Working Together for Early Learning: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at "Early Childhood 2010 -- Innovation for the Next Generation" Meeting

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Working Together for Early Learning: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at "Early Childhood 2010 -- Innovation for the Next Generation" Meeting

August 3, 2010

Good morning — it's a pleasure to join my good friend Secretary Sebelius in welcoming you to Washington for this important meeting.

Thank you all for the challenging and meaningful work you do on behalf of this nation's children and families.

This meeting's purpose is to drive innovations that will unlock the great potential of new generations of Americans.

This goal is not new, but the strength of our numbers and the depth of our shared commitment are.

And, because unprecedented innovation will require unprecedented collaboration, Secretary Sebelius and I have chosen this event to launch a new phase of our interagency partnership.

This is the first federal meeting to bring together early learning communities funded by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education.

We want you to share best practices and learn from each other.

Today and in the years ahead, you will join forces to raise the quality of services, especially for young children with the greatest need.

This also marks the next step in our effort to help eliminate silos at the federal level. We know we must walk the walk, and we know that historically we have been part of the problem.

We want to ensure that collaboration at the federal level mirrors the integration you're striving to achieve at the state and local levels.

But before I announce this new milestone, I want to speak about our progress thus far, and the common values that are driving us forward.

President Obama, Secretary Sebelius and I believe in providing a strong foundation for all this nation's children.

We also believe education must be the great equalizer — the one true path out of poverty for disadvantaged children.

The research is clear: participation in high-quality preschool programs results in short- and long-term positive outcomes for children, including improved high school graduation, and higher college attendance and completion rates.

The stakes here are high. By ensuring excellent early learning and support for every child, as the foundation of a world-class cradle-to-career education system, we'll help to guarantee America's success in the 21st century.

From the campaign trail to the White House, the President's commitment to improving the quality and consistency of early learning programs and services has never wavered.

He has said, "It will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education from the day they are born to the day they begin a career."

By offering strong services and interventions in those early years, we have a chance to reduce — and ultimately prevent — the achievement gap. Think what it would mean to our country, if we could eliminate the insidious achievement gap.

To this end, we're providing significant resources and fostering innovation and collaboration throughout the field of early learning — from the local program level, to right here in Washington.

The investment began at the start of this Administration, when Congress appropriated approximately $5 billion dollars for early learning under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This money helped supplement and expand the great work that's being done under programs like Head Start, the Child Care Development Fund, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Still, we know dollars alone aren't the answer. To make a difference, the funds must be used strategically.

My team and I are committed to fundamentally transforming the Department of Education from a compliance-driven bureaucracy to an engine of innovation. We are trying to be very self-critical and pushing ourselves to build an internal culture, not around checklists and filling out forms, but around supporting best practices and driving reform.

We've made early learning an integral component of our reform efforts and incorporated early learning priorities in a wide range of programs and funding streams.

All across the Education Department, Recovery Act funds are going to support complimentary efforts — like improved State Longitudinal Data Systems Grants to track student progress beginning in pre-K and continuing through college and career.

The stimulus is also funding State Advisory Councils on Early Education and Care, and Teacher Quality Partnership Grants to improve the effectiveness of new teachers, including early childhood teachers.

The teacher quality partnerships also will create teacher education partnerships with licensed child care, Head Start, Early Head Start, or preschool programs.

At Education we also have several targeted competitions to further your innovation at the State and local level.

The Promise Neighborhoods Program will fund efforts that coordinate the health, social services and educational resources of high-need communities, providing pre-natal through college services for children and families.

The $4.3 billion dollar Race to the Top fund includes an invitational priority to support states with early learning programs that improve school readiness and the transition between preschool and kindergarten.

Both winners in the first phase of competition, Tennessee and Delaware, rose to the challenge and addressed this priority. This, in part, is why their applications were so successful.

Delaware is going to have extensive interagency cooperation to raise standards and create a quality rating system.

Tennessee will work to develop assessments that are developmentally appropriate for early learners. It also will use community colleges and four-year colleges to improve the quality of the early learning workforce.

The momentum is continuing in the second round. All of the 19 Phase 2 Race to the Top finalists referenced early learning in their applications; 14 specifically addressed the invitational priority.

We also hope to start the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Like Race to the Top, this program would reward states that are leading the way with bold plans to improve early learning.

We'll be looking to fund states that are improving access to high-quality programs and are building a coordinated system of early care and education.

The ultimate goal is to improve school readiness — especially of students who are at risk of school failure.

I'm so pleased that the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed $300 million dollars for this program in its fiscal 2011 bill.

This is a great start for this program and we are committed to expanding it in future years. This might be the best long-term investment we can make.

Senator Harkin's leadership and commitment to early learning is what made this possible.

I want to personally thank him for being an extraordinary partner with us and for all that he's done to advance early learning. He is absolutely passionate on this issue.

President Obama said a few days ago that he wants "to challenge our states to offer better early learning options to make sure our children aren't wasting their most formative years, [and] so that they enter into kindergarten already ready to learn."

Our Investing in Innovation — or i3 — program offers a competitive priority for districts and non-profits that include successful educational innovations, improved collaboration and transitions on the early childhood continuum from birth through age 8.

Of the I3 applications we received, 384 addressed the early childhood priority.

We are also committed to integrating early learning in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Despite all these opportunities to do more as an agency, it was clear from the start that for reform to succeed, the Department of Education needed to coordinate much more closely with other federal agencies. We needed to take a hard look in the mirror and become a better teammate.

In HHS, we've found an outstanding partner with a strong, shared vision. Secretary Sebelius is a tremendous leader, and she and her team are determined to get the job done for children and families. She and I bonded while working together to combat H1N1 and believe me, this work is a heck of a lot more fun.

