The State of the Union and Early Education

Like many others I was disappointed that President Obama didn’t mention early childhood education in his State of the Union Speech. Yet when he talked about education, government, and the American people the president said many of the right things for our early learning programs. He noted a sense of urgency when he said the future is ours to win but to get there, we can’t just stand still. He called for more competent and efficient government and for every classroom to be “a place of high expectations and high performance.”  His call to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” had that uniquely American “can do” ring to it that early education policymakers and practitioners should heed.

The president made his case for quick action when he pointed out that over the next 10 years nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And, he pointed out that as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. He asked whether all of us — as citizens and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed and he pointed out that when a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.

He spoke proudly of Race to the Top, pointing out that instead of just pouring money into the status quo his administration launched a competition for innovation and reform across the education spectrum.  The Obama administration has moved similarly to bring competition to Head Start.  Properly implemented, this has the potential—to paraphrase the president—to be the most meaningful reform our early childhood system has seen in a generation.  The administration should have the support of everyone in the early childhood field to get this reform right, and in my opinion that means including measures of children’s learning in decisions about who gets funded.  This principle ought to be extended to subsidized child care, as well.

Of course there is much more to be done in way of directing funds specifically to innovation in the early education sector so that we too can reinvent ourselves.  We need a great deal more research and evaluation aimed at identifying the effects and costs of policy and practice alternatives in early care and education.  The federal government could greatly facilitate reinvention by sponsoring a program of research to help guide policymakers at the state and local level as well as program administrators in Head Start, child care, and the public schools.  By incentivizing local innovation by educators willing to engage in experiments (freeing them from regulations that get in the way of innovating on a trial basis) and systematically collecting good data on the costs and effects of these innovations, government can build on the hard work, creativity, and imagination of our people the president recognized.  Nothing could help us more to do big things for little children.

Steve Barnett

Co-director, NIEER


  1. We should all realize that the times have changed, and that the President is forced to be even more strategic in how he identifies his priorities. If he were to specify Early Head Start and Head Start, the opponents would, then, specifically target those priorities for cuts–regardless of the low moral ground they would then trod. So, instead, the President made a moral appeal to the citizenry for investing in the education of our children very early in life. This, he plainly stated. No, he did not use the call letters of Head Start/Early Head Start–but aren’t those early learning programs? Sometimes, and particularly in these politically contentious times, it will be necessary for us to read between the lines and keep an open mind in order to “see” what is on the horizon. The President also made a moral appeal to the citizenry for higher pay for teachers–yet another plea to more highly regard education.

    I am very pleased with how the President is handling this business of early education, and education in general. I am very grateful that nearly 65,000 more infants and toddlers received early intervention and early learning through the recent ARRA expansion of Early Head Start. The President is to be commended for his support of early childhood education programs over his term in office, and those of us who share that philosophy must now come out in support of him by letting the opponents (the nay sayers in the House of Representatives) know that we are watching what they do on behalf of children and families.

  2. My granddaughter she is 3 years old and not speak and i think she need some help but she born 15 of december 2007 and when we go to school teacher told us she can start september this year but she need right now help Please help us my phone number is 586-565-2947