Early Years Are Learning Years
The demand for early childhood care and education programs continues to increase not only in response to the growing demand for out-of-home child care but also in recognition of the critical importance of educational experiences during the early years. Several decades of research clearly demonstrate that high-quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood programs produce short- and long-term positive effects on children's cognitive and social development.
NAEYC members, most of whom work directly with young children and families, see daily the toll of ill-conceived policies on the lives of the children and families we serve. Existing programs have too often taken fragmented, piecemeal approaches to the complex issues facing children and families. Effective policies have seldom been funded at sufficient levels to provide adequate support to all families who might benefit.
NAEYC believes that our nation is at a crossroads. We must develop an integrated system of early childhood care and education that includes comprehensive approaches that directly involve families and communities in program design, implementation, and evaluation. We can invest now in our children and families and enjoy long-term savings, with a more vibrant nation of healthy, achieving children and more stable families. Or, we can fail to make the investment and pay the price: increased delinquency, greater educational failures, lowered productivity, less economic competitiveness, and fewer adults prepared to be effective, loving parents to the next generation of children. Federal, state and local government, communities, parents, and the private sector must share in the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of children and families.
Our nation can and must do better to create opportunities that help all children and families succeed. The time for action is now.
A Renewed Call to Action
Our goal is not to simply defend the status quo. NAEYC’s convictions about early childhood care and education set forth a vision of a system that is still unmet.
- That all young children deserve excellent early care and education
There are a large percentage of child care classrooms and family child care homes that are of mediocre or poor quality. An alarming number of infants and toddlers are found to be in unsafe settings. We know that children in schools with fewer resources, a larger percentage of teachers that are new or have emergency certificates, and lacking parental involvement in their education are not receiving the excellent early education they deserve.
- That high quality early experiences make a difference in children’s lifelong academic and social success
Several decades of research clearly demonstrate that high-quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood programs produce short- and long-term positive effects on children's cognitive and social development. Specifically, children who experience high-quality, stable child care engage in more complex play, demonstrate more secure attachments to adults and other children, and score higher on measures of thinking ability and language development. High-quality child care can predict academic success, adjustment to school, and reduced behavioral problems for children in first grade. Studies demonstrate that children's success or failure during the first years of school often predicts the course of later schooling. A growing body of research indicates that more developmentally appropriate teaching in preschool and kindergarten predicts greater success in the early grades.
- That these programs must be accessible to all families
Access to child care, particularly high quality child care, remains out of reach for many families. Programs outside of K-12 public education have the greatest difficulty in meeting the criteria of good quality, equitable compensation, and affordable access. Unlike K-12 education -- a publicly financed system with a relatively stable funding base -- most early childhood care and education services operate in a very price-sensitive market financed primarily by fees from families and supplemented by public and private contributions. Many families cannot pay the full cost of quality care, and the ongoing commitment from public and private contributions is seldom guaranteed. For other children, there are insufficient numbers of child care providers trained in or connected to others who can help support their special educational or other needs to develop to their full potential.
- That early childhood professionals must have excellent preparation, ongoing professional development, and compensation commensurate with their qualifications and experience
A key component of quality programs is the quality of teacher. Recruitment and retention of child care staff is extremely difficult. The average child care teaching assistant earns roughly $10,500 a year and the highest paid child care teachers are paid roughly $18,000 a year. Turnover of staff averages 31 percent. In public schools, although salaries are much higher than for child care teachers, there is difficulty retaining talented teachers and recruiting more experienced teachers to troubled schools. Scholarships, financial aid, and loan forgiveness are insufficient to help many early childhood educators obtain excellent preparation and ongoing professional development.
- That effective early education must be both challenging and appropriate to young children’s ages, individual needs, and culture
To guide their decisions about practice, all early childhood teachers need to understand the developmental changes that typically occur in the years from birth through age 8 and beyond, variations in development that may occur, and how best to support children's learning and development during these years. Children's development is best understood within the sociocultural context of the family, educational setting, community, and broader society. These various contexts are interrelated, and all have an impact on the developing child.
- That everyone needs to work together to build a successful future for our youngest children
An equitable and sufficient system of financing early childhood education in the United States is still elusive. Child care is financed through a patchwork of government, parent, and private sector resources. Families contribute roughly 60 percent of the costs of child care; federal, state, and local governments combined contribute 39 percent, and business contributes one percent. Public schools are financed largely through property taxes, which has created an inequitable distribution of resources within school districts and states, despite additional resources from states and the federal government. An equitable system of financing child care and early education requires a strong partnership between government, families, and the private sector.
A Vision for Excellence
All states must develop a system of early childhood care and education with appropriate regulatory, governance, finance, and accountability mechanisms so that --
- All Children have access to a safe and accessible, high quality early childhood education that includes a developmentally appropriate curriculum, knowledgeable and well-trained program staff and educators, comprehensive services that support their health, nutrition, and social well-being, in an environment that respects and supports diversity.
- All Early Childhood Professionals are supported as professionals with a career ladder, ongoing professional development opportunities, and compensation that will attract and retain high quality educators.
- All Families have access to early care and education programs that are affordable and of high quality, and are participants in the education and well being of their children through family involvement in programs and schools, as well as opportunities to increase their educational attainment.
- All Communities are accountable for the quality of early childhood programs provided to all children, backed by the local, state, and federal funding needed to deliver quality programs and services.
To achieve these goals at the national, state, and local levels, policies and decisions must be guided of principles of Excellence, Access, Equity, Diversity, and Accountability.
- Excellence: The design, funding, and implementation of systems necessary to support best practices in all early childhood programs.
- Access: The absence of barriers for all children to attend high-quality programs.
- Equity: Opportunities for all children, regardless of family status, income, disability, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, or race to attend high quality programs, with an emphasis on targeting funding to ensure that those families with the fewest resources are served.
- Diversity: Flexibility in the ways in which programs are provided and services are tailored to the needs of families and children. Responsive and supportive programs that recognize and respect the whole child and family, their cultural backgrounds, and the community’s culture.
- Accountability: Clearly defined standards for program quality and personnel, with input from the early childhood professionals, families, and communities, with ongoing planning and evaluation processes, to ensure positive educational, health, and social outcomes for children.
Making the Vision a Reality
Early childhood programs have the potential for producing positive and lasting effects on children, but this potential will not be achieved unless more attention is paid to ensuring that all programs meet the highest standards of quality. As the number and type of early childhood programs increase, the need increases for a shared vision and agreed-upon standards of professional practice.
Making this vision of excellence a reality will require a commitment from and a partnership among the federal, state, and local governments, business and labor, private institutions, and the public. As we stand at the beginning of a new millenium, we must join forces to advocate and implement the policies at the appropriate federal, state, and local levels that will lead to excellence in early childhood education programs.