As a strong supporter of the Obama administration’s investments in high-quality early learning, NAESP attended today’s White House briefing that announced the winners of the $500 million state grant competition, which is funded this year as a part of the Race to the Top program and is known as the Early Learning Challenge Fund (RTTT-ELC). Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that nine states (California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington) out of a total of 37 states who applied will receive funds to improve early learning and development programs. The RTTT-ELC is co-administered by the two federal agencies and designed to increase the number of high-need children served by early learning programs; integrate health, early care and education, and K-12 education systems; and ensure appropriate use of assessments in early learning settings. 

NAESP has been supportive of the federal government’s increased focus on early childhood education in recent years, specifically the administration’s Early Learning Initiative that is spearheaded by Duncan and Jacqueline Jones, the Department of Education’s first-ever senior advisor to the secretary focused exclusively on early learning. President Obama’s education reform agenda to move to a P-12 system has prioritized efforts to invest in children’s health, social, emotional, and cognitive needs to ensure that they are on the track to be college- and career-ready.

NAESP has long advocated for a greater federal investment in early childhood education. High- quality early childhood learning experiences have become an integral part of a principal’s vision to shape a school culture that fosters a shared responsibility for learning—even in the earliest years—and sets high expectations for every student to be ready to learn once they enter kindergarten. 

NAESP’s landmark publication, Leading Early Childhood Learning Communities, highlights the latest findings on the intersection between elementary principals and early learning and the importance of P-3 alignment and a seamless continuum of learning. This body of work outlines the standards that principals must know and be able to do, and provides guidance for principals to design pre-kindergarten through grade- three systems, rethinking the connection between early childhood care and education and elementary schools. Further, the standards help set the stage for garnering greater federal interest in professional development opportunities for principals to learn about the value of comprehensive systems and supporting the work of high-quality early learning programs. Appropriate early learning and developmental experiences are now included as a part of the instructional leadership goals to meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of each child.

NAESP applauds the administration’s investment in young children and encouraging states to coordinate systems in health and education to meet their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive needs. As James Heckman, professor of economics, University of Chicago, and Nobel Laureate in Economics, points out, investing in early learning for disadvantaged children is “good economics and good public policy.” The economic returns on early investments are high, the returns to later interventions are much lower, and “skill begets skill and early skill makes later skill acquisition easier.” Principals look forward to watching the approved RTTT-ELC states implement the plans and playing a critical role in supporting the learning of each child beginning in the earliest year.