"The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills--how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate--essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy."
-- Sean F. Reardon, Professor of Education and Sociology,
It's all about the right intervention at the right time. There is so much to do, and so much at stake, that it is easy to be overwhelmed by a complex problem, like how to improve our educational system so that we achieve better outcomes for students and for society.
Each of us has decisions to make today--and over the next months and years--about how to spend our own time and energy, both in our personal and professional lives. For some of us there is considerable overlap. I am a pediatrician married to a former public high school teacher/now guidance counselor--and we just celebrated our 20th anniversary. During those 20 years he's worked for Seattle Public Schools, and we are now nearing the end of year 11 with a student in Seattle Schools. This week my husband is helping family after family address health, educational, and family issues; and for some the last-minute scramble to see if an anticipated high school graduation will be possible. Tomorrow our daughter takes the MSP for 6th graders (Washington's statewide standardized test), and our son is preparing for an AP test in a class that all sophomores at his high school are automatically enrolled in. So my household is knee deep in middle school and high school issues, and the stresses and opportunities associated with each.
Over those same 20 years that I have been a pediatrician, changes in health care have been the norm, and the trend toward increasing access to care extremely important. At the same time, however, "the tsunami that is health care reform," as I heard someone say recently, is almost upon us. The stresses on the health care system, and on the providers within it, as it prepares to serve more people are already tremendous. My own work has transitioned from one where I took care of many teenagers in pediatric practice, to a focus on systems and policy and programs related to parents and early learning. At Reach Out and Read we seek to improve what are traditionally seen as educational outcomes, by supporting health care providers as they support parents. Health and education are intertwined for children and families, and both of these complex systems need to work better individually and together, to improve outcomes.
Large 'system changing' efforts that are evidence-based, impact whole populations, and improve outcomes should be the hallmark of what we do in both health care and education. Yet the devil is in the details. In the meantime families, researchers, policy makers, teachers, doctors, and all those who serve children and families must weather this together, with a firm eye on the end goal--better outcomes.
The case to invest in early childhood is clear. And Washington is making progress--with steps toward increasing access to full day kindergarten, to preschool for children living in low-income families, and to home visiting for significantly at risk families. A central missing piece in Washington's Early Learning System is an evidence-based focus on parents and the youngest children--and by that I mean policy paired with investment in a strategy that will support many, if not most, parents, and improve outcomes for large numbers of children. That's what we're all about at Reach Out and Read, and Professor Reardon's New York Times article "The Great Divide: No Rich Child Left Behind" helps explain why a broad-based approach to supporting parents is needed. Read on to learn more, and for news about Thrive by Five and the Foundation for Early Learning, how to "Give Big" to support Reach Out and Read; and even what flying pigs teach us about language.
We're hopeful that Reach Out and Read's state funding will be restored by the time the budget is signed. We need that to happen, so please advocate! At the same time we are rolling up our sleeves to figure out the best next steps toward making sure our collective actions lead to the outcome we need--a bright future for all of Washington's young people.
Thank you for your support.
Jill Sells, MD and the Reach Out and Read Washington Team