Early Childhood Education: The Commitment in 2009
Dr. Ruby Takanishi, President of The Foundation for Child Development (FCD), a national, privately endowed philanthropic organization dedicated to the improvement of education for all children by way of supporting “research, policy, programs and advocacy,” is a strong believer in the “low hanging food strategy.” That means, taking and working with what is near and available rather than reaching everywhere, especially in less fruitful times, so to speak.
Given the stated commitment of President Obama to commit $10 billion toward early childhood education and the fact that the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, former Chicago Schools Superintendent, comes from a public school district that Dr. Takanishi calls “one of the best” in addressing early childhood needs and integrating them into a rational system, Dr. Takanishi is hopeful that something may finally be done about a structure that is now fragmented, incoherent and bureaucratically weighted down – even if not all of the $10 billion is made available. She is pleased that FCD was asked for input from the transition team. Four billion philanthropic dollars (about half of which is provided by Gates) are now directed toward education, but 500 billion are required for K-12 expenditures. As they say, do the math. And remember, we’re in an economic downturn.
In her area of expertise, early childhood education and child development, Dr. Takanishi’s belief translates to education basically in two ways: 1) improving the quality not the quantity of pre-K to 5; and 2) integrating special ed pre-K-5 “culture” into the so-the s-called regular K-12 culture. The two aims are related since FCD’s mission includes understanding and promoting the well being particularly of disadvantaged children. No system that separates (or “silos” special ed public school children from others, from infancy until age 8 or 10, is worth much, she says. Besides, “pre-K” and “K” are meaningless terms in the 38 states that do not have mandated kindergarten. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that Dr. Takanishi is an advocate of national standards and national assessment. When she was Assistant Director for Behavioral and Social Science Education in the Clinton administration, she expressed her frustration at having to deal with 50 different state standards (“not good for children”). The situation continues but she is thinking seriously of addressing it in forthcoming grant proposals.
She is eager to give her “pitch” for “continuity” from grade to grade, starting with infancy. Of course, closing the achievement gap among the various ethnicities in the country is important, she says, but even if it were achieved, if the quality of America’s early childhood education programs is not addressed – in all states, similarly - American children will be not be competitive. Her passion is in part personal: born in a rural part of Hawaii, with Japanese heritage, Dr. Takanishi fervently believes in education as a main avenue of effecting social change, an idea that guided her to come to the continental United States in 1964 and pursue her own opportunities at Stanford. FCD’s recent reports notes that among 41 nations participating in a student assessment survey, “American 15-year olds ranked 12th in reading, 20th in science, and 25th in math.” Not a pretty picture but one that begins to “develop” early on. The National Assessment for Education Programs (NAEP), the nation’s report card, “reinforces the connection between PreK-3rd and academic achievement.”
Although several FCD grants have been clustered in the Washington D.C. area, where many high-profile policy-making national education centers make their home, FCD extends its three-pronged initiative nation wide. They are: PreK-3rd A New Beginning for American Education (the major thrust of the foundation); Child Well-Being Index (an annual external review program that measures, reports on and makes central in seminars devoted to policy issues) ; and New American Children (focusing on children from immigrant families, from birth to age nine), a program that encourages research by way of a Young Scholars Program. Extensive information on each of these can be found online. #