Back on the beat: A reporter’s view of early education

Editor’s note: This story led off this week’s Early Childhood newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every other Wednesday with trends and top stories about early learning. 

About 20 years ago, I had a transformative reporting experience when I was assigned to “shadow” a 4-year-old named Jaylen at a Milwaukee preschool. I mistakenly assumed the day would bring mostly cuteness and little substance, and I remember being struck by how much these young students learned, virtually every second of the school day. And because I could not interview the kids in quite the same way as older ones, I was forced to be a much closer observer of how that learning, and associated teaching, happened, from the way the children explored blocks of different geometric shapes to the way the teacher habitually explained the meaning of different words as she spoke.

Over the years, I’ve gravitated back to early childhood stories again and again: writing a magazine feature on the power of a holistic model of early childhood care that considers the families’ needs as much as the children’s; editing and contributing to a project on the critical, often neglected 2-year-old year; and, most recently, probing racial disparities in access to reading help in the early elementary years. This academic year, I’m thrilled to be contributing regularly to Hechinger’s early childhood newsletter and coverage.

If you take all the vast human potential and the vast inequities endemic to the K-12 education system and magnify them, you have the stuff of the early childhood education beat. Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by the age of 5, yet in many communities we pay and treat those entrusted with their care and development like fast food workers (and I’m not defending the low pay and poor treatment of fast food workers here).

Over the last three years, most of my reporting for Hechinger has focused on racial inequities in our “system” of care and education for infants, toddlers and early elementary students. In Boston, I reported on how the racist and sexist roots of the child care system, stretching back to free child care provided by enslaved people since 1619, continue to shape the deplorable conditions workers face today. And earlier this year, I spent several months investigating why Black and Latino infants and toddlers are so severely under enrolled in early intervention in some communities.

I’ll be continuing to look into these and related issues, and would love to hear from you. Some topics I know I’ll likely be reporting on include: challenges and innovations in early childhood education math instruction; the latest data and trends on exclusionary discipline of pre-K children; strategies for addressing the therapist shortage in early intervention; the child care crisis and potential solutions being explored at the state level; the use, and misuse, of cognitive testing in the early years; and forms of academic tracking in elementary school.

Please reach out about any of these topics – and more. My email is [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

This story about Sarah Carr was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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