Remember Race to the Top? Last year the competition between states for federal money was all the buzz. States promised to make changes favored by the Obama Administration, like linking teacher evaluations to student performance, in order to compete for dough.
Now it’s back with a new focus: early childhood education. And $500 million is available. To get it, states must persuade the feds that they’ll increase access to quality preschool, align it with the K-12 system, and create strong systems to evaluate preschools so that programs can share practices that work and so parents can make informed decisions about where to send their children.
The new competition highlights another reason why preschool inspections are so important. Earlier this week I wrote about the infrequency of state licensing inspections for preschools and child care programs, which can be as much as five years apart.
That has raised questions about health and safety. The licensing division itself has proposed a more frequent system of shorter inspections, saying child health and safety are at risk. Some of our readers asked whether injuries or deaths increased; I’m trying to dig up data on that now and will update the blog when we get it.
But the problem goes far beyond whether a child is safe at preschool. The Obama Administration is pouring more money into preschool because of a growing body of research shows that early education can make a big difference for kids later on. While other states are rating preschools for quality to help parents make smart choices about preparing kids for kindergarten, California is still trying to guarantee preschools are at least safe.
So inspecting preschools isn’t just a matter of safety. It’s also about school reform. Here’s how the Huffington Post quoted the top education official in the country on it:
“Our goal is to transform from a patchwork of disconnected programs often of uneven quality and uneven access into a coordinated one that truly and consistently prepares our nation’s young people for success in school and life,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a call with reporters.
“This is a game changer,” he said.
In more Race to the Top news, there’s also a smaller set of funds going to states like California that were finalists in the last Race to the Top competition. The Los Angeles Times reports that California stands to get a consolation prize of $50 million, much less than the $700 million it had originally sought.