Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When it comes to early childhood, we’ve come a long way and still have a ways to go

| by Brigitte Blom Ramsey, Executive Director |

The Prichard Committee convened a study group of nearly 50 early childhood experts, advocates and interested citizens to review Kentucky’s progress in early childhood and make recommendations for our future areas of focus. 

The study group’s report, Progress and Next Steps for Early Childhood in Kentucky: Birth Through Third Grade, identifies key areas of progress beginning with the unanimous passage of the KIDSNow legislation in 2000 which allocated 25 percent of Kentucky’s Master Tobacco Settlement funds to early childhood.  More recent areas of progress include: 1) creation of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, 2) development of a definition of kindergarten readiness, 3) adoption of a statewide kindergarten readiness screener, and 4) increased investments in public preschool, child care assistance and HANDS home visiting.

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of the importance of the early years and we still have a ways to go.  If all of Kentucky’s children are to arrive in kindergarten ready for early success and all of Kentucky’s 3rd graders are to realize proficiency in foundational subjects like math and reading, we need to recommit to using our resources wisely and increasing the quality of public programs. 
The study group developed a vision statement to guide its work.  It is a statement that resonates with everyone who has ever held the gaze of an eager and curious young child, witnessing their unbridled capacity and seemingly limitless potential. 

“All Kentucky children, birth to age 8, will have intellectually engaging, imaginative, and culturally responsive learning experiences that extend their curiosity and support social and emotional health and well-being. Developmentally appropriate early childhood experiences will immerse children in hands-on inquiry, sensory- and language-rich environments that support their potential to be creative and critical thinkers. As a result, all children will be well prepared for success in kindergarten and proficient in math and reading by the end of third grade.”

To achieve this vision, the study group identified five areas of focus going forward:
  •  Linking early childhood to third grade
  •  Community collaboration
  • Health and development
  • Family engagement
  •  Funding
This latest report builds on a 2007 report, Strong Start Kentucky: Investing in Quality Early Care and Education to Ensure Future Success, but extends the focus past kindergarten readiness to 3rd grade. 
We know significant gains can be made with the right supports in the early years and we want to ensure these gains are extended all the way through to 3rd grading reading and math proficiency.  

One way we do this is by ensuring quality throughout the system.  We need to invest in quality public preschool and quality child care for more of Kentucky’s children. To use our resources wisely, we need to encourage more public preschools to partner with quality child care centers to leverage current funding streams and provide the best environment for young children (Pre-K Collaboration in Kentucky: Maximizing Resources for Kindergarten Readiness).  We also need to ensure that best practices in health and development, beginning prenatally, are supported throughout Kentucky’s early childhood system and among its partners.  Finally, and the most critical of all, we need to do a better job engaging families.  As a child’s first and most influential teacher, families need to better understand early brain development and the simple things they can do to better support their early learner. 

Kentucky has a rich history supporting early childhood from birth through the early elementary years.  Our 4th grade math and reading scores provide some proof.  On the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as "the nation’s report card", Kentucky now ranks 8th in fourth grade reading and has the third best increase since 1992 of all states.  In fourth grade math, we are at the national average and have the 12th best increase of all states since 1998. 

It’s important that we stay the course with Kentucky’s early childhood investments, increase them as possible, and continue to increase the quality of our public programs.  Kentucky’s youngest learners deserve the best we can give them.  They, and the Commonwealth, will benefit as a result. 

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