Academic journal article Childhood Education

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Lessons Learned from Early Reading First

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Lessons Learned from Early Reading First

Article excerpt

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Educators and researchers alike agree that, whether intended or not, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has served to narrow the goals in education for many contexts, content areas, and students in the United States (Teale, Paciga, & Hoffman, 2007). However, not every outcome of NCLB has been negative. One bright spot has been the attention given (backed with funding) to early childhood literacy instruction through Early Reading First (ERF). ERF provided historically unprecedented access to instructional resources for early childhood programs, and explicitly emphasized the importance of intentional language and literacy instruction in early childhood, a concept whose merits have been debated over the past few decades by early childhood advocates. In essence, ERF represented politicians' attempt to squelch the lament of many early childhood educators, administrators, and researchers that they are hopelessly under-resourced; the message was, "We took away the money problem, now show us what you can really do."

Although ERF was not funded for 2010 (and is not expected to reappear in its original form), the Obama administration has appropriated $250 million for an expanded (PreK-12) Striving Readers program (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, Division D; U.S. Department of Education, 2010), which will subsume many of the original goals of ERF. In light of this news, it seems an especially appropriate time to examine the successes and struggles of ERF in order to best inform our efforts in early childhood literacy instruction under the new funding initiative. Although I have firsthand experience with ERF while working on two different ERF projects for three years, my discussion here will focus on the program as a whole, rather than on my personal experience with individual projects. To do so, I will review and evaluate the goals of ERF, discuss the results of the program as measured by the National Evaluation, and finally consider how early childhood programs funded under the new Striving Readers initiative might better meet the needs of young children's language and literacy development.

Stated Purpose and Goals of ERF The stated purpose of ERF was to support "the development of early childhood centers of excellence that focus on all areas of development, especially on the early language, cognitive, and pre-reading skills that prepare children for continued school success and that serve primarily children from low-income families" (U.S. Department of Education, 2009b); this purpose is, unarguably, a worthy one. The more specific program goals are, for the most part, similarly commendable, as epitomized by the first goal:

To support local efforts to enhance the early language, literacy, and prereading development of preschool-age children, particularly those from low-income families, through strategies and professional development that are based on scientifically based reading research. (U.S. Department of Education, 2009b)

This goal attempts to address four much-needed areas of support in early childhood programs. First, it calls for an increase in intentional focus on early language and literacy development of preschool-age children. The literature documents a pervasive lack of research-based literacy instruction in early childhood education (Beck & McKeown, 2001; Dickinson, 2001; Hoffman, Roser, & Battle, 1993; Hsieh, Hemmeter, McCollum, & Ostrosky, 2009; Landry, Anthony, Swank & Monseque-Bailey, 2009; Neuman & Dwyer, 2009). My own observations in early childhood classrooms over the past several years (constituting over 100 observations in dozens of classrooms across the United States) corroborate these findings--for many children, preschool is simply not a place where language and literacy is intentionally developed through what we know to be effective instructional practices. Second, the goal explicitly focuses on serving low-income families, whose children tend to be most at risk for later academic failure (e. …

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