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Five ways to improve early childhood education

New York City’s new Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is taking the reins of the system at an exciting time. Chancellor Carranza will oversee the continued implementation and rollout of the universal pre-k and 3-k systems and the transitioning of the contracted child care system (EarlyLearn) for children under 5 into the Department of Education. These moves give him and his staff the opportunity to vastly improve outcomes for all New York City public school students.

Although it has been ticking upward, the reading test pass rate for third graders has remained stubbornly low. In the 2016 school year, just 38 percent of students made the grade.

It’s an urgent and complex problem, but it’s one that Chancellor Carranza and his team already have the groundwork to help solve. High-quality early childhood education not only improves students’ test scores later in life, it also helps give them the socioemotional foundation and skills that help them thrive as they get older.

There are five specific actions Chancellor Carranza can take to strengthen the early care and education system for the youngest New Yorkers.

  • Ensure salary parity for early childhood educators at community-based organizations (CBOs). Though many teachers have similar credentials and they all do the same important work, teachers at community-based centers make up to sixty percent less than their counterparts at DOE schools. This is especially concerning given that the majority of l pre-k seats are at CBOs. Underpaying teachers at CBOs threatens the stability of the l pre-kindergarten system as teachers from CBOs flee for higher paying jobs in the DOE.
  • Emphasize wrap-around care in early childhood education. While the rollout of pre-k and 3-k is certainly a boon to families, the 6 hour and 20 minute 10 month program is a challenge to many working parents who need care before the school day starts, after 3PM, and during the summer months. Expanding care hours would allow parents the flexibility they need to work and ensure their children are safe.
  • Expand capacity to increase infant and toddler access to high quality child care: There is a severe shortage of child care options for infants and toddlers, with only 14% of income eligible infants and toddlers able to be served in the subsidized system. As contracted child care transitions from ACS to DOE, ACS and DOE must both seize this opportunity to increase capacity to serve these young children in high quality centers, licensed and regulated family child care and informal care. Many NYC families rely on home-based care because it offers more flexible scheduling, a more convenient location, or a preferential setting.  The city must strengthen the supports it offers to home-based providers to ensure all children has access to high-quality care regardless of the setting in which they receive it.
  • Ensure all New York City young children have access to early care and education. Early childhood education is valuable for all children, but is particularly beneficial for young children with special needs, living in poverty, homelessness or foster care, as well as homes with limited English. New York City should be a leader in targeting these children to participate in early childhood programs by ensuring all children living in shelter are categorically eligible for child care and then enrolled, continuing to prioritize children with child welfare system involvement, ensuring children can participate in programs regardless of immigration status, ensuring programs have the interpretation/translation resources needed to communicate effectively with family, ensuring Dual Language Learners receive language support, and ensuring the early childhood system has adequate resources and capacity to meet the needs of children with developmental delays and disabilities.
  • Promote socioeconomic integration in early childhood classrooms. Despite its vast and rich diversity, NYC has one of the most segregated school systems in the country. Chancellor Carranza should prioritize ensuring that the early childhood enrollment system maximizes socioeconomic diversity in every classroom. Integrating the system in its earliest years will create a ripple effect throughout K-12 schools and classrooms.

New York City has made great progress in early childhood education over the last few years, by expanding free pre-kindergarten programs to three and four-year-olds, increasing parent engagement and providing early childhood education through a trauma-informed lens. We need this progress to continue and to build on this momentum to strengthen the education system for all students. Many of the tools we need to provide our youngest children with the best start in life are in place. Leveraging and expanding those tools to create a stronger early childhood system will strengthen the New York City public education system as a whole and ensure all students have access to the opportunities they need for a bright future.

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