Scott Moore has been an advocate of early childhood education for California’s youngest children for years. He served as the executive director of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Early Learning Advisory Council from 2010 to 2011. As the senior policy adviser at Preschool California, an advocacy organization, Moore has pushed for the creation of transitional kindergarten and the consolidation of the state’s various early education initiatives to create its current state preschool program. As part of an occasional Question and Answer series with leaders in California education, Moore sat down with EdSource Today’s Lillian Mongeau last month to talk about early education policy.
Moore emphasized the need for a greater investment in early childhood education at the state level. Funding levels for early childhood education would remain flat under Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, and Moore has said he would like to see a full restoration of the $1 billion that has been cut from early childhood programs since 2008. Moore said the academic skills children gain in preschool are a key element of their later success in school and career. That, he said, makes preschool an excellent investment, even in tight fiscal times.
Here are the highlights of the conversation:
EdSource Today: Just to start with a big-picture question, what does your ideal preschool system look like in California?
Scott Moore: Well, the ideal preschool system is one that’s high quality and prepares all children for success in school. It’s one where we have a clear sense of the skills we want children to have so that they’re ready for kindergarten and it’s one that no matter where you grow up, no matter what the income situation of your family is, you’re able to attend. That’s critical. When you think about the opportunity for success in school, the inequity that we have now in California around access to quality preschool is a big barrier to that.
EdSource: There are people who’ve make the argument that starting universal preschool standardizes childhood learning way too early and gets kids into the system before they need to be. What do you think?
Moore: Any preschool program that is standardized is not a quality preschool program. Quality preschool is all about tailoring learning to where a child is and helping to scaffold their development. Good early childhood educators really understand where their kids are, they know how to relate to them, they know how to reach them and encourage their passion for learning.
During that time of life, children are learning at very different levels and very different rates. So it’s critical to be able to support children’s development where they are and to really help foster their love for learning because kids just naturally come with that.
EdSource: There’s a lot of talk now about early math and early literacy and making sure kids have these really concrete academic skills before they start kindergarten. Can that just end up as drill and kill for little tiny kids?
Moore: That’s always a concern no matter what you’re looking at. What we do know is children have a great capacity for learning at a young age. Drilling and killing isn’t the right thing to do with 3-year-olds, just like it’s not the right thing to do with 10-year-olds. It’s important that in early childhood programs you have developmentally appropriate practice. You would never want to see drill and kill.
EdSource: So you think you can teach those academic concepts without the method of drill and kill? You can use other methods to get there?
Moore: Oh, absolutely. And that’s the best way to do it. You know, drill and kill, kids forget what they’ve learned. They’re not understanding the concepts that are behind what they’re learning and that’s actually what’s most important. There are so many fun games that children can do that teach them early math and early literacy.
EdSource: Do you feel the state is currently putting enough emphasis on early childhood education both with programming and funding?
Moore: There are a lot of folks in California who are dedicated professionals in early childhood. We have over 100,000 preschool teachers and early childhood professionals who work hard every day. Unfortunately, at the state level with the funding that we’ve had, we’ve seen a very, very sharp decline in the investment that California makes in our youngest learners. One-third of preschool programs have been cut. Over $1 billion has been cut and over 100,000 children have been shut out of early learning programs. When you look at developing our economy for the future, well, it’s our children who are our future.
We know through a vast number of research studies that the most effective, best return on our investment is early childhood education. We really are mortgaging our future when we make those cuts to programs for our youngest kids.
EdSource: What are the ways to change that?
Moore: You do need the economy to get better. You can only spend what’s coming in. We very much respect that and understand that’s a reality. We’re in recovery. We have seen revenues for the state go up significantly and we are seeing proposals for where to reinvest those funds. To make up for the cuts that have been made over the last five years, we would argue that there’s no better area to reinvest than in early childhood.
Fortunately, so many legislators – many of them new to the Assembly and Senate – already understand that preschool is a big advantage for children. We [at Preschool California] obviously want to continue helping our elected officials understand the importance of early learning.
EdSource: If you could talk about one misunderstanding you hear over and over about preschool and you would like to address, what would it be?
Moore: It would be the false dichotomy between play and academics. People think it’s a choice between the two. In fact, children learn through play. It’s intentional play. It’s play that’s planned and teachers do have curriculum. But children come in, especially young children, with such a joy for learning. The greatest early childhood educators are the ones that are able to help children learn through that joy of their play. The idea that you have to choose between academics and play is completely false. What we ought to be striving for is both.
EdSource: Do you have anything else you want to say on behalf of Preschool California?
Moore: As we look to rebuild the future of California, we can’t ignore early childhood education. This is where we can make our best investment and we can’t miss that opportunity. So, that’s what we’ll be working on this year.