Through a Brookings Institution panel, Christina Weiland shared research findings on the impact of COVID-19 on children and educators in the early childhood education system and the opportunities she sees for system-wide improvements. Weiland places the current situation in the context of the early childhood education landscape in the U.S. prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weiland spoke alongside Miriam Calderon, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Policy and Early Learning - Office of Elementary and Second Education, U.S. Department of Education, and Jenna Conway, Deputy Superintendent, Division of Early Childhood Education, Virginia Department of Education.
The early childhood education (ECE) sector in the United States is in a period of disruption and transition. Even before COVID-19, the sector grappled with challenges such as extremely low wages for workers and uneven program quality. The pandemic exacerbated existing challenges and created many new ones, including sudden, sharp declines in ECE enrollment and attendance. These challenges carry significant risk, given evidence that early learning experiences can shape children’s educational and life trajectories.
On the other hand, this is a period of opportunity for ECE. Innovative local and state leaders have made use of federal funds provided by the American Rescue Plan Act in ways that could produce both short-term and long-term benefits. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has made improving the ECE sector one of its top priorities, offering an assortment of proposals. This includes a proposal for federally subsidized, tuition-free universal pre-K. The fate of these proposals—and the direction of the ECE sector—remains unclear.
On policy priorities, Weiland emphasizes the need for pay parity for early childhood educators: “From a social justice perspective—we can’t keep paying women, and particularly women of color, who disproportionally do this work—less money than K-12 teachers, particularly when they have the same qualifications.” She also cites the importance of developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curricula.