Building on Early Learning Momentum
In recent years, early childhood education has received increased attention in our region and seen some notable improvements. I’ve seen this firsthand through the United Way’s work on early learning with the Success by 6 ® initiative, which has helped double the number of high-quality early learning centers in the region since 2006 by providing training to early childhood educators and educating parents on their crucial role in supporting and nurturing their child’s learning.
Amidst this positive momentum, we still have major challenges to overcome in our region to increase access to high-quality early learning slots in high-need communities. And even as we have increased the number of high-quality early education slots through strategic investments, we’re constantly reminded of the need to continue educating and empowering parents to demand high-quality early learning options in their community.
I was pleased to see this focus on increasing both supply and demand for high-quality early learning slots emerge as priorities for sustained regional focus in the World Class Education and Talent Development GPS. I’m even happier that the work we’ve done in partnership with the Economy League and a fabulous strategy team of 30 business executives, practitioners, and thought leaders already has led to an exciting campaign focused on improving early learning outcomes in our region. Last fall, United Way, in partnership with the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, and the Economy League, secured a highly competitive Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to support a two-year campaign to increase the use of standardized kindergarten readiness inventories in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
While standardized kindergarten readiness inventories might not sound like the sexiest or most important of issues among the uninitiated, in our work developing the Education and Talent GPS, we singled this out as another top early learning priority for our region. The results of these inventories will give us the data we need to gauge the effectiveness of early learning providers, enable us to better align instruction across early learning centers and kindergarten classes, and determine how many of our region’s youth are entering kindergarten with a strong start. Until we have that data in hand, how will we know if we’re making progress – adequate or otherwise – toward our ultimate shared early childhood education goal – that all of our region’s children are prepared to start school?