First Things First, Arizona’s statewide early childhood health and development board, recently released “Ready for School. Set for Life: Creating the Model Early Childhood System.” This document is the first of several materials that First Things First (FTF) will produce to help identify and define a connected system of early childhood development and health in Arizona. It is the result of the convening of the Arizona Early Childhood Taskforce in the spring and summer of 2010.
The taskforce, comprised of individuals from across Arizona representing many sectors, was charged with defining the ideal system of early care and education and forwarding recommended priority roles for FTF to the FTF State Board. While much of this document describes the role of FTF within the early childhood system, it will take all of us working together to accomplish the tasks that lie ahead.
The stakes are high. This year’s kindergarten class will be the first group of students to be mandatorily held back if they are not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Today, almost 38% of Arizona’s fourth graders are not reading at grade level. Research tells us that kids who start school behind, stay behind. If we are going to help Arizona’s students meet these higher expectations, they must enter kindergarten with the tools they need to be successful.
FTF continues to work with the early learning, health, K–12 and higher education communities to create alignment from the early years through post-secondary education. In the past year, those partnerships have resulted in targeted alignment of curriculum and assessment in high quality childcare and preschool programs to the Arizona Early Learning Standards for 3 – 5 year olds. Additionally, FTF will participate in the alignment of the Early Learning Standards with the new common core K–12 standards, and continue to work with the Arizona Department of Education to develop similar guidelines for infants and toddlers by Fall 2011 so that the education children receive from birth to 5 years old prepares them for success in school and beyond.
Arizona voters have dedicated significant tax dollars through FTF to ensure that young children arrive in kindergarten prepared for the rigor they will face. The voters understood that the experiences children have in the first five years of life — including their early education — lay the foundation upon which all their future learning is built. They have committed to the efficient and effective use of these public funds to help our state fulfill the voters’ commitment to our youngest kids. Identifying the priority roles for FTF described in this document is an important step in that journey.
In the coming months, they will build on this work by identifying statewide and local indicators to measure progress and hold both FTF and the broader early childhood system accountable for improved outcomes for kids. These indicators will be released in the fall of 2011.