Oct. 7, 2019
New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team is partnering with School Readiness Consulting on the blog series Centering Equity: Innovations and Local Solutions in Early Childhood Education. This blog series works to center equity in early childhood education. Through highlighting local innovation and promising practices, we aim to create space to lift up local voice and efforts as integral to advancing early childhood equity from community to larger systems-level change.
On a bright morning in a Seattle Preschool Program classroom, about 20 four-year-old children fill the room with chatter and laughter as they eagerly greet their teachers and classmates. The children know this routine well—they store their belongings in their cubbies and choose a learning center. To the casual onlooker, it is clear that the classroom is a friendly space where children from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds come together to play and learn each day.
A closer look reveals that in this classroom, the interactions between children and with staff have been crafted carefully and with urgent attention to detail. Indeed, the staff have worked to create an inclusive environment in which children can learn about the current topic of study and also about themselves and others. Materials and activities provide multiple opportunities for children to discover and demonstrate their individual and unique characteristics and explore human difference.
From skin-hued paints for self and family portraits, to a counting chart of numbers from one to 15 in four languages, and children’s names written in English and Arabic, staff ensure that each child finds positive connections to his or her daily life and heritage. It is clear that staff in this program honor children with the experiences they need to develop a strong and positive self-identity and appreciation of the diversity in their classroom and community. Families also show up as priorities. Families are visibly welcomed through a poster greeting visitors in five languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Somali, and Tagalog), in a posted notice in English and Chinese announcing the formation of a Family Leadership Committee, and in friendly greetings they receive from staff as they enter the school and classroom.*
"Why this blog series? In our work to ensure the best for young children, we are acutely aware of big problems we wish could get fixed, but too often feel helpless to do something about them. But while one individual cannot change the world, the world cannot change without the actions of individuals—coming together, thinking together, struggling together. And there’s no better place to start than in our own backyards."—Carol Brunsen Day, Early Childhood Equity Consultant
Decades of scientific research can be summarized simply and powerfully: children who have high-quality early learning experiences are more successful in school and in life. As the earliest years of life are a period of rapid neurological development and growth, learning experiences during this time can strengthen brain architecture and help form a strong foundation for better academic outcomes and lifelong learning. Unfortunately, not all young children have equal access to the experiences that lead to these positive outcomes. Barriers related to personal or social circumstances exist—such as race, class, gender, language or religion—preventing some children from fully accessing the benefits of high-quality early childhood education.
It is too often that young children, families, and early childhood educators are being forced to grapple with the consequences of historic and systemic oppression. As issues of equity and social justice continue to remain at the forefront of American political and cultural discourse, high-quality early childhood education has emerged as a viable agent of change. The impact of racial disparities in educational opportunity, family separations as a reaction to immigration, and the disproportionate prevalence of poverty are a wake up call. Communities and systems must recognize the need to deeply consider identity development of young children, the norming of discussing and celebrating human difference, and the importance of working against bias and injustice in all of its forms throughout society. Early learning programs and systems that commit to pursuing these goals may begin to provide a more honest discussion and set of actions around creating a more equitable system and society.
Accomplishing equity in early learning requires that the gaps in our system are fully acknowledged and undone. An effective solution considers all aspects of a child’s early experiences—not just in school, but also within their families and their communities. Equity in education encompasses more than interactions happening on an individual level, it also addresses organizational practices and institutional policies that become obstacles to children reaching their fullest potential.
This topic, without hesitation, is one of the most important of our time. The deep inequities in our education system “are the way they are because this is how we have decided that they should be over a long period of time. And all of the effort that went into creating inequality—if you want to undo it, you have to put an equal amount of effort into undoing it,” posits New America fellow Nikole Hannah-Jones. As an important source of progress and action, local communities are uniquely positioned to inform state- and systems-level action and support.
Join us as we explore issues of inequity in early learning and shine a light on innovative local efforts to implement change. The next five posts in this series will uncover community progress and pathways towards more equitable early learning programs and systems to tell an important story about successes, lessons learned, and impact. We will delve into issues of leadership, teaching and learning, linking research to practice, exploring family partnerships, and considering next steps for practitioners and leaders. We’ll also draw a through line to efforts that can be recognized and scaled to drive state-wide initiative as programs and systems continue to seek the most effective and authentic approaches to build on community-defined practices for more widespread impact.
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*This vignette is a compilation of programmatic practices observed for a Process Evaluation of the Seattle Preschool Program by School Readiness Consulting.