Earlier this week saw the release of the Getting Down To Facts II studies from Stanford University Graduate School of Education and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). The full suite of 36 studies and accompanying policy briefs and resources are available here. It’s an enormous body of work that has been synthesized into six key points: (i) state policy is moving in the right direction but that movement needs to be consolidated, (ii) achievement gaps in California are larger than the national average but are closing slowly, (iii) California’s children are behind before they enter kindergarten and low-income children in particular need greater access to quality early care and education (ECE), (iv) our schools are underfunded to meet their goals, (v) there are critical funding issues are pensions, special education and facilities that need to be addressed, and (vi) California’s weak and disconnected education data systems are a barrier to improving outcomes for children.
The studies and focusing on ECE were similarly unsetting and highlighted “diminished investments in quality, low wages, and highly fractured oversight”. The brief includes the infamous “spaghetti chart” of funders, programs, providers and oversight that comprises our ECE policy landscape and criticizes the disparities in funding and quality that this “dizzying array” creates. It also calls out the high cost, variable quality, and low accessibility of programs – especially for children with special needs where the state lags substantially behind the national average for every ethnic group in the percentage of students served. These deficiencies have a direct impact on student outcomes. The 50 page Portrait of Education Outcomes study makes clear that California’s larger-than-average achievement gaps are a direct result of lower-than average school readiness at kindergarten entry. “California’s low-income districts lag behind their national counterparts primarily because of lower school-readiness levels in the California districts, not because learning rates are lower in California’s low-income districts than in similar districts across the US”. Disappointingly, and unsurprisingly, the report goes on to point out that exactly these findings were made more than a decade ago.
However, in contrast with a decade ago, ECE has been a prominent part of the policy landscape in the Bay Area and statewide during this election season. There have been local funding initiatives on the June and upcoming November ballots, and both gubernatorial candidates have discussed their ideas for how to improve ECE in California. There are a number of upcoming candidate forums and other opportunities to learn more about how our elected officials at all levels will address these issues. Hopefully we can seize this moment to from research to action and ensure every children get the strong start they deserve.