• by Rosana G. Rodriguez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2013 •

RosanaPresident Obama has issued a bold challenge: to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education from the day they are born to the day they begin a career. The future demands that we work collaboratively across sectors to strengthen our educational system. This means providing excellent early childhood education as a strong foundation for learning, healthy development and longer term school success.

Research has shown that a child’s learning begins at birth with parents as a child’s first teachers, who nurture, challenge, engage and provide high-quality relationships and environments. It is widely understood that children who have access to excellent early education from birth are more likely to improve their healthy development and school readiness, resulting in improved academic achievement, graduation and college readiness, and ultimately, in improved earning power and greater international competitiveness for our nation. For these reasons, commitment to high-quality learning has enormous payoffs, returning as high as 15 percent to 17 percent on the investment each year.

IDRA has a long-term commitment to quality early education. From our initial Amanecer curriculum, to our Reading Early for Academic Development (READ) project (funded by the U.S. Department of Education) and up to the current Semillitas ~ Seedlings for Learning initiative, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, IDRA has provided research-based professional development, supported parent collaboration, and created excellent materials for English learners. In early childhood environments of quality, loving adults provide a stimulating environment where parents, teachers and adults read, talk and use rich vocabulary that enhances language and cognitive development with linguistically and culturally appropriate materials.

Unfortunately, many disadvantaged children still lack access to such high-quality programs and support. As a nation, we have yet to achieve equity, access and excellence in early childhood education. We still need to implement rigorous and comprehensive reforms along the continuum of education, including the following:

  • Alignment and standards for early learning and development programs;
  • Improved training and professional development for teachers of early childhood education;
  • Scale-up of evidence-based best practices;
  • Use of culturally and linguistically appropriate educational resources for early childhood;
  • Greater voice and decision-making for parents;
  • Strategies for engaging parents in learning through improved home-school partnerships; and
  • Utility-based and robust evaluation systems that not only yield data, but also promote and share effective practices and programs.

Texas State University recently hosted the Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Symposium on Early Childhood Education that brought together practitioner and policy experts in a forum with relevant stakeholders, including parents, educators, researchers and community members to identify and address the issues, progress and challenges facing our nation’s youngest learners. IDRA was honored to collaborate as moderator for the stellar panelists in this event who issued a call for local communities to make their voices heard as proponents of early childhood excellence, access and equity in education.

Among the questions discussed were indicators from IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010): teaching quality; curriculum quality and access; parent involvement and community engagement; and student engagement through meaningful childhood experiences. The panelists who addressed policy issues were: Ms. Charlotte Brantley, Clayton Early Learning; Dr. Libby Doggett, Pew Center on the States; and Mr. Cleo Rodriguez, National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association. The panelists who discussed diverse needs of communities that Head Start serves from a practitioner perspective were: Dr. Daniel King, superintendent, Pharr-San Juan Alamo ISD; Ms. Suad Hooper, Community Action Inc. of Central Texas; Ms. Audrey Abed, Child Inc.; and Ms. Carol Armga, former Director of Head Start and Faculty at Texas State University. The panels reiterated the importance of hearing from diverse community voices in support of quality programs, the ongoing need for data to influence policy and practice, and the importance of exercising strong and committed leadership at all levels.

The current administration is on track in supporting implementation of new Head Start regulations that require, for the first time, that low performing programs compete for funding to ensure that children and families are served by the most capable providers. Head Start is to be recognized for reinforcing family engagement frameworks that involve parents in the learning of their children. Higher quality preschool programs will certainly result in better social-emotional and cognitive outcomes for children. As we plan together for strengthening early childhood education for the future, President Obama’s Special Assistant for Education at the White House, Mr. Roberto J. Rodríguez, in his remarks to the NAEYC Public Policy Forum (2012) has reiterated the importance of continuing to focus on comprehensive standards and high quality programs and services for children.

There is great urgency to respond to President Obama’s call to expand access to high quality early education for America’s children and better prepare them for future success in school and in life. Our nation and future are at stake in this journey. An example of growing momentum to support this critical investment in our collective future is San Antonio’s recent approval of “Pre-K 4 SA” initiative, led by Mayor Julian Castro, that promises to serve 22,400 children who would not otherwise attend a high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten program.

Precisely because our children are our most valuable form of human capital, early childhood education is one of the wisest investments we can make for a better future. Attention to access, equity and excellence in early childhood education reflects adherence to and investment in civil rights for all children. If we are to succeed in the future as we work together to make broad improvements to our educational system, we must consider deeper and more comprehensive approaches that focus on quality and outcomes, beginning with learning in the earliest years and reaching across the entire pre-K higher education continuum.

Now is the time for us to seriously consider making equal educational opportunity for all a civil right. President Obama at the National Action Network gala in April 2011 reiterated its importance: “The best possible education is the single most important factor in determining whether (our children) succeed. But it’s also what will determine whether we succeed. It’s the key to opportunity. It is the civil rights issue of our time.”

For more information on IDRA’s Semillitas de aprendizaje bilingual supplemental curriculum visit IDRA website.

Documentary video (10:36 min) made by Emmy-award winning documentarian, Robert Currie, that presents a historical perspective of Head Start and Lady Bird Johnson’s involvement in both Head Start and the war on poverty. IDRA’s President, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, is one of those interviewed in the video.

Semillitas de aprendizaje ~ Bilingual Supplemental Early Childhood Curriculum
Semillitas de aprendizaje is a bilingual (Spanish/English) supplemental early childhood curriculum by IDRA that is based on the art of storytelling. Its culturally-relevant stories are for children to listen, view and then read along. Children eventually begin to repeat the stories and learn the art of creating their own stories as well as recite poetry. See flier about the materials or the website.

Sample Semillitas de aprendizaje™ story flipbook


Jennings, J. Reflections on a Half-Century of School Reform: Why Have We Fallen Short and Where Do We Go From Here? (Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy, 2012)

Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman. Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Rodríguez, R.J. Remarks to the National Association for the Education of Young Children Public Policy Forum, unpublished (February 28, 2012).

White House. Remarks by the President at the National Action Network Annual Gala (Washington, D.C.: White House, April 06, 2011).

Rosana Rodriguez, Ph.D., is the IDRA director of development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]