As the pandemic continues to drag on, those most affected continue to face adversity — including young children. According to a recent opinion piece authored by Christina Weiland, associate professor of education and faculty co-director of the Education Policy Initiative, and Erica Greenberg of the Urban Institute, early childhood education has been left behind by the pandemic.
"Young children have disproportionately borne the educational burden of the crisis because of remote and hybrid scheduling and through sitting out kindergarten, preschool and early education altogether," they wrote. "And they will not be eligible for vaccines until fall at the earliest, meaning the crisis is on track to last longest and cause the greatest disruptions for those in their critical early years of development."
Weiland and Greenberg draw on their recent report which reviewed how COVID-19 impacted young children's educational experiences and learning outcomes and the early childhood education (ECE) programs and workforce.
"A real return to normal will require smart new investments in finally building a coherent, robust early care and education (ECE) system in the U.S.," the authors said. "The message across our work is clear: we’re worried. The studies we reviewed in depth — 16 national, 45 in 31 states, and 15 local — told a consistent story of learning setbacks and unmet needs."
They found that kindergarten literacy fell well below grade-level benchmarks, among other markers of educational setbacks. These disruptions in education were greater for children of color, dual language learners, and children from families with low incomes.
"Early care and education programs are not well positioned to respond to these increased needs," Weiland and Greenberg wrote. "The U.S. has long under-invested in these programs, particularly in comparison to peer nations. Pandemic recovery supports have been uneven, with many child care programs receiving little aid to date."
But, policymakers could take actions to bolster ECE and child care programs.
"These include summer programs for the next few years that include young children, tutoring as young as kindergarten, and implementing curriculum and support for teachers that aligns with the best science of how young children learn," the authors said. "On the program front, policymakers can use new funding to stabilize ECE programs, especially in child care; increase early educators’ pay; and if vaccine boosters are necessary, make early educators a priority group, alongside teachers of older children."
Finally, Weiland and Greenberg call for long-term changes to support ECE and ensure that the system is ready for other crises.
"For the country to recover, we need to ensure opportunity at the start," they wrote. "We finally need to build a stronger early care and education system that meets the needs of all children and families and that supports all ECE programs and teachers to provide the high-quality learning opportunities young children need to thrive."
This opinion piece was originally published in The Hill. Read it in its entirety here.