Early Learning in the Rockies

Early Learning Event

Secretary Duncan participates in story time with children from Mr. Burks’ pre-k class at the Clayton Educare School in Denver, CO.

We have an opportunity to give every child in America an equal chance to succeed, regardless of your background or where you live. For the past several weeks, Secretary Duncan has been traveling the country talking to educators, parents, business and faith leaders and other community members about the importance of investing in early learning.

Last week Duncan stopped in Denver, where he visited Clayton Educare School and dropped into Mr. Burks’ pre-k class of 3-5 year olds. Secretary Duncan walked into a warm and welcoming classroom of students and teachers, and after giving a round of high fives to the students, he found his way to a special reserved seat next to Mr. Burks.

After taking attendance, the students and Secretary Duncan participated in a play and story time. Duncan was handed an orange hand puppet while behind him a scary looking monster was projected onto the screen. After the brief story ended, the students ended the visit with a brief song and dance.

From the classroom, attention moved to the 200 plus attendees gathered across the campus for an early learning town hall. Joined by Joe Garcia, Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, military, business and faith leaders, Duncan and the other panelists made the case for early learning investments.

“We have to close the opportunity gap,” said Duncan while remarking that studies show children at risk for school failure have less access to high-quality early education to prepare them for success in school. That opens an educational opportunity gap that can stand between them and success for the rest of their lives.

Under the President’s Preschool for All proposal, Colorado is estimated to receive $41.8 million in the first year alone. This funding, combined with an initial estimated state match of $4.2 million, would serve over 5,000 children from low- and moderate-income families in the first year of the program across the state.

As the kids in Mr. Burks’ class showed, investing in early learning is an investment in the future. They deserve the best shot possible to succeed. In that classroom today, could be the next great leader or thinker of tomorrow. Together these investments can continue to close achievement gaps, provide life-transforming opportunities for children, and strengthen and build a thriving middle class.

Cameron French is deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Early Learning in Your State

Early Learning ClassroomEvery parent wants their child to have opportunities for lifelong success – and that starts with getting kids off to a strong start. All of our nation’s students deserve a chance to compete on a level playing field, but too many children – especially those from disadvantaged communities – start kindergarten already behind.

We know expanding high-quality early learning opportunities is simply one of the best investments we can make as a country, and President Obama has proposed to dramatically increase access to high-quality preschool and expand early learning and support services for infants, toddlers and families.

Today, the White House released state-by-state fact sheets, outlining what states could expect to receive in federal funding to expand these early learning initiatives in their states.

The President’s proposal builds upon the strong work already done by states across the country.  Governors from states as diverse as Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Vermont, and West Virginia all called for expanded access to preschool to more 4-year-olds.  These state leaders – regardless of party affiliation – recognize that early learning helps prepare young children for educational success, provides crucial support for families, and ultimately strengthens our nation’s economy.

The White House fact sheets explain how the President’s plan will:

  • provide high-quality preschool for all 4 year olds,
  • invest in high-quality infant and toddler early learning and development and
  • expand effective parent and family supports.

These investments – financed through a mixture of federal funding and a partnership with states – will help close America’s school readiness gap and ensure that children enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

The benefits of investing in early education are well-documented. Research has shown that high-quality early learning programs and services improve young children’s health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes; enhance school readiness; and help close the school readiness gaps that exist between children with high needs and their peers.

President Obama understands that the stubborn opportunity gap that confronts far too many American children and limits their life chances often begins before they even enter school kindergarten.

Together these investments can continue to close achievement gaps, provide life transforming opportunities for children, and strengthen and build a thriving middle class.

Read how the President’s plan would increase access to high-quality early childhood education in your state.

Cameron French is the deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

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Early Learning Chorus Grows with Over 300 Business Leaders in Support

Today, a group of over 300 business leaders representing 44 states signed a letter calling on President Obama and Congress to invest in early learning programs. These CEOs, chambers of commerce and business roundtables represent large companies like Delta Airlines and PNC Financial Services Group and smaller companies like Scope View Strategic Advantage in Charlotte, NC and C.H. Briggs Company in Reading, PA. Regardless of their location, size or scope of business, all agreed on one thing; investing in early childhood education is the right thing to do for our nation’s children.

“We rarely have the luxury,” their letter says, “of making business investment decisions with as much evidence as we have to support the economic value of investing in early care and education.”

Earlier this year, President Obama put forth a “Preschool for All” proposal in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget, and the Department is currently seeking input from stakeholders on the president’s plan for the federal government to partner with states in making access to high-quality early learning a reality for every four-year-old in America.

The President’s proposal is for a deficit-neutral investment of $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds. An additional $750 million will provide competitive grants to states to strengthen their early learning systems. Combined, the proposal will raise the quality of all early learning programs and will align current investments, including home visitation, creating a birth to age 5 pipeline of services and support that prepares children for kindergarten and beyond.

This plan is entirely consistent with the business leaders’ declaration that, “Early care and education is not a partisan issue. It is an American competitiveness issue that impacts all of us,” and with their support for the adoption of policies that “give all children the chance to fulfill their potential and create the best workforce and economy in the world.”

Studies prove that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school. And because behavioral skills highly valued by employers, such as self-discipline, persistence and cooperation, start in the youngest years and last a lifetime, President Obama and Secretary Duncan agree that quality early childhood programs have a significant and positive impact on the American workforce, customer base, economy and nation we need in a 21st century environment.

For more information and to read the full text of the letter, please visit: www.readynation.org/signatories-business-letter

Cameron French is the Deputy Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom

Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a Google+ Hangout—“Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom”—at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The panel, moderated by NBC News’ Tamron Hall, comprised of African American educators from across the country, discussed the rewards of the teaching profession, the critical role of good teachers, and the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers.

The panel consisted of the Department’s Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement; David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; Jemal Graham, a 7th-grade math teacher at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens, N.Y.; Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Howard University, Department of Education and Wesley Baker, a middle-school social studies teacher at KIPP Truth Academy in Dallas, Texas.

The discussion was the first of several events to be hosted by the Department to celebrate the country’s more than five million teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10).

Each teacher brought a passion and wealth of knowledge to the discussion that reminds all of us of the important role that educators play in our lives.  From one topic to the next, each gave heartfelt feedback of what was working and what they found most challenging.  What struck me the most, was that regardless of their location or district each teacher was able to find common ground with the other.  This was not just a calling for them, this was their profession and they studied it and practiced it the same way a lawyer prepares for a case – with diligence and unwavering attention. The panel discussion was a rare opportunity for a diverse assembly of educators to come together to exchange their ideas.

Secretary Duncan and President Obama have recognized the need for a more diverse teaching force.  Nationwide, more than 35 percent of public school students are African American or Hispanic, but less than 15 percent of teachers are Black or Latino, and less than 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are African American males. Early in Duncan’s term as Secretary of Education, he made the call for more African American men to pick up the chalk and teach. Read more about the Teach.gov initiative (now Teach.org).

Watch yesterday’s Google+ Hangout:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron French is deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education