care and aren’t committed to wanting to do the best they can do but you know — but being able to pay for quality matters. I think that often gets the short shrift in the equity conversation because we can aspire to wanting to see the highest of high credentials that represent one dimension of what it means to create equitable learning environments, but we can’t afford to finance that solely on the backs of parents.  How do we get there without unintentionally decimating or demoralizing or making access much more challenging for families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work if you’re talking about using a childcare partner angle to diversify the income of children you’re serving? And the schools certainly — we are working with our schools as we’re trying to push at this issue of making the most reasonable funding stream to achieve some of the things we desire on the equity side. It is important work and we feel fortunate to be a part of pushing at this in our own situation.