Archive for the ‘Federal Priorities’ Category

The President has made clear his priority of creating a “cradle to college and career” system. However, the design of the previous system has not prioritized the very first (and perhaps most important) step in that system—early childhood. That is going to change.

The U.S. Department of Education and, in a newly created position, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Early Learning Jacqueline Jones, Ph.D., want to be clear that a focus on early childhood is essential to ensuring success in school and life. There is already evidence of this shift taking place. Both successful applicants in Race to the Top Round I and seven of the 10 winners of Race to the Top Round II addressed the Early Learning Initiative Priority in their applications (U.S. Department of Education). As we discussed in Welcome to a New Year and New Priorities several weeks ago, early childhood has reached into the comprehensive center work as a new priority. In addition, the Education Department and the Department on Health and Human Services have created an interagency board on early learning. The Education Department has created a new Early Learning Initiative website and a listserv to keep the public updated on the progress of the initiative.

What does all of this mean? The Education Department is answering the question, “How can we expect students to perform well in school and beyond as citizens when they miss out on the first steps to having access to a quality education?” The answer is that we can’t expect performance later without an investment now, and more needs to be done to (1) enhance the quality of early learning programs and (2) increase access to high-quality early learning programs, especially for young children at risk for school failure.

These are the new early learning goals of the Education Department, and to support the achievement of these goals, a set of standards is being developed that:

  • Addresses multiple domains of learning
  • Describes what children should know and be able to do
  • Reflects current research
  • Is clear and understandable to a broad range of stakeholders
  • Is developmentally, culturally, and linguistically responsive to the populations being served

In addition to developing new standards and in order to be successful in this initiative, reform is needed in many areas of early learning—governance, assessment systems, program monitoring and evaluation, and workforce development, to name a few. Most of us have experience with early learning, whether it is our own memories, a younger sibling, a child, a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or working in early childhood, health care, community development, or elementary education. We are all stakeholders in this initiative. How can we use the tools laid out here, or where can we find the tools we need, to ensure that all children do not miss their first steps and have to start catching up before they even begin?

“Often we don’t give these victories the attention that they deserve,” President Obama said as he highlighted some of the accomplishments of science fair winners from across the country at the first White House Science Fair on October 18.

The science fair included dozens of high school science fair winners and science celebrity appearances of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu; Director of the National Science Foundation Subra Suresh; Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”; and MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. The president even joked about a special guest appearance he recently filmed for an episode of MythBusters, which will air on the Discovery Channel on December 8.

During his address, the president made the case for improving science and mathematics instruction, remarking on scientific exploration of students that “It’s in these pursuits that talents are discovered and passions are lit, and the future scientists, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs are born. That’s what’s going to help ensure that we succeed in the next century.”

Reiterating the goal of moving from the middle to the top in science and mathematics in the next decade (on international assessments), Obama also highlighted some of the initiatives he is hoping will help reach that goal. Race to the Top, Change the Equation, and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) campaign “Renaissance of Wonder” were a few of the initiatives he highlighted.

The theme of the day was advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives and education, finding ways to make connections and inspire students, and celebrating those students who are striving for excellence and advances in science today.

Click here to view the president’s full address.