Educare: On the Fault Lines of System-Building

On September 25, the day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that Educare was coming to NYC, I posted a piece hailing the birth-to-five program’s arrival in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s most under-served neighborhoods.  I still celebrate this event.  But I’ve been having some conversations that I wanted to share with you.

Right after my post,  I got an email from Sandra Roche, the chair of the board of the Bloomingdale Family Program, a Head Start delegate.  Bloomingdale’s program, like many early childhood providers in the city, just weathered the transition to NYC’s ,  an initiative designed to raise standards, increase family support and strengthen professional development in the City’s early childhood education system.”  In the process of which, one of their three NAEYC-accredited Head Start Centers was de-funded. Here’s Sandra’s question:

Given that EarlyLearn is resulting in a reduction in the number of preschool children served in Head Start and Day Care, and the further reduction in funding coming from the mandate that service providers must now raise 6.7% of their operating budgets privately, where is the money for Educare coming from? Is it new money, or is it using funds trimmed from existing programs?

And here’s a thoughtful answer, from another of the city’s Head Start providers, which poignantly reflects the fault lines—and the promise—of  ECE system-building.

The creation of a quality preschool in the Brownsville area should be applauded.  The cooperation between NYC’s Department of Education and the Administration for Children’s Services that this project demonstrates and will further develop should be encouraged.  Public/private partnerships are the wave of the future, and may, in fact, provide the only route to sustaining quality early childhood programming.  However, in celebrating this new project, we should not ignore the fact that, in the implementation of EarlyLearn this year, the city has simultaneously cut funding to, and lowered the number of seats in, community-based organizations, many of which have been providing the same quality service to low-income children for decades.  There is concern in the Head Start community that forcing CBO-sponsored programs to compete for the same private funds, (part of the model of EarlyLearn), and comparing these programs to richly-funded Educare-administered programs, creates an unlevel playing field.  Similarly, new private-sponsored Head Start programs, such as those run by Acelero, are being implemented as non-union institutions, diminishing further the admittedly meager protection the low paid child care workers currently have.

This HS provider’s final thought really hit home:  Many of the same concerns that are commonly expressed regarding the siphoning off of public funds to create charters schools are applicable to this new “charter preschool movement”.

Here’s the big equity question rearing its ugly head.  I really struggle with it.  I made an attempt to come to grips with it in a piece I wrote at some time ago.  But the answers are not easy ones.

What are your experiences on the fault lines of system-building?  And what do you think about the big equity question?

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3 comments to Educare: On the Fault Lines of System-Building

  • Liz

    EDUCARE is an example of innovation- – it will not fix the entire problem, but it is a new model and has demonstrated results for some of the most vulnerable children in our country.

    Continuing to do what we have done for the past 40 years, in the same way, in the same places, is not going to fix the achievement gap – innovation, experimentation, and trying new things is key to addressing the problems that children and their families face. Hence the need for Early Learn, Head Start re-competition, and models like EDUCARE. I am all for “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but was the status quo of ECE in NYC a nirvana? Is the quality of the ECE in New York City so high that it doesn’t require scrutiny from the federal government that funds it, the city that regulates it, or the newcomer with the new model? I think not. Innovation and change are difficult, but when the focus is on how are we helping kids and the families, and not the institutions, the change becomes essential.

  • Linda

    I agree with Liz. Having worked in Head Start in various capacities for decades, and also having provided training and TA to child care providers in NYC and helped two write their application for EarlyLearn, I applauded the efforts of the city to improve their ECE programming. Yes, there were some wonderfully operated programs in existence, but there were also some terrible programs (some I saw that I would not put my dog in let alone my child!) They are few, but toxic – and many others were and may still be mediocre “warehousing” of children. The city also is struggling with how to fund to get quality care for all children, given budget cuts and increasing demand. It’s not an easy task. That said, I think the system needs to not only be creative with funding and programming, but also establish a robust monitoring system that weeds out those programs that are not providing safe, secure and developmentally appropriate programs resulting in positive experiences for children and solid support of their development and learning. Head Start does it nationally- NYC can do it locally, but it takes commitment and funding. A big challenge when just the demand for child care slots is so high. Just my humble thoughts!

  • We all know that ECE quality varies greatly from center to center, so why do we need to bring in an outside privately-funded organization to improve matters when we already know how to do it ourselves? Establish standards and enforce them by providing the needed funding to bring in the qualified people who can make it happen.

    We see it again and again in the charter school movement and now the city believes that the questionable charter model for K-12 should now be tried with the youngest and most vulnerable among us? Will Educare receive the same funding per child that all other competing programs receive? Will they receive significant start-up capital to create physical space that is more than existing programs can afford?

    I am all for creativity and change, but I grow weary watching the flavor-of-the-month tried out on generation after generation of children . . . with the same tragic results. What will Educare show us that we don’t already know? More money in areas deprived of proper funding will make a difference. So, let’s fund all pre-school programs properly and watch real progress.

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