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Early Childhood Education

Strategy No. 5 in A Blueprint For Great Schools report from the Transition Advisory Team dated August 9, 2011.

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Research confirms that children who attend high-quality early care and education programs are better prepared for kindergarten, have stronger language skills in the first years of elementary school and are less likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school.23 High-quality early care and education offers one of the highest returns of any public investment—more than $7 for every dollar spent—by reducing future expenditures on special education, public assistance, and the criminal justice system.

Yet a recent RAND Corporation study found that only 40 percent of eligible 3- and 4-year olds are being served by state-subsidized early learning programs. And just 13 percent of low-income children are enrolled in high-quality programs that promote school readiness and later achievement.24

In California, a student's academic trajectory is substantially determined by his or her third grade reading proficiency level. Without the strong, early start that high-quality early childhood education provides, students who are not proficient in reading by the third grade may never catch up—in fact, the gap increases as they move through the K-12 school system. Unfortunately, children who are socio-economically disadvantaged are more likely to start school behind and stay behind.

California has already begun work to raise quality, improve accountability and better prepare our children to succeed in school. In 2008, the legislature created the Early Learning Quality Improvement System (ELQIS) Advisory Committee. In December 2010, the Committee released a report outlining a comprehensive quality rating scale policy and implementation plan, which was to be the foundation for the recently established California Early Learning Advisory Council. The Council, though currently unfunded due to recent cutbacks, is also ultimately to develop a comprehensive system and policy plan for early learning and preschool services in California, begin coordination of standards and an early childhood data system that connects with K-12, and work toward developing a coherent preparation, training and professional development system.

The implementation of a recent reform of kindergarten education policy gives California a significant opportunity to expand access to kindergarten readiness. The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 creates transitional kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten experience for students born between September and December. The Act also gradually changes the kindergarten entry date from December 2 to September 1, so all children will enter kindergarten at age 5 by 2014. This historic legislation means that more than 120,000 children will receive access to an additional year of high-quality early learning and, as a result, be better prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

The California public school system has experienced serious reductions over the last few budget cycles leading to reduced educational services and personnel. Current budget proposals include significant cuts to California's early care and education programs. It is critical that we maintain the basic infrastructure of the early learning and development programs that serve our youngest learners, including high-quality preschool programs, so that the system can expand when funds are available.

Early Childhood Education Key Recommendations

In tomorrow's California, we envision that all children will thrive in preschool, be ready for kindergarten, and academically proficient in third grade by growing up healthy and having opportunities for high quality early learning. The four essential components of this vision are (1) building a high-quality early learning system; (2) connecting early learning with K-12; (3) increasing access to quality, and (4) providing comprehensive support for the development of the whole child. To accomplish these goals, CDE should:


23. National Association for the Education of Young Children, Developmental Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Servicing Children from Birth through Age 8, 2009.

24. Karoly, Lynn A. (2009) Preschool Adequacy and Efficiency in California: Issues, Policy Options, and Recommendations. Rand (2).

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