An article in the Courant called Pediatrician: Life's Tracks Set By Age 3 by Arielle Levin Becker underscores the disconnect between what's needed and what's being advocated by Rell's Department of Education.
Beginning with early childhood "is economically right, morally right, workforce right," said Janice Gruendel, the governor's senior policy adviser for children and youths and a chairwoman of the state's Early Childhood Education Cabinet. "It makes for a very good argument in a year when you're talking about let's put all our resources into the prisons."It should come as no news to people who care about children that prisons are far more popular than kid advocacy efforts are.
The Early Childhood Education Cabinet is developing a plan to support children from birth to age 3, designed to link to its plans for children in preschool and beyond. The recommendations include improving maternal health and access to prenatal care, fatherhood initiatives, home visits for infants, and increasing slots for care for infants and toddlers.
Shonkoff praised the proposals and said they reflected state-of-the-art science. The science Shonkoff presented stemmed from decades of brain research in neuroscience, developmental psychology, molecular biology and economics.
Stable, safe relationships and rich learning experiences are key to brain development, Shonkoff said. Children can get them at home and in child-care programs, but they must be evidence-based, quality programs, he said. Child care must be treated as something to facilitate child development, not just to allow parents to go to work, he said.
Shonkoff recommended making basic health services and early care and education available to all children, targeting interventions for children in poverty, and providing specialized services to children experiencing significant stress.
"Forget the school budget and even forget the prison budget," he said. "The health budget would be helped even more by helping children when they're young."
When high school observers advocated a greater emphasis on reading in the elementary grades last night, elementary school teachers bristled as though the issue were about them and not about the fact that the sweet spot for learning language and math are these early years.
The inescapable truth of recent research all indicates that children from birth until grade three or so are voracious learners and the degree of nurturing that feeds that appetite for knowledge, comfort, and self-assurance is critical.
My suggestion last night bears repeating. If the State Department of Education wants to profoundly and effectively improve the quality of education for all children in Connecticut then the State should fully fund (no monkey business here) pre-school through third grade education and mandate no class size larger than 15 in these grades with special emphasis on developing language and math skills.
My second suggestion bears repeating as well. Instead of attempting to pass high school reform that centralizes curriculum, educational regions should be freed to become laboratories and incubators for grassroots school reform. What we need is Magnet School Districts who develop their best ideas about what schools should look like. In five years let's take the best ideas and legislate those.
To hell with sentencing more generations of kids to prison.