Voices from the Field: Aaliyah Samuel

“…high-quality early childhood is the remedy for strong, young productive citizens entering not just our workplace and our economy, but really becoming global citizens.”


Interview with Aaliyah Samuel, Division Director
National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices’ Education Division
by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

As Education Division Director, Dr. Aaliyah Samuel focuses on early care and education policies from birth to third grade, aligning early care and education with K-12 policies related to issues such as workforce development, learning standards, assessment, math and early literacy and language development. Prior to joining NGA, Samuel served as senior director of family support and literacy at First Things First and as elementary principal at the Tucson Unified School District. She also served as assistant principal of elementary special education, general education instructor and English speakers of other languages adult education instructor at the Hillsborough County Schools.

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

Aaliyah: I was an elementary school assistant principal in Florida, which as you know is a “third grade retention state.” And as we were preparing kids’ portfolios – and it was my first year having to retain kids – I just thought to myself, “Why are not we supporting these kids earlier?” And so through my dissertation work, I started looking at effective reading interventions for parents in the primary grades. I started working summers as a voluntary Florida UPK site director and started working with pre-k kids, kindergarten, 1, 2, and their parents and families around reading strategies and interventions.  That’s when my love began. I actually tracked the kids I worked with until I left Florida and they were all third graders, and none of those kids I worked with for my dissertation were retained. I saw my passion for getting kids ready and supporting their families so they knew what to do to get their kids reading.  It grew from there.

Steven: What do you see as the role of bipartisan organizations such as yours in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Aaliyah: From my perspective, it is bringing an awareness around this particular issue from multiple avenues. One is recognizing that most governors are either a workforce governor or an education governor and/or both. Early childhood really fits into the workforce in so many ways, from the young children being the actual pipeline to the actual providers that are getting these young children ready for school so the parents and families can depend on early childcare. So it really is the nexus of all things related to a state’s economy and a state’s education. Bringing that level of awareness is really a primary role.

Steven: Why would you say President Obama’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?

Aaliyah: As the President tries to reposition America as the powerhouse country we have been, and can continue to be, we need to really look at how we can make improvements in education, and elevating early childhood is how we make that change. Granted, it’s not one of those investments you’ll see [pay off] over night, but in the long run, when we really look at, not just school readiness, but look at the whole child, high-quality early childhood is the remedy for strong, young productive citizens entering not just our workplace and our economy, but really becoming global citizens. And then to address equity, we know more and more that strong interventions can really be the platform to help poor children and families, who are struggling with multiple risk factors. If we can provide those supports in areas where there may be gaps, it only creates a stronger playing field for those children who might not have the same opportunities and/or access as their peers. So it’s just an equalizer in so many different ways.

Back to the Future

By Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning


A new year is a time to look forward and backwards. For me this New Year provides an opportunity to reflect on the Administration’s accomplishments. I am honored to have been a part of President Obama’s early learning team. We have so many accomplishments of which we can all be proud. Here are my top 10:

  1. President Obama. The President not only hired great leaders who cared deeply about early learning, but he championed the cause as well. Beginning in his first term, he used the bully pulpit to continually make the case for investing more in our youngest children. In his second term, he doubled down with his 2013 Preschool for All proposal to his 2015 promotion of affordable high-quality child care.
  2. Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). The administration’s $1 billion investment to support 20 states in designing and implementing cohesive systems of quality early learning programs and services for young children from birth through age five has been an awesome success. The RTT-ELC states have not only significantly increased the number of programs providing high-quality early learning to our most vulnerable children, but have experimented and succeeded with new ways of reaching families, expanding screening, connecting education and health, collecting and using data and measuring children’s status at kindergarten entry. Most have a more efficient and cohesive governance structure, and all are drastically improving quality. Forty states applied for these grants, and the states not funded continued to advance their planned early learning reforms. A few bold states are moving toward only providing state and federal subsidies to the highest rated programs.
  3. The Preschool Development Grants (PDG). Not only are many more children being served in high-quality programs, we were able to establish inclusion of children with disabilities and paying preschool teachers a salary commensurate with K-12 teachers as two of 12 quality standards. While we are proud of ED’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs for young children, we have been eager to draw more schools into early learning. PDG did that. Through PDG, we worked with states as partners, supporting their diverse-delivery models and providing incentives to increase state and local funding for young children.
  4. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Our new education law, ESSA, provides more opportunities to expand early learning by reaffirming the use of federal Title I funds to support preschool-aged children and building on the work of the original PDG.  Our non-regulatory guidance discusses how states and LEAs must and might leverage ESSA by expanding early learning programs; promoting coordination in early learning among local communities; aligning preschool with early elementary school; and building the capacity of teachers, leaders, and others serving young children.
  5. The Interagency Policy Board (IPB). The IPB was set up voluntarily to advise the Secretaries of ED and HHS on how to better align programs and systems, and improve coordination and administration of federally-funded early learning programs serving children from birth to age eight. Among many other accomplishments, ED and HHS partnered to develop joint policy statements and pushed forward on key early learning issues: eliminating suspensions and expulsions, reducing chronic absenteeism, supporting working families, highlighting the early childhood workforce pay disparities, and improving vocabulary and STEM development. Most importantly, the IPB demonstrated how two very different agencies can work together for the good of the children.
  6. The Early Learning Team at ED. Nothing happens without a strong team, and we have one. Our staff in ED’s first ever Office of Early Learning jumped into early learning from other related fields. They brought their expertise at grants management and strong contacts across ED office which helped as we created both the RTT-ELC and PDG programs. They have spread the gospel about early learning to all ED staff and worked tirelessly with our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the states to make both RTT-ELC and PDG a success
  7. Our colleagues at HHS. Staff at HHS helped us jointly administer RTT-ELC and PDG while simultaneously putting major reforms in place for Head Start and Child Care. They also created a brand new and highly successful program, the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership grants, expanded home visiting, implemented new Head Start Program Standards, and pushed through new Child Care rules. And they did all of this with smiles.
  8. Use of our National Activities Funds. Through our national activities grants funding, ED and HHS have been able to support technical assistance for our 32 state grantees and fund some innovative projects. Here are just a few: The Turnaround Arts program is creating a system of tools, resources, and training opportunities designed to enhance instruction in preschool classrooms in targeted locations, and bring more arts-based early learning partnerships into the Turnaround Arts schools. The Early Learning Research Network is investigating the implementation of early learning policies and programs; identifying malleable factors associated with early achievement; and providing information, tools and products that policymakers and practitioners can use to build effective early learning systems and programs. Eight Preschool Pay for Success feasibility pilots will explore whether Pay for Success is a viable financing mechanism for expanding and improving preschool in their communities in the near term.
  9. National Academies Studies. ED and HHS have collaborated with philanthropy to fund four National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine consensus studies on key issues: early childhood workforce, family engagement, dual language learners, and financing early care and education with a highly-qualified workforce. These four studies are designed to help local and state policy leaders work collaboratively to improve quality in early learning settings. We have already seen how Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Vision has set new goals for both education and competence for all early learning teachers.
  10. The Successes of states and local communities. While not directly involved, I have watched with pride the amazing work going on in states and local communities. From new preschool funding in Mississippi to ballot initiatives in Dayton and Cincinnati state and local leaders and stakeholders are coming together to expand access to early learning, improve health for young children and support parents.

