NBC’s “Today Show” highlights importance of Quality Early Education; Educare

NBC’s “Today Show” recently took an in-depth look at early education in America and the solid return on investment yielded by quality programs. In particular, this piece highlighted a national best practice model in the field of early education and family support — and one which plans to open in Silicon Valley in 2014 — Educare. Educare is a full-day, year-round high quality early education center for children birth-to-five and their families, which includes robust evaluation and training components.

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There is one constant in Silicon Valley: Change

Change resulting from innovation; innovation propelled by a dynamic labor force that is itself specialized and evolving rapidly. Silicon Valley is dependent on a labor force that is grounded in math, science, engineering and analytical and communication skills. Although Silicon Valley remains an important driver of California and the nation’s economy, remaining on the leading edge will not be automatic.

The pressures to recruit new talent are increasing, and we are not producing enough STEM talent to meet demand. A widely cited statistic from the National Science Foundation tells us that South Korea, with 1/6 the population of the United States, awards nearly the same number of engineering degrees. Moreover, nearly half of all Master’s Degrees and Ph.D.s awarded in the US are to foreign nationals, whose incentives to stay, work and build companies in the United States are diminishing, as is our ability to grow our own talent to fill these voids. California will be short 1 million college degrees by 2025.

At the same time, California’s population and workforce are changing; in particular, the demographics in our classrooms are changing. How can California meet the demands of the 21st century economy, prepare students to thrive in the new economy, and adopt to over evolving demographics?

How California and Silicon Valley Can Make Progress?

Student success in K-12 will come from a strong teacher and principal corps.

The state must support high quality professional development to ensure that schools are implementing a sound, standards-based curriculum and instructional programs, and provide teachers and principals with the tools needed to instruct a diverse population in a changing world. If the state is serious about developing, recruiting and retaining teachers (particularly in math and science) then it should invest in recruiting, retaining and developing  high quality teachers and administrators.

Investing in what matters.

Achievement and advancement in math and science are the bedrock of Silicon Valley’s innovation economy. Our nation, state and region (particularly within high-need schools) are facing a critical shortage of math and science teachers. The way that the state allocates funding (in an overly complex manner and through a myriad of restrictive categorical programs) does little to allow our public K-12 and higher education systems to adapt to changing times. Moreover, market forces must enter into the equation for recruiting and retaining talent in critical fields.

Hold districts to high standards and give them flexibility to meet those standards.

It is common practice to give districts, in the name of local control, additional resources that are quickly followed by restrictions. The state has established a standards and accountability system. Districts should be allowed to retain flexibility in meeting those standards; districts that are successful retain flexibility and districts that are not as successful receive less leeway. The current system does not allow for sufficient innovation at the district or school level.

Students need to be aware of the pathways ahead of them.

This is particularly important for students of immigrant families or from underrepresented populations. The fact that an entire high school might share a guidance counselor or two is unacceptable. The Leadership Group supports college and career pipelines and endorses the adopting of A-G requirements at the district level.

Access to college needs to be available and predictable.

Students and families should not have to wonder from year to year whether there will be a place for qualified applicants at state colleges and universities and what it might cost.

Skills for entering the workplace and for entering college are converging.

A high school diploma needs to convey that the graduate has mastered a specific set of skills; that, in large part, the student is prepared to enter college, university or the workforce; and that it is not the end of the individual’s learning. California needs to maintain high standards and expectations, and students will rise to the occasion.

Make decisions based on accurate student and teacher data.

As California rightfully raises academic standards, it needs a data system that will support accountability, particularly when it comes to high school graduation and proficiency. We cannot expect to know where students are going or have gone if we do not accurately track their progress. Many other states have used data to improve instruction at the local level to ensure that teachers are meeting student’s needs. At a state and regional level, data could be used to identify best practices and to incentivize our most skilled teachers to our most needy classrooms.

Encourage private-public partnerships.

There is more that business and industry can do, particularly by way of internships and fellowships for students and teachers. The Leadership Group regularly hears from our education partners about the importance of providing relevant and engaging opportunities that expose our educators and students to changes in technology, the workplace and career path options. This is particularly important for socio-economically disadvantaged populations.

Support for K-12 and higher education infrastructure needs to be sustainable, equitable, and should be commensurate with the cost to educate students.

If steps are not taken to develop and harness the brainpower that moves our innovation economy, our region could face a “fuel shortage” that would have ripple effects throughout the economy and from which it would be difficult to recover.

Change, it has been said, is a constant. It goes hand-in-hand with Silicon Valley, with advancement, with California. California and Silicon Valley have a lot of ground to cover, and the world, as it continues to “flatten,” will not wait.