Dean Judy Nichols MitchellBy Judy Nichols Mitchell
Dean, WSU College of Education

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes educators from many academic disciplines to develop a child’s potential for success in life. That’s why, in addition to the College of Education’s own teacher preparation and research in early learning, our School & Community Collaboration Center is proud to take a facilitating and coordinating role in the Washington State University Early Learning Coalition.

The coalition is a network of faculty, staff and community partners whose teaching, research or service involves young children. Members include experts from the Department of Human Development, WSU Extension, the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, the WSU Foundation, the College of Education, community child care advocates and others (the roster is 70 names long and growing).

This WSU initiative coincides with intense statewide interest in learning opportunities for children from birth to age 8.

For seven years, the Foundation for Early Learning, started with a $10 million grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has invested nearly $7 million in programs and networks in Washington. The foundation is dedicated to advancing early learning through community collaboration, innovative grant making, resource sharing and technical assistance.

Two years ago, Gov. Christine Gregoire created the Washington Department of Early Learning, the first Cabinet-level agency of its kind in the nation. In doing so, she called early learning “the new frontier in education.” Also in 2006, public and private funding partners joined to create Thrive by Five Washington, an organization designed to serve as a catalyst for improvements to parenting education and support, child care, preschool, and other early learning environments throughout the state.

Within our college, early learning is a research area with tremendous potential for growth.  That is why we are so excited about a new fellowship funded by Marleen and Ken Alhadeff.  This $10,000 annual fellowship will support College of Education faculty research projects of two to three years duration that seek practical solutions to problems associated with early childhood education.     

Early learners have already benefited from the work of College of Education faculty members with overlapping specialties, such as Associate Professor SusanRae Banks-Joseph, an expert in Native American education; and Associate Professor Paulie Mills, whose research focuses on special education.   Both researchers have expertise in early learning, in addition to their primary areas of study.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has shown that, for every dollar society spends on a child from birth to age 5, it saves $17 later on. Money spent today means less spent in the future on social services and remedial education. However, according to a state report, fewer than half of Washington’s children begin kindergarten with the skills necessary to succeed in school, and just 25 percent of the lowest-income students are considered ready. Our commitment to early learning includes ensuring that future teachers can adapt their teaching styles to help all students succeed.

No one is a bigger supporter of early childhood education than WSU President Elson S. Floyd.  As he reminded a gathering of Early Learning Coalition members this fall, “the issues affecting the quality of a young child’s life are myriad and complex, and solutions are beyond the scope of any single institution, program or government agency.”

The Early Learning Coalition at WSU provides a great opportunity to coordinate faculty expertise and many other resources across departments and colleges of WSU to collaborate on issues related to early learning.  By working together, faculty in the College of Education, along with other members of the coalition, will help our children get off to a good start.