Our partnership with HHS is crucial to the success of the Administration's agenda for children from birth through grade 3, and collaboration has quickly become a cornerstone of our work.

My Senior Advisor for Early Learning Jacqueline Jones, and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Joan Lombardi are working tirelessly to bring the two agencies together in new and transformative ways. They are leading us where we need to go. For example, we've launched Interdepartmental Study Groups, with both agencies' staff coming together to study critical areas in early learning.

For eleven months, the groups have met to help define what we mean by high-quality early learning standards, curriculum and assessment, program standards, family engagement, health promotion, workforce and professional development, and data systems.

Over the next day and a half, you'll see the results of their hard work.

Earlier this year, we held a series of Listening and Learning sessions about Early Learning.

We heard from experts, stakeholders, families and other members of the public on critical issues, from building a seamless continuum from preschool through third grade, to promoting family engagement; and from improving the early learning workforce, to developing appropriate early learning standards and comprehensive assessments across a broad range of domains systems.

These are some of the ways we're working to meld HHS's longstanding mission of encouraging healthy child development and Education's traditional commitment to school readiness.

At Education, we recognize that both the cognitive and non-cognitive domains of early learning, along with child health and well-being, are essential to school success.

At HHS, there is a renewed focus on improving the quality of Head Start and child care programs, including an emphasis on school readiness.

And today, I'm pleased to announce that we are taking this partnership one step further.

Secretary Sebelius and I have agreed to form an Early Learning Interagency Policy Board, convening senior staff from the major early learning programs in both departments, in support of our shared mission.

This senior-level group will work to increase coordination, effectiveness and outcomes for children across our two departments' major federally funded early learning programs.

The board will oversee the implementation of a common set of quality indicators across Head Start, Child Care, I.D.E.A, and a range of other interagency activities.

We'll also charge the board with better coordinating research, technical assistance and data across the two departments — so that the folks who are running programs across the country will have an easier time blending federal funds to support children and families.

It's another means to support you in your efforts to ensure that all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed, and stay on track to be college-and career-ready. We have to get the bureaucracy out of the way of innovation and creativity.

The great Children's Defense Fund founder and president, Marian Wright Edelman, has said simply: "If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much." She is one of my heroes.

Everyone in this room has taken a profound stand for America's children and families and I thank you for that.

Secretary Sebelius and I, and our teams, are honored to join you in this stand, and to collaborate in ways that will increase the impact you can have in the community.

One program, one organization, one federal department working alone can never be enough to address the multiple needs of children, families and communities.

We have to work together, over a sustained period, from birth to grade 3 and beyond.

We challenge all of you to reach beyond your individual programs for the benefit of the whole child.

We urge you to do even more to integrate your approaches, coordinate resources, and share data and effective practices. We invite you to tell us how we can help you do that better.

This field is on the brink of transformative change, as evidence mounts to show that quality early learning programs work — for children, for society, and for our national economy.

The New York Times just featured a new study by Harvard economists. They analyzed the long-term impact of Tennessee's "Project Star" on the lives of roughly 12,000 participants who were kindergarteners in the 1980s.

The researchers found that students who had progressed significantly in kindergarten proved far more likely to have gone to college than peers with otherwise comparable backgrounds, more likely to be saving for retirement, and less likely to have become single parents.

We've seen similar results from research done in my hometown of Chicago and in the High/Score Perry Preschool Project.

And, over time, students in the Harvard study were earning exponentially more.

Despite the very real challenges of building a coherent, high-quality system of early learning, and placing teachers of high caliber in every early learning program, there are many great examples of states, districts, and programs forging ahead on the path to reform.

All states have developed Early Learning Standards, and many are leading the way in building high-quality early learning programs.

Years ago, the education reformer John Dewey said: "What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.

Any other ideal is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy."

These words may sound quaint and old fashioned at first, but the idea behind them still carries extraordinary power. I know this from experience.

In 1961, my mother opened a free, after-school tutoring program in a church basement on the South Side of Chicago.

From the time we were born, she raised my sister, my brother, and me as a part of her program, and that experience shaped all of us. We have all tried to follow in her footsteps in various ways.

She brought in families, and tried to get to young children as early as possible.

When we were little, the older students tutored the younger kids.

As we grew up, we tutored the younger students. After we were all done with our studies and chores, we played basketball together.

Everyone knew our program was a safe haven where children were nurtured, respected, and taught right from wrong.

From one corner at 46th and Greenwood, some remarkable success stories emerged.

Students went on to become educators, engineers, scientists, surgeons, actors. What made the difference?

There was no greater concentration of talent on that corner than on any other poor, violence-plagued inner-city block or rural route, anywhere in the United States.

The lesson I drew from that experience growing up is the very same principle that motivates your work.

We can — whenever and wherever we choose — successfully teach all children.

With the right support, any child can learn and thrive, regardless of poverty, challenges at home, neighborhood violence, disability or any other obstacle.

A high-quality early learning program is a good thing. A high-quality early learning program run by caring adults is a great thing. And, a community determined to nurture and educate every one if its children can transform countless lives.

Individual success stories can become systems of success, wave after wave of children reaching their true academic and social potential.

The goals of realizing the potential of every citizen, achieving the full promise of our democracy, and securing our nation's continued success, require us all to become even more dedicated advocates for all children.

Last week, in a speech at the National Press Club, I spoke about the Quiet Revolution that is sweeping across this country.

This revolution has the potential to transform public education for the benefit of every child. All of you are quiet warriors on the front lines of this change.

Together, let's make sure that revolution embraces children in their earliest years, reaches communities all across America, and makes a difference for generations to come.

Thank you.