Birth to age eight represents a unique developmental period during which young children acquire foundational physical, social, cognitive, and executive function skills – the ability to persist, concentrate, retain information, think flexibly, and exhibit self-control.
By the time a child celebrates his or her fifth birthday, nearly 90 percent of intellect, personality, and social skills are already developed. When children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn, they are more likely to thrive in school and in future endeavors.
To cultivate this potential, it is imperative that Delaware continue to accelerate gains made in high-quality early learning – and sustain and grow investment in this area.
Achievement gaps form as early as nine months.
By age four, children from middle- to high-income families are exposed to approximately 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Young children from lower income families also appear to struggle more with memory, thinking flexibly, and social-emotional skills.
Because some skills – such as literacy- must be established before others can be acquired, closing these gaps requires a system of high-quality learning from birth through third grade. The need is urgent to dramatically reshape Delaware’s education system and embrace early learning as a full partner. Early childhood programs under our existing mix of public and private providers all meet basic licensing standards, but quality varies widely. Three state agencies in Delaware oversee early childhood.
Creating a Cohesive System for all
Aligning these – standards, assessments, and data systems – in a cohesive system is vital to ensuring high-quality early learning for all.Central to a high-quality birth to third grade system are talented, well-compensated teachers and leaders with knowledge of early childhood development. Fewer than half of Delaware’s early learning professionals possess a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The average salary for an early learning teacher is less than $22,000—only half of what elementary, middle, and high school teachers earn. Most early learning professionals earn an hourly wage with no benefits and a longer school day and year.
Expand Access and Quality of Supports for Families
Increase access to evidence-based home-visiting services for families of children most at-risk for school failure.
Strengthen use of comprehensive health screenings and provide interventions to address student and family needs and issues at a young age.
Increase quality across all early learning programs–including community, district, and home-visiting providers–for children birth to five by raising standards for high-quality early education and gradually requiring programs receiving public subsidies to achieve a required Star level of quality.
Establish and incrementally expand voluntary, full-day, high-quality prekindergarten for three- and four-year-olds. Community-based programs and districts could apply to provide education and care at a required level of quality, professional qualifications of staff, and length of school day.
Deepen Investment in Teacher Quality
Support early learning professionals to reach higher expectations. Increase professional qualifications and associated compensation to align with K-12 educators, and provide incentives to reach higher levels. Over time, require associate and/or bachelor’s degrees for early learning teachers.
Strengthen professional development and career paths, and articulate credits toward degrees. Establish individual licensure and assessment practices and provide higher quality professional development opportunities for early learning educators.
Strengthen Alignment with K-12 System
Create a seamless academic experience for students from early learning through third grade by adopting and implementing a statewide framework for aligning:
- Early learning standards and assessments of what children birth to eight need to know and be able to do across all domains of development;
- Professional standards, competencies, evaluation, and compensation for teachers; and
- Leader (principal and early learning administrator) professional preparation and ongoing professional development to equip them with child development knowledge across the birth to eight timeframe that supports strong instructional practice.
Develop an aligned governance structure to enable unified and efficient decision-making as well as new and sustainable sources of funding.