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Early learning leader for US Department of Education to speak in KC

Photo of Dr. Libby Doggett Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education
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Dr. Libby Doggett’s understanding of the importance of early childhood education began while volunteering in a Head Start classroom as an undergraduate at the University of Texas.

As the U.S. Department of Education’s lead person on early learning, Doggett spends a lot of her time working to help business and policy leaders at every level understand how investing in the education of children from birth until they enter kindergarten can really impact communities.

Doggett will deliver the keynote address at a community conversation hosted by Mayor Sly James on improving early learning outcomes and expanding the Family Conservancy’s ‘Talk, Read, Play’ initiative August 25, 2014 at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center.

Kansas City, Missouri, is one of 14 cities selected by the U.S. Department of Education and the National League of Cities to host community conversations on improving education.

Before her trip to Kansas City next week, Doggett shared insights on how cities can and are working to improve learning outcomes for their youngest citizens.

What role can cities play when it comes to improving early childhood education?

Our contention is that everybody’s got to do more. The cities have got to do more, the states have got to do more and certainly the federal government has got to do more. Fortunately, cities have realized that they have a big stake in this. That children and families live in their cities, and if cities want to be successful, they want those kids to stay in cities when they grow up, have some great skills and help the (city’s) economic development. They are beginning to realize that the best place to start in terms of ensuring that they have the best workforce is starting during those early learning years.

What strengths does Kansas City have when it comes to improving early childhood education?

Well the mayor has had his Turn the Page initiative, which I am excited about because third grade is a critical time …. The kids, at that point, have to use reading to learn. They’re no longer really just learning to read, to crack the code and to read more and faster and better, but to really use that reading to comprehend content …. I think what’s most important is that you have a mayor who really understands that education is the best way to improve your workforce.

What challenges do you see working with cities as they try to improve access to quality early learning services?

Cities are not typically considered funders or responsible for education …. Though there are more and more schools that are being taken over by cities, or the city and the school are working together more collaboratively realizing that everybody has a lot to gain when schools improve. But jurisdiction is obviously a problem. I think the other is that there’s limited funding…. Particularly in Missouri … you’ll see that Missouri is in the lower quarter of states (in terms of) supporting preschool, which is a major piece of the early childhood agenda. Many states have gone really far forward in the last couple of years in terms of funding preschool. Missouri has not, so that limits what a mayor can do.

What are other cities and states doing to improve access to early childhood?

It is all about leadership. There were leaders in Oklahoma, who realized a long time ago that preschool was a great investment, so Oklahoma is one of the leading states. They fund their preschool programs through the school funding formula so that it is open to every child. It’s not just focused on those most at risk, but they realized that every child can benefit from that, so it’s just part of the regular school system.

What are some of the main obstacles for the Department of Education when it comes to improving early learning?

Early childhood is complex. It’s not just preschool, it’s not just Head Start, it’s not just child because you need to start at birth, which is what the mayor has realized. And you need to provide families — where children spend most of their time — with more support so that children are learning as much as possible from home and that the families are accessing the good services out there … How do you coordinate a system of services from birth to kindergarten entry across multiple agencies? … it’s not easy.

Major Funding for Education coverage on KCPT provided by Jo Anna Dale and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

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