Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Early Care and Education Has Hit the Jackpot...Or Has It?

by Sara Slaughter, Education Program Director

One sign that an issue has made it big is when it grabs the attention of the New York Times’ (NYT) editorial staff. On January 29, there were not one but THREE editorials in the NYT highlighting early care and education (How to Get More Early Bloomers, How Preschool Got Hot and Pre-K the Great Debate). Each of those editorials discussed the significance of the recent approval of the federal government to invest over $1 billion in early education. While that investment is a terrific victory, it is really just a starting point.

But there is something else missing too. If you read each of the NYT’s articles carefully, they start off talking about early education but then focus solely on quality preschool. To reach our goals of student success and closing achievement gaps, preschool is important but not sufficient. Research tells us we must start much earlier with infants and toddlers (children ages birth to two).

A report released this month, The Youngest Illinoisans: A Statistical Look at Infants and Toddlers in Illinois, sheds light on the challenged state of Illinois’ infants and toddlers. The study shows that in Illinois, nearly 45 percent of infants and toddlers live in low-income families, 12 percent live in extreme poverty and nearly 31 percent do not have access to a sufficient amount of healthy food. Children living in poverty tend to face “multiple risk-factors” such as economic stress, exposure to violence, low levels of parental education and unemployment, all conditions that can fundamentally effect brain and overall development and keep children from succeeding academically and socially.

So you see, while the political and media attention is a great catalyst to spark dialogue and garner support, what we need now is action for all our children, including our infants and toddlers.