At Steinhardt Policy Breakfast, Panel Discusses Pre-K and Closing the Achievement Gap

The lasting benefit of early childhood education was the focus of the Steinhardt School’s first annual policy breakfast on November 21st.  The event brought together 200 members of the education community for a conversation on the role that early childhood education plays in improving student success and its ability to close the achievement gap.

Hirokazu Yoshikawa (left) and Steven Dow (center) listened to Ajay Chaudry (right) speak during a Q&A session at the November 21st policy breakfast on early childhood education

Hirokazu Yoshikawa, the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education at NYU Steinhardt, moderated the event. Yoshikawa, who led research efforts to measure the success of Boston’s pre-K efforts, was one of several NYU researchers to sign an open letter last week urging policymakers to support greater investments in high-quality early childhood education.

At the event, Yoshikawa shared examples of policy advances in support of universal pre-K – in New York, Boston, Seattle, and beyond – and stated that access to early childhood education is a “civil rights issue of our time.”

Ajay Chaudry, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offered a national perspective on the promise and challenges of universal pre-K. While research has shown that early childhood education has significant educational and societal benefits, Chaudry stressed the importance of both access to education and ensuring its quality.

Chaudry also shared statistics on achievement gaps between children across the socioeconomic spectrum, noting that a gap is not just seen between rich and poor children. In fact, he showed that a larger achievement gap exists between upper and middle class children than middle and lower class children.

Steven Dow, executive director of CAP Tulsa, an anti-poverty agency in Oklahoma, spoke about his state’s successes in early childhood education.  Oklahoma has long been known as a model for early childhood education, where 74 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in publicly funded pre-K.

Left to right: Patricia Cooper (Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Queens College, CUNY), Steven Dow, and Ajay Chaudry

Despite these achievements, Dow discussed the under-resourced and fragmented education system for children under five, compared with the more established K-12 and higher education systems. “If we want to change the outcome, we’ve got to change the system,” said Dow.

The NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series brings together policy leaders, legislators, business people, heads of corporations, foundations and advocacy organizations, university faculty, and school superintendents. The goal has been to illuminate contemporary educational issues and foster discussion among the many constituencies concerned with education at both the local and national levels. Now in its 16th year, this year’s series will focus on key issues in early childhood education: accessibility, quality, and affordability.