“For a prosperous economic and social future in the United States, all children should have an equitable place at the starting line.”
—A Fair Start: Ensuring All Students Are Ready to Learn, SPREE Working Group Report
Recently we began a series of blog posts that look closely at the report issued by the State Policy and Research for Early Education (SPREE) working group in January 2018 entitled A Fair Start: Ensuring All Students Are Ready to Learn. This report, commissioned by the National Conference of State Legislatures, provides an in-depth assessment of early education in the US and offers approaches to improve the early learning experience for children around the country.
At the heart of the report is the SPREE Framework, a guideline two years in the making that will give policymakers and education leaders new insights and clarity when planning their state-sponsored early learning initiatives. The framework consists of five key principles that the SPREE working group identified as critical components to planning and executing an effective early learning program. In this two-part blog post, we will take a closer look at the first principle, Equity, which lies at the core of the entire framework, and examine why it is so essential to the other principles.
Equity in Education and Life: The Key to Better Outcomes
One of the fundamental insights of the SPREE report is the vital importance of creating an education system that supports and develops all students, regardless of their situation. The sad truth is students in the US face significant disparities in educational opportunity, despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators. In particular, serious gaps exist in providing young children with quality early learning experiences, and this is particularly true for students of color or from low-income situations. Yet a substantial body of research underscores the importance of early learning in helping young children develop and prepare for school.
That is why the SPREE working group chose Equity as the first and core principle of the SPREE Framework. According to the group, equity is the core concept that should form the foundation of any policy discussions around PreK to grade three (P-3) education. The report provides us with a clear definition of equity: “Educational equity is the assurance that every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need during their education despite race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background or family income.”
An equitable education system helps all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to be engaged and become productive members of society. More importantly, giving all children an equitable start would lead to better economic and social outcomes for individuals, for regions, and for our nation.
Three Strategies for Achieving Equity in Early Education
For each of the five principles identified in the SPREE Framework, the SPREE working group also outlined a number of strategies for accomplishing that principle. These strategies represent actionable steps that, if followed, increase the likelihood of moving toward educational equity.
Let’s take a short overview of the three strategies that are highlighted in the Equity principle. In the followup to this post, “Equity in Education: The Strategies,” we’ll go into more detail.
STRATEGY #1: ADDRESS POVERTY AND THE ECOSYSTEM
One of the fundamental positions of the SPREE working group is the belief that in order to achieve success in early childhood education, education leaders and policy makers must understand and address the varied and complex forces that affect how children learn. The better these challenges are understood and addressed through policy, the more equitable and effective the outcome for those children who need it the most. Read more
STRATEGY #2: INCREASE ACCESS AND REMOVE BARRIERS
One of the keys to equity is removing barriers and increasing access to early childhood education resources that are crucial to mitigating early learning and development gaps. The challenges are many. Parents are often unaware of the many benefits and advantages that early childhood learning provides. Even if they are aware, finding and accessing resources can be problematic and affordability can be an issue. Removing these barriers and creating more access to early learning options can make all the difference in a child’s education. Read more
STRATEGY #3: USE DATA AND REPORTING TO TARGET SERVICES AND SHINE A SPOTLIGHT ON EQUITY
The difference between equality in education and equity in education is subtle yet significant. Where equality aims for equal treatment of all students with access to the similar resources, equity strives for giving each student the resources they need to compete on equal footing. Knowing where each child is in their development and what resources they need to close gaps depends on data, and this is why the third strategy outlined in Principle 1 of the SPREE Framework is so important. Read more
The Importance of Embracing Equity as a Core Value
Each of the three strategies outlined in Principle 1 provides an actionable guideline for achieving equity and addressing the critical economic, social, and global issues that are invariably connected to equity in early learners. The choice of equity as the foundational principle and the heart of the SPREE Framework is noteworthy. Equity is vital to improving school readiness and creating a fair start for early learners, and only when all participants in the education experience embrace equity as a core value – and use it to shape policy and practice – will we see meaningful progress toward those goals.
For a more detailed explanation of each strategy, have a look at “Equity in Education: The Strategies.”