Early Childhood Education: The Bedrock of All Learning

Educators say bilingualism is linked to enhanced academic and social skills. /Courtesy of DCPS via the Hechinger Project
Educators say bilingualism is linked to enhanced academic and social skills. /Courtesy of DCPS via the Hechinger Project

The Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) views high-quality early childhood programs as the bedrock for all student learning and social-emotional development.

The evidence is overwhelming that the early years are the most important learning years, and that children from birth through age 8 are building the brain architecture that will support their success in school and in life. There is a growing consensus that high-quality pre-K programs have a significant impact on children’s intellectual and social trajectories, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, African-American or Latino.

Such young children may have early learning experiences in a variety of settings, including community-based programs, but historically early learning programs in community-based settings have not prepared youngsters from low-income homes for the elementary schools they enter. Nevertheless, when they enter elementary school they are expected to keep pace with their middle class peers in meeting increasingly challenging learning goals.

In its report, “Right from the Start,” the American Federation of Teachers cites research that shows the most effective way to improve educational and economic opportunity for children — particularly disadvantaged children — is to provide high-quality early learning experiences that ensure a successful and seamless transition to elementary and secondary school, and beyond.

It further states that qualified, competent and confident teachers, steeped in an in-depth understanding of child development and learning, and who know what is individually and culturally appropriate, for each child, are what is needed to promote high-quality learning environments.

That’s why the WTU is taking a stand for young children by entering into a collaborative relationship with the DC Association for the Education of Young Children (DC AEYC) to create a plan to improve the quality of professional development opportunities for teachers in public schools as well as teachers working in community-based programs. We have embraced the pre-K 3 to Grade 3 conceptual framework that promotes a seamless continuum of instruction that leads to grade-level reading by the end of grade 3. To guide our work, the WTU and the DC AEYC together have established an Early Childhood Teacher Task Force.

Additionally, there are plans for an Early Childhood Teacher Collaborative where teachers will conduct teacher action research and learn and how to translate research into practice.

Furthermore, we have plans for the creation of an Early Childhood Teacher Leadership Academy that will focus on the training and development of teacher leaders.

The District of Columbia has a rich and robust history in terms of early childhood programs going as far back as 1960, with the Anacostia Pre-School Project (a prototype for the national Head Start program), to the landmark legislation, the Pre-K Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2008.

However, in spite of this rich, robust history, the learning trajectories for DC’s youngest children are not encouraging. According to the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the statistics are alarming. The school-year 2014-15, baseline data reports the proficiency rates in Reading/Language Arts alone are low: economically disadvantaged students have a proficiency rate of only 14.4 percent. The proficiency rate for African-American students’ is 17 percent and for Hispanic/Latino students 21.8 percent. This data present an alarming narrative regarding the likelihood of our most vulnerable children not reaching their full potential

Recently, DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson identified a number of priorities to reverse the downward spiral of children’s learning and social trajectories. Chief among them are closing the achievement gap and increasing children’s social and emotional competence.

We believe that DCPS cannot close the gap without a robust program to improve early childhood teaching and learning.

We in the Washington Teachers’ Union are eager to work with the Chancellor in establishing such a program.

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