Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/1102earlyed02.html
Early childhood education should be priority, advocates agree
November 2, 2003
It's as if the planets have aligned.
After decades of special interest groups pushing their own plans for education
reform, groups as varied as their causes are agreeing that the No. 1 cause for
Arizona should be improving early childhood education.
Business leaders, educators, non-profit agency directors, even pediatricians are
working in an unprecedented way to focus attention on the education of the
state's youngest citizens. These unlikely partners are meeting in forums and
conferences across the Valley in an attempt to offer a united front.
Come January, the groups aim to pressure lawmakers for systematic reforms in
early education, ranging from the quality of child care centers to the education
of their teachers.
They believe that quality education for children from birth to age 6 is the
foundation of the Valley's future economic and social success.
Jim Zaharis, vice president of Greater Phoenix Leadership, said business leaders
see value in preparing their future workforce and community leaders, and that
has them talking about education, especially early education. When the
philanthropic, business and education leaders join forces, it "will be hard for
the politicians to ignore," he said.
Pediatrician Grace Caputo sees doctors as an untapped resource in early literacy
efforts. She hands out books to new parents when their babies reach 6 months
old. She continues to pass out the books until they are 6 years old. And she is
encouraging her colleagues to do the same.
"We have a unique opportunity to make an impact, to say that reading is
important," Caputo said at a recent citywide forum on early education.
For those who have placed high priority on early education for years, the new
attention is welcome. At Phoenix Day Child and Family Learning Center in south
Phoenix, 83 percent of the children are from low-income families.
"We can't do it without support and funding," said Yvette Katsenes, executive
director of Phoenix Day, which is accredited by the National Association for the
Education of Young Children, meaning it offers high-quality care.
Early education is no longer just the issue of "bleeding-heart liberals," said
Bob Donofrio, Murphy Elementary District superintendent.
"It's about economics," he said at a recent education forum.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, who recently spent two days in North Carolina reviewing
that state's early-education programs, is expected to announce her plans for
Arizona's early-education future in January, in her State of the State address.
There is nearly a sense of giddiness among those who have been preaching the
benefits of early education for the past 20 years. Carol Peck, a former school
superintendent, said the fact that a Democratic governor, Republican school
superintendent, business leaders and education foundations all agree that
early-childhood education is the No. 1 priority is a rare moment in state
history. It's time to pounce.
Peck, president and CEO of the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona, has for
years believed in the long-term benefits of educating children before they get
Across the country, the push for more money to fund early education has picked
up validity as doctors and scientists have published reports on brain research
that says children are not born with a pre-existing brain capacity. From birth
to age 5, they are developing social, emotional and cognitive abilities that
influence the rest of their lives.
Arizona State University's Jill Stamm said that six years ago, when ASU founded
the New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development, no one was talking
about brain development. Few even knew how a child's brain developed. Now, brain
development is all the talk in non-profit circles, teacher workshops and
How brain research translates into education policy will be pushed by the
Arizona School Readiness Board, which reports to Napolitano.
The board has been charged with mapping efforts of city and state agencies,
non-profit groups and education foundations to come up with a statewide plan.
Longtime early-education advocate Irene Jacobs is heading the board. She
promises the group will find a way to ensure there is no duplication of
services, that child care centers will offer affordable, high-quality care and
that it will look into incentives to centers and teachers for raising their