Recess Blog

Why Leadership is Key in Early Ed

By Rob Schroeder
October 3, 2017

Nationwide, two of the most important ships in the educational fleet - early childhood and K-12 schools - are manned by crews that don’t often communicate with each other, argues the College's Steve Tozer, PhD, professor of educational policy studies and director of the Center for Urban Education Leadership.

In an op-ed at the Bush Institute website, Tozer argues that the growing nationwide consensus on the importance of early childhood education needs to be accompanied by an emphasis on developing leaders to serve at the early childhood level:

Since the 1970s, an important line of research has shown that children and youth from low-income families can succeed at high academic levels in public schools if they are given the right support. The research on two of those supports is now so compelling that it would be difficult to find anyone who would dispute them: high-quality early childhood education and high-quality school leadership are powerful levers for improving student learning. And they are even more powerful if they are implemented together, instead of separately.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman of the University of Chicago argues that if we want to spend our educational dollars more effectively, early childhood programs are the place to spend it. However, we also know that placing children in early childhood programs will not by itself ensure learning: it’s the quality of the learning experience that matters most.

Early childhood educator Giselle Nunez kneels on the floor with a young girl who is building a block tower. Nunez is handing a block to the girl.

If we want strong early childhood education programs, we have to prepare leaders for elementary schools and early childhood programs who understand the complexities of Organizing Schools for Improvement,  the title of the influential book authored by Tony Bryk’s team at the University of Chicago (Bryk is now President of Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching).  It is no secret that high quality school leaders hire and retain the right teachers, develop their ability to succeed with a school’s particular population, and work with families to support student success. This is as true for early childhood classrooms as it is for high school classrooms.

Nationwide, however, two of the most important ships in the educational fleet are manned by crews that don’t often communicate with each other. Early childhood education and leadership faculty teach in separate university departments, they have separate journals and professional organizations, and it is rare for a leadership conference to address issues in early childhood education or vice versa.  Most school principals have little or no early childhood education background, and just as little leadership preparation for early childhood programs.

Read the full op-ed at the Bush Institute website.

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