Issue Position: Education - Early Childhood Education
Every child born in America is destined to compete with his or her peers around the world. Their success will be determined in great part by whether or not we meet our obligation to provide them with the education critical to their success. A foundation for this effort is ensuring that every child, regardless of their financial means, arrives on the first day of elementary school ready to learn.
There is no shortage of federal programs targeted at early child care and preschool. State and federal funding for early childhood care and education programs is over $25 billion each year. The list of programs includes Head Start, Title I preschool programs, Early Head Start, Even Start, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Early Reading First, the Social Services Block Grant, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. There is much to be achieved by leveraging and better coordinating these programs to increase availability of high quality programs. When used effectively this approach has had a tremendous impact on the wellbeing and educational outcomes of children.
State-level preschool and early care programs have created greater access for very young children whose families could not otherwise afford high quality programs. Several states such as Minnesota have launched new, high quality pre-K programs with a commitment to study their outcomes. Estimates are that 70-85 percent of children from low-income families have access to early care and/or preschool, and that nearly 90 percent of children younger than five with employed mothers are in a regular child care arrangement. However, due to complicated formulas and budgetary constraints, not every low-income child is getting access to high quality care and education on a consistent basis. Federal dollars can do far more to broaden access to high quality programs.
As President, John McCain will focus federal resources on ensuring that the neediest children have access to a range of high quality programs. The objective will be to ensure that these children have the opportunity to begin school with a strong foundation in language and numbers, and that they have the social and emotional skills necessary to succeed. Where taxpayer dollars are involved, early childhood programs must be built on a solid foundation that focuses on the fundamentals necessary to prepare children for a lifetime of learning.
Early Childhood Development: Make certain students are ready to learn.
The Head Start program was created to meet the educational and social needs of young children. While there are some excellent Head Start centers that can serve as models for leadership and best practices, far too many Head Start centers have fallen prey to the same institutional flaws that have undermined the larger public education system. They lack quality instructors; they lack accountability to parents; and they are focused on process, not outcomes. We should build Centers for Excellence in Head Start that actually leads to excellence in all of the pre-K and early learning programs that taxpayers support.
Centers for Excellence in Head Start
1. Who is eligible? Head Start centers operating in the state with a demonstrated record of success in improving the school readiness of children are eligible to be nominated by the Governor for recognition as a Center of Excellence.
2. How does it work? The Secretary of HHS will pick at least one Head Start Center in each state based on the qualifications and experience of the Head Start Center
3. Each Head Start Center identified by the Secretary as a Center of Excellence will use their funds to expand their programs to serve more children, disseminate their best practices to other Head Start agencies (similar to a charter school dissemination grant), and improve coordination of early childhood education in their city or state.
4. How will the funding be distributed? The Secretary will provide at least $200,000 per year to each Center of Excellence, depending on availability of funding. The Secretary has discretion to increase awards if more funds become available.
Building on the principles advanced in the "Centers of Excellence", that highlight highly effective practice, we must work with states, Head Start parent councils, high quality early care and education providers, and other stakeholders to ensure that state and federal pre-K programs are well coordinated.
Any successful reform effort requires clearly defined goals and objectives. Where ever federal funds are used in providing early childhood education programs, these programs must include certain fundamental elements that are basic to successfully preparing young children to enter school ready to learn:
Standards for quality should be centered on the child and outcome-based. Every federally supported program (including Head Start) must include meaningful, measurable standards designed to determine that students are ready for school by measuring their school readiness skills. We should also encourage and enable states to better align Head Start with their own pre-K programs.
A primary objective is to ensure that every instructor in an early learning or care program has strong preparation with an emphasis on performance and outcomes as measured by student development. To attract quality instructors, efforts must be made to bring income parity to qualified instructors in these programs and their counterpart's elementary school system. As President, Senator McCain will promote the replication of professional development programs with a proven record of preparing our children for kindergarten and encourage more research to determine what skills and training make the most difference for young children.
As President, John McCain will require all federally supported preschool programs to offer a comprehensive approach to learning that covers all significant areas of school readiness, notably literacy/language development, as well as math readiness and key motor and social skills.
Because healthy children learn better, partnership grants and targeted federal funding can be used to encourage and facilitate early screening programs for hearing, vision and immunizations for preschool age children to ensure that all children are able to reach their full potential.
As President, John McCain will ensure that there are no federal prohibitions against preschool programs offering basic healthcare screenings to children (with parental consent) in their care. This may include developing partnerships with rural and community health clinics, teaching hospitals and other public health institutions to lend their expertise to ensuring that poor health and easily diagnosed conditions are detected and addressed before they undermine a child's ability to learn and reach his or her potential.
Parental Education and Involvement
Parental involvement is critical to the success of any pre-K program. Current federal programs will be focused on educating parents on the basics of preparing their children for a productive educational experience. These programs will place an emphasis on reading and numbers skills, as well as nutrition and general health. Reinforcing to parents the fundamental importance of reading to their children as a primary way of expanding their vocabulary and preparing their young minds to learn will be emphasized at every level.