As a nation, we spend close to $600 billion per year on K-12 education, while allocating only $20 billion to childcare and educational supports for children from birth to pre-K. Studies have shown that early education is critical to leveling the playing field of achievement before kindergarten. This means that on a per capita basis, we spend roughly 10 times less on education for our youngest children at exactly the moment when the potential for impact is greatest.
Throughout the country, families with young children are forced to rely on fragmented, incoherent and inconsistent networks of care and early education. This issue impacts every socioeconomic stratum but leaves the most lasting effects on children from low-income families.
In New Haven, Connecticut, there are only enough spaces to serve less than 40 percent of the infants and toddlers who live in the city and whose families need access to child care. Furthermore, only 38 percent of the spaces that exist for infants and toddlers are in accredited programs, which have a reasonable standard for quality.
Entire neighborhoods, especially the most impoverished, do not have a single accredited child care center with infant/toddler capacity. In partnership with the Office of the Mayor, New Haven Early Childhood Council, New Haven Public Schools and an Advisory Board made up of a diverse array of community leaders, Bank Street Education Center and the Friends Center for Children are working to change this through an initiative called New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (“NH ChILD”).
New Haven is poised to serve as an example of the tremendous impact a focused investment in the early care and education of all of its children can have. Building on the enthusiasm and commitment of city leaders, existing pockets of educational excellence among early learning programs and support networks and groundbreaking partners in research and higher education, NH ChILD is committed to bringing the highest quality early childhood learning experiences (“Ideal Learning”) to all New Haven children.
Through diverse providers whose work is guided by principles of Ideal Learning, regardless of their race, gender, culture or socio-economic background, Ideal Learning programs provide hands-on, highly personalized learning that is based on children’s unique interests and skills. It is developmentally meaningful and racially, culturally and personally responsive. This type of learning leads to healthy brain development and helps kids build skills necessary for later academic and life success.
NH ChILD is committed to transforming the early care and education landscape in New Haven in a sustainable way that systemically addresses both access (the ability of families to gain entry into early childhood programs that meet their needs) and quality (the ability of programs to offer the type of experiences research tells us will lead to long-term positive effects on life outcomes).
What Else We Need
This means creating systems like an early childhood common application and referral system; streamlining inefficiencies and identifying new sources of public funding for early childhood care and education; providing sustained opportunities for in-service professional learning and high quality, innovative and cost-effective pre-service training for early childhood educators; as well as working with educators to improve program quality, and expand and replicate existing models of programs that are aligned with the Ideal Learning philosophy and approach.
This initiative can have a big impact beyond New Haven, demonstrating a way to unite communities around the needs of their children.
New Haven is representative of other, larger U.S. cities, made up of people with different backgrounds and incomes living relatively separate lives within miles of each other. A participant in a focus group we held said, “I think early childhood education would bring New Haven together—allow us to really care for each other through our children—working for a common purpose.”
Without access to quality early care and education, our nation’s youngest children are at risk. NH ChILD believes a focused communitywide investment to create universal access to Ideal Learning-aligned care and education will shift the narrative of inequality for all children by providing the type of experiences that promote cognitive, social and emotional development. If an Ideal Learning district can work here, it can work in other American cities.