Although we’re back to attending in-person events with our Early Learning Nation Studio, we’ll continue to recap top virtual conversations, town halls, webinars and virtual events from the Early Learning field. Stay tuned for more Top Takeaways, and visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development research, business, politics and more.
The new Stanford Center on Early Childhood (an initiative of the Stanford Accelerator for Learning) held a launch event November 3. Members of its interdisciplinary leadership council spoke, as did Linda Darling-Hammond—emeritus professor at Stanford, founding president of the Learning Policy Institute and president of the California State Board of Education. The event also featured local schools with Stanford connections, including the Primary School and Synapse School.
Here are our Top Takeaways:
1. “The new normal is instability and uncertainty,” observed center director Philip Fisher, PhD. The RAPID survey, which he initiated in April 2020, informs his read on the present moment. Countering these inescapable factors, Fisher championed place-based solutions such as Too Small to Fail’s partnership with the LaundryCares Foundation to turn laundromats into early literacy oases.
The Einhorn Collaborative’s Ira Hillman emphasized mutual and reciprocal ways of “seeing problems as something we solve together.” (Read more.)
And, Kitty Lopez, executive director of First Five, San Mateo County, endorsed the Help Me Grow model for screening for special needs and developmental delays.
2. “It should not require luck for a low-income kid to have a shot,” said emcee Eric Abrams, chief inclusion officer of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. And yet longstanding inequities continue to fester.
To cite just one example, highlighted by Natalie Renew, MPA, executive director of Home Grown: While home-based providers serve the most diverse families and proved themselves to be creative, capable and entrepreneurial through the pandemic, this type of care remains marginalized. Academic research into quality usually focuses on center-based care, leaving home-based providers out of the conversation. Furthermore, the RAPID survey says a third of home-based providers regularly go hungry.
Robin Hood’s Kelvin Chan, PhD, MTS, MPH, reinforced Renew’s point by noting that in New York City, early learning centers are disproportionately found in the wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods while home-based care predominates in the poorest, Blackest parts of the city.
3. “Practice makes permanent, unless there’s a rich amount of feedback,” said Dan Schwartz, PhD, quoting a kindergarten teacher he knows. Schwartz, dean of the Graduate School of Education, cited Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s concept of a “purposeful university,” explaining that the center aims to convene practitioners as well as professors. Fisher picked up on this theme when he said evidence should be a tool for learning how to educate better rather than “proof” of educational theory.
“Science isn’t something we do in a laboratory,” said Bruce McCandliss, PhD, of Stanford Graduate School of Education. “We need a new way of doing science through community building with institutions, teachers, parents and schools.”
4. Look beyond early learning settings, argued Stephanie Curenton, PhD, director of the Center on the Ecology of Early Development at Boston University. Racism and classism, she said, permeate the housing, air quality and violence that surround children, and we need to address them if we are to have any hope of improving education.
This point was underscored by Lea Austin, PhD, executive director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California at Berkeley. Austin drew attention to the historical context provided by Echoes—Marcy Whitebook’s project probing the origins of inequities that persist into the 21st century—and explained how this background underscores the urgency of antiracist policies and practices.
In her remarks, Darling-Hammond also endorsed recognizing “the broader context of children’s lives,” calling for multicultural education alongside “basic civil and human rights” as well as “racially and economically integrated systems.”
5. “Leaders are critical, but institutions build power,” declared Miriam Calderón, MSW, Chief Policy Officer, ZERO TO THREE. Calderón urged attendees not to lose sight of who is holding the power when decisions are made about policy and funding.
“There is expertise in communities,” Fisher said during his remarks, encouraging participants to partner with the “team builders, toolmakers and wayfinders” in their midst.
“Transformation has to be co-created and co-led with families,” said Ryan Padrez, MD, of Stanford’s School of Medicine. “The families least well served are the ones we have the most to learn from.”
“We want scale, but it has to start at the community level,” said Tumaini Coker, MD, MBA, of Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington medical school. She focused on well-child visits in her remarks. “How do we use that precious 15 minutes?” she asked. Integrating community health workers into those encounters should be standard practice, she said, especially with Medicaid families.
6. “It is no longer possible to follow the paths of previous generations,” Joan Lombardi, PhD, quoted Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life (1989) to make the point that we can learn from the past but must embrace the present “age of possibilities.” In this spirit, she cited the seminal 2000 study Neurons to Neighborhoods, saying that health care, education and family services all contribute to a child’s well-being and argued that the silos between these types of work need to be broken down.
Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford, discussed integrating pediatrics into the early childhood system. “Transdisciplinary work,” she acknowledged, is difficult, but “that’s where the spark of innovation comes from.”
Nat Kendall-Taylor, PhD, CEO of FrameWorks Institute, gave an overview of the Culture Change Project, which parallels the RAPID survey, monitoring “the foundational mindsets that shape Americans’ thinking about our society.” In particular, he identified a rise in demand for responsive government and a desire for greater unity, stipulating, “That means different things to different people.” He called upon the center to go beyond designing new interventions and to take part in “influencing the culture.”
Fisher captured this sentiment when he declared, “Ideas are what we need to scale.”
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.