At a luncheon on Tuesday, December 8th in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan honored legendary childhood education expert Barbara T. Bowman, professor of child development and co-founder of the Erickson Institute in Chicago. Bowman is also the chief officer of the office of early-childhood education for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a position that she agreed to take when Duncan “begged her” as district Superintendant. After Duncan was named Secretary of Education, Bowman again heeded his call, serving for six months as Consultant on Early Learning. But she always said she was just “keeping the seat warm” and recommended Jacqueline Jones, former New Jersey State Department of Education Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Early Childhood Education, to continue the work fulltime. Duncan named Jones last August as Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Early Learning, and Jones now leads the initiative on early learning.
Duncan, who was joined by U.S. Secretary of Health Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, spoke about the extraordinary collaboration taking place between their two agencies in improving early learning. Telling the audience of early-childhood education researchers and advocates that we need to “get out of the catch-up business” and dramatically improve social, emotional and educational outcomes for young children, he reiterated the call for reform he made last month at the conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. One way to leverage this “perfect storm for reform,” he said, is through the Early Learning Challenge Fund that passed in the House mid-September and is now working its way through the Senate. The historic legislation would authorize a billion dollars a year for states to improve their comprehensive systems of early learning. Duncan also called for national standards for what our earliest learners need to know and be able to do.
For her part, Bowman began by thanking the organizers for arranging this so she could have lunch with her busy daughter, Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. Bowman shared about her own journey in the field since the 1950’s and her transformation in understanding the need for infants, toddlers and preschoolers to receive not only early care, but also high-quality early learning experiences in order to be successful in school and in life. She spoke about how when the federal Head Start program in 1966 by Ed Zigler (who was in the audience), it was seen as a competition between an employment agency for adults and a program for young children. “I’m happy that children have won out,” she said. While she sees the nation as a long way off from providing high-quality early learning programs to all children most in need, she does see promise in a President and two secretaries who “get it.” At that, she maternally motioned for Duncan and Sebelius to scoot their chairs closer together, which they happily did, Duncan putting his arm around Sebelius to the laughter and applause of everyone.
The luncheon was part of an all-day summit, The Science of Professional Development in Early Childhood Education: A National Summit, featured scientists, policymakers, and key federal and state administrators who addressed best practices and policies and future opportunities in the field of early childhood education and workforce development. The research meeting was hosted by the Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Program of the U.S. Department of Education, Georgetown University, and Zero to Three.
U.S. Department of Education