The Obama administration has released a factsheet on its early education initiative. Given some of the concerns I’ve been raising — that the federal match will encourage overspending, that the federal government’s approach will be overly prescriptive — the news is not great. We don’t have rock-solid details on how the match will be structured, so we’ll see how that pans out. But consider the following:
Funds will support states as they ensure that children are enrolled in high-quality programs. In order to access federal funding, states would be required to meet quality benchmarks that are linked to better outcomes for children, which include:
o State-level standards for early learning;
o Qualified teachers for all preschool classrooms; and
o A plan to implement comprehensive data and assessment systems.
Preschool programs across the states would meet common and consistent standards for quality across all programs, including:
o Well-trained teachers, who are paid comparably to K-12 staff;
o Small class sizes and low adult to child ratios;
o A rigorous curriculum;
o Comprehensive health and related services; and
o Effective evaluation and review of programs.
Moreover, the federal government is explicitly establishing that teachers must be “paid comparably to K-12 staff,” even if, for example, state and local initiatives determine that, for example, it is better to have more less-expensive staffers than fewer more-expensive staffers. The federal government is also insisting on small class sizes — so even if it makes more sense for a pre-K programs to have a high adult to child ratio but teachers who are paid substantially more than K-12 staff, that option is off the table.
Some aspects of the agenda ought to be uncontroversial — who is against effective evaluation or comprehensive data and assessment systems? (Actually, some people are, so kudos to the Obama administration.) But why predetermine how teachers ought to be compensated?