Despite these successes, our collective work, as a nation, to expand quality early learning is not yet done. There are still too few resources; most educators in early childhood continue to be poorly paid; and too many children remain in programs that are mediocre or worse. Today, only 41 percent of all 4-year-olds in the United States are enrolled in publicly-funded preschool through state programs, Head Start, or special education. Even fewer are enrolled in the highest-quality programs. We are squandering tremendous opportunities to help all of our youngest children meet their full potential.

I am proud of the steps we have taken together and hope the next administration will build on this foundation and do even more for the future of our children and our country.

Voices from the Field: Susan Perry-Manning

“I think some of the biggest challenges that remain for the next administration going forward is how are we going to – at scale – address affordability of high-quality early learning for all families.”

Interview with Susan Perry-Manning


Executive Director
Early Care and Education Consortium

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Susan Perry-Manning assumed the role of Executive Director for the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) in October 2016. ECEC is a national non-profit alliance of the leading multi-state/multi -site early care and education providers, state child care associations, and educational services providers across the country advocating for strong federal and state policies that bring quality to scale and support families and children from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Prior to this role, Susan served as Executive Director for the state of Delaware Office of Early Learning – working with public and private partners across Delaware to create, fund, coordinate and implement the state’s early learning services and policies.

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

Susan: My interest in early childhood stemmed from a desire to help break the cycle of generational poverty so that all young children and families have an opportunity to succeed. My very first job in early childhood was working for a local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agency, managing the Child Care Food Program and working with family child care providers to improve the meals and services they were providing to young children. I ultimately served as Executive Director for that CCR&R in Durham, North Carolina, joined forces with Child Care Services Association, working for Sue Russell, and eventually moved to Washington, DC, to work for Child Care Aware of America, serving under both Yasmina Vinci and then Linda Smith’s leadership.  I moved back to North Carolina to work for the state Smart Start office, serving as Stephanie Fanjul’s Vice President. Most recently, I was the Executive Director for the Office of Early Learning in Delaware, and as of two months ago, assumed the role of Executive Director for the Early Care and Education Consortium.

I mention some of the amazing women I have worked for in the past, because each one of them mentored and supported my professional growth. I think that is so important for our field right now – to nurture and make room for new leaders in early care and education at all levels – local, state, and national.

Steven: What do you see as the role of member organizations such as ECEC in improving the quality early learning programs?

Susan: I think that the child care industry itself has a huge role to play in defining and promoting high-quality early learning for America’s children. Understanding how policy, regulations, and funding impact direct practice and the business of child care is critical if we are really working to scale quality for all young children, so I think the Early Care and Education Consortium has a pretty important role to play as we move our quality agenda forward.

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?

Susan: I think that we’ve made a lot of progress in the last eight years in terms of promoting a high-quality early learning agenda for America’s children and particularly its high-needs children. And we’ve launched collectively some successful initiatives – for example the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships – to raise the quality of infant and toddler care across this nation. We all know that infant and toddler care is often the lowest quality, the hardest for providers to offer and still make their bottom lines work, and the most challenging for families to find and afford.  I think some of the biggest challenges that remain for the next Administration going forward are not new: how can we, at scale, address affordability and access to high-quality early learning programs that meet the needs of working families and support young children’s optimal development – because we know children’s earliest experiences at home and in child care have a lasting impact on later learning, health and success and ultimately impact our national security, safety and economic well-being.

In particular, I think, we need to address is at the heart of quality: teachers.  There’s still a huge gap between what we know is best for children in terms of a teacher’s knowledge and competencies and what the reality is.  And, we will have to figure out how to create an early childhood financing model that allows us to attract and retain the best, the brightest, and the most nurturing, effective teachers we can for our young children. As we continue to raise requirements, standards, and education of our workforce, we can’t lose sight of how important it is that young children have equity of access to high-quality teachers that reflect the growing diversity of our country.

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.

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