What does the future hold for Early Education

What does the future hold for early education?

Statement from Dr. Chi-Cheng Huang – Chief Medical Officer of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and the Vice Chairperson of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care –  on Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal for early childhood education:

In his State of the Commonwealth address last week, Governor Deval Patrick called for strengthened investment in education in order to expand opportunity across the Commonwealth and to grow Massachusetts’ economy.  Governor Patrick laid out a bold plan to accelerate the state’s efforts to build a 21st century public education system that will ensure our competitiveness in the global economy.

At the entry point of the education pipeline that extends from birth to post-secondary education and beyond, the Governor’s education investment plan will expand access to early education across the state, improve the quality of our programs and the qualifications of our early educators, and will support parents and families in promoting their child’s success.

As associate Chief Medical Officer of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and a former pediatrician at the Boston Medical Center, I have had the fortune of serving some of our Commonwealth’s youngest citizens and their families and helping to impact their long-term development.  But at the same time, I am well aware that no one sector can completely influence their outcomes; that it is the combined efforts of parents, families, educators, caregivers, peers, community-based organizations, religious institutions, and other role models that help to ensure that our infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children will grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted, well-educated, successful, and contributing members of society.

Research shows that children’s earliest years are the most formative in terms of brain development, and that environments influence the architecture of the human brain.  Positive experiences build it in a healthy manner, and negative or stressful experiences can literally be toxic on a child’s brain, resulting in circuits that are not wired properly and will require more time and money for remediation down the road.

High-quality formal early education and care and out-of-school time programs provide children with meaningful and engaging interactions with adults that help support their healthy brain development.  Access to these programs is good policymaking from a workforce development perspective both by allowing parents to obtain or maintain employment, and investing in the next generation that will comprise the future workforce.  Children’s healthy development will promote their ability to participate in the economy which will help to attract and retain businesses to our state.

Building strong brains and caring for the whole child and the whole family requires supporting the agents who do this work to do it well.  This means investing in early educators’ competency development so that they can most effectively facilitate their student’s learning.  Additionally, it means providing parent and family engagement networks with the resources they need to do the same for their children.

The need for supports for our youngest students and the providers who serve them and their families is evident.  Achievement and attainment gaps still exist in far too many of our students, especially those from lower-income or other “at risk” families.  Currently there are nearly 30,000 children from birth to age five waiting for financial assistance to attend an early education program in Massachusetts.  The Governor’s plan, which provides a $350 million investment in early education over four years, will allow these children to have access to a high quality program and it will also dedicate new Chapter 70 funding to incentivize more school districts to offer pre-school to their 4-year olds.  (Currently, the Chapter 70 formula only reimburses districts for the number of pre-schoolers who are in special education inclusive classrooms.  The Governor’s proposal would allow every pre-school student to count toward a district’s Chapter 70 calculations.)

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) has built a system of early education and care and out-of-school time that is based on the research of healthy child development and uses a science-based framework to advance child outcomes and close the student achievement gap.  EEC is advancing reforms across four critical areas: 1) educator quality, 2) program quality, 3) screening and assessment, and 4) engagement of communities and families.  Massachusetts has approximately 10,000 licensed early education programs across the state that include family child care homes, center-based providers, afterschool and out-of-school time programs, and Head Start.  Nearly half of these programs have stepped forward to meet higher criteria related to quality in five areas: curriculum and learning, safe environments, workforce qualifications, family and community engagement, and leadership.  These standards in the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) go beyond those required by licensing.

EEC has accelerated its work by taking expansive steps to bring many initiatives to scale. These include using evidence-based literacy and universal screening practices in communities; improving educators’ competencies through professional development to promote effective practice and increase retention; enhancing data systems to better inform program practice and state decision-making; providing individualized opportunities for children in formal settings and informal environments such as museums and libraries, and creating an early learning and development assessment system from birth to grade 3.  Additionally EEC is supporting local communities by investing in birth to 3rd grade linkage that is focused on the key elements of cross-sector alignment, leadership, teacher quality, Instructional practice and environments, data and assessments, engaged families, and transitions.  Massachusetts is ready to take additional steps for even further development of the early education system, as well as the entire education pipeline that includes elementary, secondary and higher education.

Making sure our youngest children have the rich environments of supportive relationships to build healthy brains is one of the most important challenges we face as a society.  Your son or daughter’s classmate, the family sitting next to you on the T, or the child you see at the library or on the playground, all matter to our collective prosperity.  Our “common wealth”, and the Commonwealth’s future, is in all of our hands.

Chi-Cheng Huang. M.D., is the Vice Chairperson of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care.  Dr. Huang received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and is the associate Chief Medical Officer and chairperson of the department of hospital medicine at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. He is adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and assistant professor of internal medicine at Tufts Medical School. He is also the Founder of the Kaya Children International a non-profit, social welfare organization that works to address the unique needs of street children in Bolivia. Dr. Huang and his wife have three daughters.

About Lahey Health

Lahey Health is what’s next in healthcare providing a full continuum of integrated health services close to where you live or work. It is comprised of nationally-recognized, award-winning hospitals – including an academic hospital and medical center, and community hospitals — primary care providers, specialist physicians, behavioral health services, post-acute programs such as home health services, skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, and senior care resources located throughout northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.  Lahey Health was established by Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and Lahey Clinic physician group, Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital. To learn more visit laheyhealth.org and its member websites, lahey.org and beverlyhospital.org.

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