Helping children develop their American and native cultural identities together.

NAEYC Themes, Part 1: Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s Presentation

Posted by bububooks on December 5, 2009

Before I get to discussing the four themes mentioned in the last post by specifically looking at the various sessions I attended at NAEYC this year, I wanted to dedicate a blog posting solely to Secretary Duncan’s keynote speech at NAEYC.  His passion for early education was very evident.  It seemed clear to me that he was very serious and not just offering a speech that pandered to the audience.  Indeed, he is the first Secretary of Education to ever speak at NAEYC.

Secretary Duncan started off his presentation with a quote from President Franklin Roosevelt: “The destiny of American youth is the destiny of America.” He focused a lot on the issue that has plagued us for a long time: closing the achievement gap that exists before children even start kindergarten.  He referenced President Johnson’s vision to reach a day when “each child goes as far as his talents will take them.”

“Getting out of the catch-up business” represented a central theme in Secretary Duncan’s speech. He spoke of the Department’s development of a birth through age eight plan.  Modern research makes it clear that the most important years of child development is from birth through age three.  Yet our current approach has been to start focusing at age five in kindergarten.  Now the Department is making a major change since its World War I when it added kindergarten to every child’s public school education.  It seeks to align Early Childhood Education (ECE) with the K-12 programs.  Up until now, ECE has been highly fragmented and non-standardized, leading to unpredictable quality and further exacerbating the achievement gap.  But several programs have shown ways to succeed and offer scalable solutions that can be expanded throughout the country.

Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education (along with NAEYC and others in the education field) recognize that care and education cannot be thought of as separate entities in the education of young children.  He stated it’s time we acknowledged the evidence that social development and academic development are “inextricably linked.” As a result, the Department of Education has entered into a serious partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to integrate their foci on early child development and school readiness.

Secretary Duncan presented a huge task that he, the Department of Education, Early Childhood Educators and K-12 educators face today. Finally, though, he is leading the way to face this problem.  He outlined to fundamental challenges that we face in closing the achievement gap that starts before kindergarten.  1) There must be a coordinated system of early care that transitions to the K-12 program. 2) They must accelerate the shift from judging quality based solely in inputs to also basing it on outcomes. Secretary Duncan made sure to insist that inputs would not be ignored because they are important.  However, he wants to add outcomes to be a part of the criteria.

Finally, Secretary Duncan expressed his excitement about the changes underway in early education and child development. He acknowledged that mistakes will be made, but then he said, “I hope we never let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

I personally was moved by Secretary Duncan’s speech and am excited about this unprecedented attention and energy toward early childhood education.  For the full speech, please visit: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/11/11182009.html


One Response to “NAEYC Themes, Part 1: Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s Presentation”

  1. Deanna said

    The NAEYC is a wonderful organization. Their paper on developmentally appropriate practice should be a must read for every early childhood educator.


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