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Due to the recent news that the US has fallen dramatically in its world rankings for college graduates, especially in science, early childhood education has gained a tremendous amount of public attention. President Obama wants to regain position as the world leader in college graduation by the year 2020. State and federal policy leaders are beginning to realize that quality education must begin before Kindergarten in order for all children to have a successful lifetime of learning. In Kentucky, a 28-member political task force proposes developing a model curriculum & screening tool for Kindergarten. Washington state's Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn spoke about increasing early childhood education opportunities during his 2009 run for office. Wisconsin, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Oklahoma and Illinois use some form of Universal Preschool. These state- funded programs are available for all children of a certain age regardless of income or other risk factors.
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Issues Affecting Reform
But when early learning initiatives from public policy decision-makers increase, so do unforeseen challenges. Child care is a massive industry but the current system is broken.
Preschool teachers suffer long hours, low pay and status. According to the U.S Department of Labor, mean hourly wage is only $12.35*. Adverse working conditions make it difficult for teachers of young children to stay in the field. Pre-K teachers must be fit and be physically able to lift, bend, run and often sit on the floor but health insurance and retirement accounts are almost nonexistent. Children often have challenging needs and can be difficult to manage. Yet, childcare is already expensive, and families find it difficult to pay more.
Early Childhood Educators must continually cope with families that put inappropriate pressure on legislators and administrators to revise curriculum and instruction. Some education reformists push for earlier introduction to reading and math and emphasize academic achievement. Kindergarten has become more rigorous and academic, but a play-based curriculum is developmentally appropriate for young children.
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New Trends and Strategies
Preschool teachers must focus on providing stimulating learning activities, basic concepts and socials skills. To succeed, here are some trends that will affect the future of early childhood education.
• New Curriculum – Scientific research suggests that experiences during the first years of life have a lasting impact on how the brain develops. This information promotes healthy learning and development. New curriculum is being built around child development and stress child directed approaches.
• Population Diversity - Programs must be culturally and linguistically compatible with the children it serves. Various cultures must be represented and accepted by educators by providing bilingual/multilingual opportunities through books, tutors, and resources.
• Technology – Requiring students to understand the ins and outs of the digital world at an earlier age brings more demands and pressure from parents, administrators and policy makers. More creative and specific methods of using computer centers need to adjust to student's learning style.
• Teacher training programs – Well-educated, trained teachers help protect excellence in early education. Bachelor-level education may be required in order to obtain restrictive allocated federal and state funds.
• Accountability Standards - Assessments of very young children has experienced rapid growth & advancement. Federal and state funds may require explicit performance standards, systematic testing and consequences for results. "Best Practices" guidelines promote sustained and continuous assessment for young children to progress through developmental areas. Accountability standards for observational assessments to developmentally appropriate practice must be developed by states to align preschool standards with K-12 standards.
• Incentives - Policy makers highlight new assessment and accountability systems but this will not occur independently of investments. Initiatives and incentives are required to drive education reform.
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Public policy and education reform influence the issues and trends in how educators will be providing services to young children. Federal and state law makers realize that reaching kids early is vital to closing the achievement gap. The media spotlight shines on the establishment of public early learning initiatives highlighting better teacher training, assessment, and accountability standards.
The new preschool workforce must be well-educated to teaching standards based on the latest research and sensitive to cultural diversity. Monetary incentives ensure that all children will have access to a high-quality Pre-K needed to prepare to succeed later in school.
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Brain Research and It’s Implications for Early Childhood Programs, A Position Statement from the Southern Early Childhood Association, P.O. Box 55930 - Little Rock, Arkansas
Campbell, Frances, Early Childhood Education: Young Adult Outcomes. Applied Developmental Science, 2002, vol. 6, no. 1
Feng, Jianhua, Issues and Trends in Early Childhood Education. Viewpoints (Opinions/Position Papers, Essays, etc.), 1994
Hills, Tynette W., Hothousing Young Children: Implications for Early Childhood Policy and Practice. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. Urbana, IL.
http://earlyed.newamerica.net, Early Ed Watch