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Every Student Succeeds Act Represents True Opportunity For Quality Early Education

March 6, 2018
Nonie Lesaux and Stephanie M. Jones

This year will be a watershed moment for young children and their families as states begin to address early childhood education as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Under ESSA, states and local school districts have the opportunity to expand access to early education, coordinate those efforts and hold themselves accountable for boosting children’s early learning and development through high-quality early education.

On its face, this is very promising. Some might even say a “one of its kind” opportunity. And yet, doing this well means grappling with a tension in early education policy: to offer both rigorous academic instruction and a learning environment that fosters social-emotional skills.

Often, in the field, these two goals are viewed as in opposition to each other, and frequently one is chosen over the other. To move beyond this false dichotomy, and ensure the long-term success of these encouraging plans and policies, there is an opportunity and a necessity to refine — even redefine — what is meant by high-quality early education.

In a high-quality early learning environment, children are building their social-emotional and academic competencies simultaneously. Educators are supporting them with instructional practices that are deliberately integrated to do so. Imagine a preschool classroom where there is direct instruction and intensive support to build both language and literacy skills and social-emotional competencies, such as self-control and sharing.