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Start With The Babies

Micah Ali

“It is so hard when students come to us already behind academically,” is a lament often heard from educators, even in preschool. The comment is warranted. Many children enter the public education system at kindergarten unprepared or with unidentified developmental delays—with the gap usually being the largest among black students.

Though the frustration educators feel when a child arrives at their classroom ‘behind’ academically is understandable, we in educational leadership share the blame. For the most part, we play no role in a child’s preparation and well-being before he or she enters a classroom for the first time. We all know the first three years of a child’s life are critically important and foundational to their success academically. However, we in the field of education tend to think that infants and toddlers don’t have anything to do with our daily work.

This is misguided, in fact, and should spur us to consider where we direct our attention to effect change in our schools. If a significant portion of a child’s brain development occurs within the first few years of life, should we care whether the children within this age group are stimulated, engaged, and thriving developmentally—and support efforts to assist children in healing from trauma?

I am positive that in the education sector, regardless of whom you ask, unequivocally the answer will be yes. The more difficult question is: What should education leaders do about it? The topic of the importance of early childhood has ebbed and flowed in the public arena for decades. It has emerged again, reinvigorated with philanthropic investment and with local, state, and national leaders placing a priority on young children.

There are efforts across the country to teach our leaders and place our youngest citizens up front in the hearts and minds of parents, policymakers, and equity initiatives. Through the American Association of School Administrators, The Early Learning Cohort was developed to help more educators strengthen their knowledge and leadership in the area of early childhood and understand early learner needs and how to be focused on a proactive early learning approach.

Home visitation for pregnant women and new moms is gaining traction in cities like Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and are demonstrating positive, kinder readiness outcomes. National initiatives are underway, receiving an infusion of dollars from the likes of the Pritzker Children’s Initiative and other philanthropic interests. Melissa Franklin, an early childhood champion and a Pritzker Fellow, is working with First 5 LA and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to lead efforts to reduce black infant mortality. These are but a few examples of work underway.

Urban education leaders should begin viewing such efforts not as ancillary to but rather as investments in their future students. Partnering with them, whether in building awareness or in building programs, has the potential to spark the very breakthrough we all have been striving to achieve.


Micah Ali (mali@compton.k12.ca.us) is a member of California’s Compton Unified School District and the 2018-19 chair of the CUBE steering committee.​

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