Ninth Annual Wheelock Community Dialogue on Early Education and Care
June 05, 2014
"I'd like to welcome our commissioner who has come... We are thrilled to see so many of our Wheelock alums... Mayor Clare Higgins is back by popular demand!" said Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott as she welcomed all the participants who came to her school for the "Ninth Annual Community Dialogue on Early Education and Care: Our Children's Future - Time for a New Plan."
Higgins, the former mayor of Northampton, attended last year's dialogue; and this year she was joined by advocates, educators, and policy analysts who spoke to an audience of 200 about how best to bring high-quality early education and care to more of Massachusetts' children.
The goal for the day was reinforced throughout the three-hour event: Unite; develop an agenda; and tell a compelling story that will inspire policymakers - especially the next governor of Massachusetts - to commit to a grand plan for improving the commonwealth's early education and care system.
Community Dialogue Speakers
The state's challenge is that it has made "incremental progress" and "not the seismic shift that's necessary." Tom Weber, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care told the audience.
He pointed to progress on language and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) standards, as well as advances in quality and kindergarten entry assessments.
"I measure our success by the budget," and early education lags behind K-12, Weber said.
"I think what we suffer from is an A-E-I-O-U problem."
A is for a field that is largely apolitical: Early education serves children who can't vote and parents who are mostly only interested when their children are young.
E is for expensive: Or seemingly so. Early educators know that their work pays off in the long run by decreasing costly problems such as grade retention and high drop out rates. But the upfront costs of funding universal preschool frighten people off.
I is for inaccessible: Too many families can't afford to pay for high-quality preschool programs.
O is for overwhelming: The state's early education system has multiple providers and varied funding sources.
And U is for under-documented: Some of the best studies on preschool programs are decades old. The field needs more fresh research.
Weber called for tighter, more visible messaging, saying, "I'd love for the U.S. to be a leader in early education."
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