School Readiness Symposium

What’s Ahead for Early Childhood Education:
Maryland’s Role in Setting the Agenda

Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan
December 10, 2001

What’s Ahead for Early Childhood Education: Maryland’s Role in Setting the Agenda is the first in a series of symposia designed to heighten the dialogue in Maryland around the importance of early care and education among key stakeholders—parents, early childhood professionals, elementary school staff, legislators, community service providers, public libraries, advocates, business leaders, and faith communities.

Dr. Sharon Lynn Kagan, the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University and a Senior Research Scientist at Yale University’s Child Study Center, served as the keynote speaker. Dr. Kagan’s remarks, What’s Ahead for Early Childhood Education: Maryland’s Role in Setting the Agenda, provided recommendations for creating an early care and education system in Maryland. The remarks also focused on creating a common understanding about early childhood education pedagogy and developing early care and education teachers and leaders.

Kagan, recognized nationally and internationally for her work related to the care and education of young children and their families, is a frequent consultant to the White House, Congress, the National Governors’ Association, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, and numerous states, foundations, corporations, and professional associations. She is the Immediate Past President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Co-Chair of the National Education Goals Panel on Goal One, and a member of over 40 national boards or panels. Formerly, Chair of the Family Resource Coalition of America’s Board of Directors, and a member of President Clinton’s education transition team, National Commissions on Head Start and Chapter 1, and the NAEYC Governing Board, Dr. Kagan has received numerous awards, among them an honorary doctoral degree from Wheelock College and a distinguished alumna award from Teachers College, Columbia.

Dr. Kagan is a prolific author, having written over 120 publications including the authorship or editorship of 12 volumes and the guest editorship of numerous journals. In her writings, Dr. Kagan has investigated issues including the development of policy for children and families, family support, early childhood pedagogy, strategies for collaboration and service integration, and the evaluation of social programs. She has recently completed a national study, Not By Chance, the report of The Quality 2000 Initiative, and co-edited new volumes on Reinventing Early Care and Education, and Children, Families and Government. Her analytic work has been supported by research grants from ten national foundations, along with the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. Augmenting her scholarship with practice in the field, Dr. Kagan has been a Head Start teacher and director, a fellow in the U.S. Senate, an administrator in the public schools, and Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Early Childhood Education.

Following is an abstract of Dr. Kagan’s remarks.

I. The Content of Early Childhood Education
A. Pedagogy is not understood

  • Perception that early childhood education is just about allowing children to play all day;
  • Strong push by parents, public, and policymakers for more “academic” instruction, particularly focusing on literacy, but also including pre-math concepts;
  • Meanwhile, experts in early childhood education continue to advocate learning through play and self-directed education.

B. What policymakers understand and are doing

  • Understand, and accept, the 5 dimensions of readiness outlined by the National Education Goals Panel:
    • Physical well-being and motor development;
    • Social and emotional development;
    • Approaches toward learning;
    • Language development;
    • Cognition and general knowledge.
  • Growing recognition that development, and readiness, is not only cognitive.

C. Academy of Sciences has also affirmed this orientation toward development and readiness in Eager to Learn

D. How kindergarten teachers define readiness for school

  • A national study (Heavisdie & Farris, 1993) demonstrated that the majority of teachers involved did not think that preschoolers had to display signs of emerging literacy and numeracy in order to be deemed ready for kindergarten;
  • Same study showed that kindergarten teachers rated certain health, communication, and behavioral characteristics as highly important;
  • The perception of preschool teachers that kindergarten teachers are pressing for more pre-academic skills to be developed in preschool does not seem to be accurate.

E. What research says about America’s kindergartners

  • Early Childhood Longitudinal Study:
    • Children were assessed through direct observation – the best way;
    • Most children are reasonably well-behaved and exhibit positive approaches to classroom tasks;
    • Most are relatively self-sufficient (90% could button own clothes) and are able to count to 20 and recognize letters of the alphabet (more than 60%), as well as identify primary colors by name (80%);
    • Older children tend to do better;
    • Accomplishments in school are correlated to risk factors – the less risk factors, the higher the level of accomplishment;
    • Attending Head Start, pre-k, or other center-based preschool programs is linked to higher emerging literacy scores in 4-year-olds.

F. Final analysis

  • Perceptions are changing – and in the right direction;
  • Focus, for the most part, is not on cognition alone;
  • Pedagogy has always included cognitive development;
  • Children’s health and addressing risk factors through effective service delivery is also important;
  • Data indicate that preschool programs make a difference.

II. Developing Early Childhood Education Leadership and Recognizing the Greatness of Early Childhood Educators
A. Traditional ideas about leadership do not apply to early childhood eductors
B. New leadership ideas fit early childhood education much better

  • Peter Senge: In order for anyone to succeed in an organization, all must succeed;
  • Robert Kelley (The Power of Followership): Decries “hero worship” in leadership and proposes that everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower, the trick is knowing when to be each.

C. Appropriate types of leadership in early childhood education:

  • Pedagogical leadership;
  • Administrative leadership;
  • Community leadership (Dwayne Compton provides good strategies):
    • Don’t be a “one-issue” person and become involved in a wide variety of social and civic concerns;
    • Learn how to relate to funders and other power brokers in your community, and that it is your job to make them understand;
    • Define your vision for early childhood education in a way that most of the community can embrace;
    • Show contrast between the “what-if” vision and the “what exists” vision;
    • Emphasize outcomes for children who have access to quality early childhood education;
    • Develop an action plan.
  • Advocacy leadership;
  • Conceptual leadership.

III. An Early Childhood Education System
A. Regulate for quality: States with more stringent regulations have higher quality program;
B. A better-financed system has a better chance of delivering quality services;
C. Develop public will around the importance of early childhood education;
D. Train and credential early childhood education professionals;
E. Develop good (developmentally appropriate) assessments for young children;
F. Create a uniform system of early childhood education and service delivery to end competition for funding and unnecessary overlap of services.

1. Pioneer new and very crisp definitions of early childhood pedagogy, early childhood leadership, and an early childhood system;
2. Be sure that our visions of pedagogy, leadership, and the system advance diversity;
3. Build pedagogical, leadership and systemic commitments into all legislation for young children. Specifically, we need to use the following organizations to push the agenda:

  • Policy and advocacy organizations (eg: Children’s Defense Fund, American Association of Retired Persons);
  • Professional groups (National Association of Elementary School Principals);
  • Administrators in government agencies (Health and Welfare Departments);
  • Representatives from business and industry (Committee for Economic Development).

4. Provide opportunities for leaders and dreamers – and to recognize the dream within:

  • Share knowledge, insights, and experiences with others;
  • Continue to be a role-model;
  • Mentor a junior colleague;
  • Recognize that you are a leader, and that good leaders follow as well as lead;
  • Recognize that there is a certain serendipity to becoming a leader, which requires actively looking for and seizing opportunities to develop yourselves and your integral role in the field of early childhood education;
  • Plan a course for your own development;
  • Realize that you are in the greatest profession in the world.


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