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It’s All About Education: High-Quality Early Learning: Necessary For All

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

 

Lauri Lee

Last week, I met with the manager of operations and the communications coordinator for the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children (RIAEYC). If you’ve ever seen a sign at an early childhood center proclaiming that they are BrightStars rated, then you have seen some of the work that the RIAEYC does. 

BrightStars is Rhode Island’s Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS), the system used in the United States to assess, improve, and communicate the level of care provided in early childhood and school-age care settings. In addition to recognizing program quality, BrightStars also helps early learning and school-age programs learn about best practices and apply them for continuous improvement. 

RIAEYC is the state affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest organization advocating for young children. Their mission is to promote high-quality early learning for all children (0-8) by connecting practice, policy, and research. They support a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession, providing resources for those who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children.

Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all have state affiliates; the only states that do not are Arkansas and Mississippi. Here in Rhode Island, the RIAEYC is the managing agency for BrightStars. BrightStars was designed and implemented through a partnership with the RI Department of Human Services, the RI Department of Education, the RI Department for Children, Youth & Families, RI Kids Count, and the United Way of RI. 

All of these governmental departments and organizations came together through their commitment to high-quality early learning opportunities for all children. BrightStars was piloted in 2008 and launched in 2009. This public-private partnership is supported by RI General Law 42-12-23, which authorizes and endorses BrightStars as well as requiring cooperation and information-sharing. 

As of January 2015, there were 669 licensed early care and education (ECCE) programs with an active BrightStars quality rating, more than three times the number from 2014. Twenty-one RI public schools serving preschoolers also have a BrightStars rating. This increase may be due to the fact that, as of October 2014, all programs serving children participating in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) are required to have a BrightStars rating. 

Parents of young children can contact BrightStars through their website or by calling their toll-free number to find a quality child care, early learning or school-age program in their area. In addition to the rating system for early childhood learning and school-age programs, BrightStars also provides resources and connections to local agencies for families with young children, as well as professional development opportunities for early childhood learning specialists. 

There is a wealth of research stressing the importance of high quality ECCE programs. Brain research has demonstrated that 75% of brain growth and 85% of intellect, personality, and social skills develop before age five. Children who attend high quality ECCE programs tend to have better language skills, score higher on cognitive tests, and show fewer problem behaviors as teenagers. 

All high quality programs share certain characteristics: small class sizes and low adult-child ratios; a developmentally appropriate and language-rich curriculum; well-trained staff; a safe environment with secure, nurturing relationships; and strong communication between the teachers and the family. All programs with a BrightStars rating undergo continuous evaluation and professional development to ensure that they maintain or improve their rating each year. 

President Barack Obama recognized the significant impact quality early childhood education programs can have on our country: "If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we'll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own.”

Even so, the United States lags behind other developed countries in the number of children enrolled in ECCE programs. In America, only 69% of all four-year-olds and 51% of all three-year-olds attend preschool programs (we don’t even have data for children under age three). In thirteen other OECD countries, including Australia, Japan, and most of Europe, almost all young children attend preschool programs. 

Ensuring that all children have access to quality ECCE programs is going to require a significant investment. As mentioned in a previous column, for every dollar spent in early childhood, there is a return on investment of $8.59. Unfortunately, we may not see that ROI for several years – longer than a reelection cycle. BrightStars is one piece of the puzzle, providing a rating scale and a system of improvement for ECCE providers in Rhode Island, and helping parents find quality programs for their children. 

The next step is for our state, and our country, to commit funding to ensure that all parents can afford to send their children to quality ECCE programs, whether that means subsidizing costs or extending our public education system to include preschool. Having high-quality ECCE programs won’t have a measurable impact unless all kids have access to them. 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net ;and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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