AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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AFT Resolutions

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

WHEREAS, if we are to address the needs of all children to meet high standards and to close the objectionably large achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, we must turn our attention to issues related to early childhood education and school readiness; and

WHEREAS, well-regarded studies have shown that high-quality preschool both increases the likelihood that children will gain higher levels of cognitive and social skills and become successful students and productive citizens and reduces the chances that they will drop out of high school, become dependent on welfare, or be incarcerated; and

WHEREAS, studies show that current child care policies and practices do not reflect what is known about child development--particularly what has been learned in the last decade about brain development and the critical role that systematic exposure to high-quality learning opportunities play in future development and academic abilities; and

WHEREAS, alarmingly, more than 50 percent of children in the country have one or more risk factors that, without intervention, can lead to an achievement gap even before they start kindergarten and jeopardize their chances to learn and succeed in school; and

WHEREAS, these risk factors include too little exposure to stimulating language, reading, storytelling, and other literacy-building activities upon which later success in schooling is based; limited-English proficiency; hearing and vision disabilities; speech and language impairments and learning or other disabilities; and

WHEREAS, large bodies of research and effective pedagogy have been developed within the 100-year history of the child development/preschool profession, and effective, successful models exist, these practices are not widely adopted due to lack of training and funding; and

WHEREAS, more than 50 percent, and as many as 80 percent, of the early care and education programs in the country not only fail to reflect what is currently known about child development but even to meet basic standards of quality--thereby putting children's health, safety and overall development in jeopardy; and

WHEREAS, the lack of access to high-quality preschool programs is a major problem that affects nearly every working family in America, whether poor or middle class, and as the numbers of working mothers and fathers increase, is likely to become more acute; and

WHEREAS, there is little or no coordination and connection between various early childhood programs, their funding and policies, and their targeted communities, and such a "nonsystem" results in programs and policies that are largely divorced from each other and from the K-12 system; and

WHEREAS, to assure a seamless transition, there must be an articulation of early childhood education and Head Start programs with standards, curricula and frameworks in the K-12 system; and

WHEREAS, the perceived high cost of delivering services contributes to the shortage of high-quality preschool programs; and

WHEREAS, most early childhood education programs are financed largely by fees from families and supplemented by modest (and often inadequate) levels of public and private contributions; and, where publicly funded, they are often viewed as the most expendable line items in the face of state or district budget cuts; and

WHEREAS, one of the reasons more public elementary schools do not have early childhood education programs and full-day kindergarten is that they lack adequate space in their current facilities in which to house such classes; and

WHEREAS, although many aspects of quality in early childhood education programs, like the use of research-based practices, are linked to having adequate numbers of well-qualified adults who get decent salaries, 40 percent of current preschool staff have only a high school diploma, and, in general, early childhood program staff rank among the lowest in pay and in training and highest in turnover rates of any occupation; and

WHEREAS, we can learn from and build upon the high-quality, universal preschool programs that are widely available in other industrialized countries and in our own country--including the early childhood education and care system sponsored by the Department of Defense and promising elements in programs offered in states like Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Oklahoma; and

WHEREAS, although Head Start, the federal early childhood program for disadvantaged children, has already provided a foundation on which to base a system of quality early childhood education, its current funding level is insufficient to meet the needs of all eligible children, and its trademark health and social services and parent involvement programs must be augmented by an enhanced intellectual development component; and

WHEREAS, extending kindergarten to a full school day is key to establishing and reinforcing school readiness; and

WHEREAS, we know that universal access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education encourages civic values and national cohesiveness by enabling children of diverse backgrounds to learn together from the start:

RESOLVED, that the AFT and its affiliates:

  • Call on the nation to make a commitment to high-quality early childhood education programs starting at age three. These programs must be accessible and affordable to all families that want their children to participate; and because high-quality early childhood education has been shown to be effective in bridging the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students, poor children must be given priority and provided with quality services at no cost to their families; and
  • Urge that such high-quality early childhood education programs, in addition to being accessible on an equitable basis, free for poor children, and affordable for all:
    • focus on school readiness in all its forms;
    • provide comprehensive support services (health, nutrition, parent involvement, etc.) for all children, including children with disabilities who are expected to enter the public K-12 system;
    • include resources and support for high levels of training, certification, professional development and compensation of staff;
    • have clear and specific linkages to the K-12 system; and
    • coordinate the various programs, services and corresponding funding streams at the federal, state and local levels; and

  • Acknowledge that our ultimate goal is an inclusive, high-quality system of early childhood education that ensures universal access, is publicly funded, and is accommodated within the public schools, but recognize that, in the short term, it is necessary to work within and enhance the current early childhood care and education programs in order that sufficient placements exist to serve all children whose parents currently wish to enroll them; and
  • Call on Congress and the president to fully fund Head Start so that it will cover all eligible children and provide them with an educational program that includes and strengthens Head Start's performance standards, baseline for credentialing, and its trademark health and social services and parent involvement programs and also meets the other criteria for a high-quality program; and
  • Urge policymakers that, to meet current needs, we expand beyond Head Start, using the potential of school- and community-based programs to create a universal system of high-quality early childhood learning and care, whether the programs are in schools or community-based centers and whether they are state-funded preschool programs or federally funded programs like Head Start; and
  • Urge federal, state, and local legislators to fund a voluntary, universal early childhood education program through cost sharing--first by leveraging existing funds for preschool initiatives and programs--to establish a quality system and to pay the costs for poor families who want to enroll their children in preschool; and
  • Call on states to develop a sliding-scale fee system for parents above the poverty line so that all families have access to quality services and children from various socioeconomic backgrounds can be educated together; and
  • Lobby state legislatures to increase their financial commitment to high-quality universal early childhood education by creating a consistent, stable and permanent funding stream for early childhood education programs; and
  • Call on states to provide full-time, full-day kindergarten, thereby extending the instructional time in kindergarten to enhance and augment school readiness, success and academic achievement for the later grades; and
  • Call on the federal government to fund states and school districts to initiate a "Kindergarten-Plus" program that would provide disadvantaged youngsters with additional time in kindergarten, starting the summer before children would ordinarily enter and continuing through the summer before they enter first grade.
  • Urge school districts to add preK programs to their current systems; and
  • Lobby the federal government to do its fair share in providing school construction funds to states and to districts to ensure that public elementary schools have sufficient and adequate facilities in which to house early childhood education programs and full-day kindergarten classes; and
  • Encourage states to develop and implement early childhood education standards and curricula in collaboration with recognized best practices for children under five and in articulation with K-12 standards; and
  • Lobby for and commit to supporting legislation requiring that future preschool teachers have four-year degrees and have participated in a teacher preparation program focused on child development and early childhood education approaches; and
  • Advocate for quality professional development in research-based early childhood education for incumbent preschool teachers, paraprofessionals and others to enable them to meet higher credentialing standards for early childhood program staff; and
  • Advocate for staff compensation commensurate with the higher levels of education and experience demanded by higher standards; and
  • Provide information to affiliates on the importance of early childhood education; and
  • Identify models of quality preK programs within the public K-12 system and the U.S. Department of Defense schools that are showing promising results; and
  • Develop and disseminate a "What Works" on those effective models.

(2002)