Early education advocates in California are welcoming the guidance issued this week by the U.S. Department of Education on how the Every Student Succeeds Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in December can be used to support early education.

The law represents the long-delayed reauthorization of the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as the No Child Left Behind law.  

Early education has a far more prominent place in the new law than in its predecessors, as noted by the authors of the 37-page document.

“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been transformed from a K–12 education law to one which envisions a preschool through 12th grade (P–12) continuum of learning,” the 37 page document notes.

The guidance stresses the federal government’s interest in promoting early childhood education, and as a guide to how the law can strengthen early education programs.

The document describes funding authorized by the law that can be used, among other things, to train preschool teachers; help students learning English make the transition from preschool to kindergarten; and fund preschools based in charter schools.

“The foundation is there, the feds put it there, so it’s now really up to us, child advocates across the state, to seize this vision that they’ve put in there for early learning and family and childhood supports,” said Kendra Rogers, managing director for early childhood policy at Children Now.

Advocates said the guidance was a powerful statement of elevating the role of the federal government in supporting high quality preschool expansion, as well as being a useful resource to navigate the 449-page Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Everywhere the feds could weave in a reference to early learning (in the guidance document) they did,” said Kendra Rogers, managing director for early childhood policy at Children Now, an advocacy organization based in Oakland. She said the document’s unambiguous description of early childhood as starting at birth – the word “birth” is used 36 times – could be potentially transformative in boosting efforts to involve K-12 educational agencies in assisting families and children well before kindergarten.

“The foundation is there, the feds put it there, so it’s now really up to us, child advocates across the state, to seize this vision that they’ve put in there for early learning and family and childhood supports,” Roger said.

Others praised the guidance for the prominent connections it makes between childcare and preschool and K-12 education, in terms not only of philosophy but program financing.

The guidance places “an incredible emphasis” on asking school district leaders to integrate early learning into their financial planning, said Erin Gabel, deputy director for First 5 California, a statewide organization that advocates for children ages 0 to 5.

“The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been transformed from a K–12 education law to one which envisions a preschool through 12th grade (P–12) continuum of learning,” states the 37-page federal guidance document.

That is particularly evident, Gabel said, in the various ways the document links quality early education programs with what happens in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

The document stresses the importance of  coordinating preschool with other early learning programs and with the K-12 system in general. Gabel noted that often kindergarten is less than ideally integrated with upper grades, “let alone preschool.”

Among the provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act noted in the guidance document is that local school districts that receive federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students must coordinate with Head Start and, if possible, other early education programs.

As an example of how this can work, the document describes a partnership between the San Francisco Unified School District and the Kai Ming Head Start program that outlines expectations for students when they pass from preschool into kindergarten and provides for combined teacher training of district and Head Start staff  to promote smooth transitions into kindergarten.

The guidance document also encourages administrators to use Title 1 funds for early learning programming such as preschool. It also encourages the use of Title II funds – for educator training – for early education teachers.

For California, the optional strategies and programs outlined in the guidance document will support ongoing efforts already underway, rather than force any change in direction, Gabel said.  

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