Hats Off to the “B-Team” of Early Education

Early education has advanced tremendously over the past decade in terms of research, policy, and practice. The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbook  highlighted progress and setbacks in access, quality and resources across states during the decade, and media chronicle its condition on a daily basis in headlines. Enrollment in state pre-K programs has doubled to outpace the rate of expansion in Head Start and child care. Resources for pre-K have expanded too, though their ebb and flow creates unpredictable scenarios for states attempting to engage in long-term planning. And overall quality standards for pre-K have improved across most states as policies reflect emerging research on factors contributing to enhanced early learning outcomes.

As the saying goes, “Success has many parents; failure is an orphan.” In the case of early education, many “parents” can take credit for this progress in early education – educators, advocates, policymakers, parents, and researchers. There’s an often over-looked group that has been instrumental throughout much of this change, however, a group sometimes referred to as the “B-team.”

The B-team is comprised of state administrators, often in state Departments of Education or related departments, who day-in and day-out tackle the thorny issues of informing and implementing policy, translating research into practice, and being held accountable to a myriad of constituent-bosses for producing results effectively and efficiently.

In many states, the B-team consists of only one or two people charged with attending to compliance issues, data management and analysis, professional development, public relations, intra- and inter-departmental collaboration, and policy development. Their capes are well-disguised though the bags under their eyes are not.

One organization has been instrumental for many “unaligned” department of education B-teamers to stay on the leading edge of early education administration. The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) has provided a forum for state leaders to gather, share lessons, formulate strategies, and advance quality early education across the states. As Head Start, child care, and early childhood special education provide federal support to convene state administrators regularly as learning communities, many state-level early education B-teamers would remain isolated without NAECS-SDE providing the opportunity to connect. NAECS-SDE also provided guidance and practitioner-leadership to the field of early education, producing prescient position statements such as The Role of State Departments of Education in Early Childhood Program Services Coordination that appeared as early as 1978.

How did they earn the name B-team? As someone told me during the appointment of yet another state Education Commissioner in a relatively brief time span, the B-team consists of those workers who will be there when elected or appointed officials come and they will be there when they go. The B-team provides the necessary continuity and consistency for programs to operate and improve, remaining abreast of developments in the field and establishing working relationships across the spectrum to get things done.

Our recent report shows that state-funded pre-K has changed considerably  in the last decade.  Despite many positive trends, the one major negative has been the failure of funding to keep up with enrollment, especially during the recession.  No aspect of the preschool system has been hurt more than state administrator capacity to support the provision of quality programs.  As states recover from the recession, we hope this situation will be reversed to rebuild the capacity of  state specialists to help ensure young learners get the start they need.  Hats off to the B-team and NAECS-SDE. Your work has contributed greatly to the rise of pre-K across the country. We’re glad you’re still around!

– Jim Squires, Senior Research Fellow, NIEER

Jim served previously as the Early Childhood Education Program Specialist for the Vermont Department of Education and is a past president of NAECS-SDE.