Journalists are about to start hearing a lot more of the phrase “The Race to the Top.” It’s important to start examining what this phrase means, because it could start taking on a life of its own the way “No Child Left Behind,’‘ did and creep into the lexicon of education reporting without explanation.
The term has been used by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to describe $5 billion in the stimulus bill aimed at backing new approaches to improve schools and push states to raise their standards and reward top teachers. According to the Democrats for Education Reform, it represents “a historic opportunity to establish clear reform priorities and to back them up with significant resources to bring change to America’s schools.”
So what would it mean for pre-k programs? DFER posted an issue brief this week that is a helpful guide for journalists trying to understand the new federal investment in early childhood education (which is also the subject of a webinar the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media will hold on June 24; sign-up here.)
The brief, written by Sara Mead, who writes the excellent Early Ed Watch blog, calls for states “to enact policities to encourage the creation of pre-k charter schools to deliver high-quality early education to 3-and 4-year-olds,” and gives several good examples of how such programs would work and what states can do.
This is a relatively new idea and one worth watching and asking about. The brief provides examples of existing programs that get little coverage, including The Accelerated School in Los Angeles, KIPP McDonough 15 in New Orleans, and dozens of charter schools in Washington, D.C. that she believes provide high-quality learning and help improve outcomes for disadvantaged children later on.
Mead also notes an important trend that many journalists who are covering pre-k battles in their states are familiar with. Even though states have more than doubled spending on pre-k since 2002, “the current economic downturn and state budget shortfalls threaten this progress; nine states have already announced cuts to their state pre-k programs and more are likely to do so in the coming weeks,” the brief notes.