Equity in education. There are many questions circling this topic, from access to technology, resources to funding. Let’s start with equity in early childhood education and what it means to engage early learners.
We recently met with Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and Akimi Gibson, Vice-President and Education Publisher at Sesame Workshop, in the season 4 premiere of Equity Talks to discuss this topic near and dear to their hearts. According to them, true equity in education starts with investment in early education programs and innovative ways to bring those programs to underserved communities. Why? Because early childhood, those formative years between birth and third grade, are the most important development period and therefore the most impactful.
What does the data say about early learning?
For decades, data has shown that children 3-4 years old who have access to quality early education see more predictable, and higher, reading scores in third grade. And a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who were not proficient in reading by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers.
Another recent study conducted by the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the long-term effects of Boston’s preschool program found that participation in the program led to significant long-term improvements in academic and behavioral outcomes in children.
Even global data supports the critical importance of early education. According to UNICEF, children enrolled in at least one year of pre-primary education are more likely to develop the critical skills they need to succeed in school and less likely to repeat grades or drop out. From the most rural district to the most populated city, the data speaks for itself. Yet, we still see an alarming lack of buy-in and funding for early childhood education programs. Why?
Funding Early Childhood Programs
Alberto Carvalho gets to the heart of why funding continues to be a big hurdle for early childhood programs. “There are many individuals, particularly policy makers, who don’t understand that investment in early education is much more effective—by far—than investment in remediation years later, and usually at a premium. They also, unfortunately, want to see immediate results, but that can be shortsighted.”
Superintendent Carvalho believes that changing the mindset of what investment means, and how to track ROI, is the key to unlocking funding for this critical period in every student’s academic career. “If you want to see long-term results from early education investment, especially in underserved and under-resourced communities,” states Carvalho, “focus on major benchmarks like 3rd grade reading performance, 8th grade transitional performance, high school graduation rates, and school enrollment.”
Investments in early childhood programs can also have an impact on social welfare programs, special education programs, and even higher college graduation rates. Superintendent Carvalho has seen this firsthand at LAUSD, where he credits investment in equitable access to early learning resources and programs for delivering long-term savings as well as notable educational and societal benefits.
Sesame Workshop: A Success Story in Early Childhood Education
As one of the longest standing non-profits in media and education, Sesame Workshop’s model is all about how to leverage technology to reach the child wherever the child is, and break down barriers between home and school.
“While we know that the idea of A, B, C doesn’t change,” explains Akimi Gibson, “the science around the acquisition of knowledge and given the diversity of children out there, we are committed to innovation. The child tells us what is working and what isn’t because we are an advocate for the child.”
Sesame Workshop sees itself as a research organization, first and foremost. With educational programs in 150 countries, they capture individual, anonymized data to inform how they should think globally, but act locally. In other words, identifying universal themes, topics, and ideas, but presenting them in a relevant way to the rich diverse groups of today’s world. In order to do this, Sesame Workshop is committed to formative, summative, and evaluative research. They also partner with organizations such as Discovery Education to help design and deliver engaging resources for educators, students, and families.
Equity and Early Learning
Data show that learning gaps are most pronounced for children from underserved communities and historically marginalized communities. The same ones that also see consistent inequities and opportunity gaps from generation to generation. If we know where it’s happening and to whom, how do we break the cycle?
By starting students on a strong foundational path and inviting the parents to be part of that journey, districts can solidify the long-term academic success of those students. This means investing in early childhood education as much as possible, and in the most critical communities.
Superintendent Carvalho has brought strategic ideas on how to tackle this challenge to LAUSD, starting with universal early childhood programs. “Districts with good strategic orientation, through a lens of equity, should begin making these investments in early education in these historically underserved communities. If you start early enough, you can obliterate the inequities in our education system.”
Another example is LAUSD’s “Golden Box” program sent to every child born in the area. It includes a book, a diploma with their name, clothing, and information on early education programs and centers. By “capturing the parent’s attention as early as possible in their child’s life,” believes Carvalho, “you will keep them through high school.” LAUSD also offers universal TK programs, starting with areas that have the greatest need.
And it’s no surprise that Sesame Workshop supports the idea of prioritizing investment in early education and parent involvement to address inequities in education . Akimi loves the “simplicity” of LAUSD’s Golden Box program because it sends a message to parents that “someone believes in you, is paying attention to your child’s needs, and is here for you.” Families need to safe, heard, and valued if they are going to successfully partner with a school community.
Taking a holistic approach to equity and early learning.
To sum up, Superintendent Carvalho and Akimi Gibson shared their thoughts on what it means to take a holistic, innovative approach to engaging early learners. It’s about pulling multiple collaborative levers with families, communities, and government entities, all in the name of eliminating inequities in education.
Make the parents our partners. Invest in equitable access to the right technology. Meet social-emotional needs of students and families.Work collaboratively with groups that serve all families.Greatly improve the salaries for early education professionals.Partner with outside agencies to support kids, families, and staff.Press our local, state and federal entities to commit to recurring investments.Ensure our early learning programs have the facilities, materials, and budget to be successful.
These are all great levers to pull, but first and foremost our leaders need the courage to invest in them before problems like the achievement gap and low test scores can fester. For Superintendent Carvalho, that begins with “a shift from the PreK-12 conundrum to B-14, or birth through 14 years of schooling.” Let’s start early and lay the groundwork for successful academic paths for all students.
Want to learn more about equity and engaging early learners? Listen to the full Equity Talks episode!
Equity in education. There are many questions circling this topic, from access to technology, resources to funding. Let’s start with equity in early childhood education and what it means to engage early learners. We recently met with Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and Akimi Gibson, Vice-President and Education Publisher at
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