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K–12 school reform, which was incited by the stinging 1983 report “A Nation
at Risk” that addressed the state of public education. The report states: “If an
unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre
educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as
an act of war.” This report triggered a wellspring of efforts to reform public
schools, most of which resulted in few measurable returns on the billions of
dollars that were invested in them.
All of this is not to say that the federal government hasn’t supported
young children before. In fact, the first widespread program to promote early
childhood development was the Lanham Act of 1940, which created govern-
ment-sponsored child care so that women could enter the workforce during
World War II. After the war ended, so did the program.
Then in 1965, the Head Start Program, offering services to low-income
children, was launched under President Johnson. However, that program tar-
geted only one specific group of children.
In 1971, with huge numbers of women in the workforce, early childhood
educators were elated by the Comprehensive Child Development Bill, which
declared that child development programs should be available, as a matter of
right, to all children regardless of economic status or family background. How-
ever, although the Senate approved the bill, President Nixon vetoed the legisla-
tion in 1972.
The early childhood education community has had its brief flings with
reform, but now we have opportunities on a level never seen before. Our time
has come, and we must seize the opportunity.
Early childhood education is now receiving the broad support it deserves.
The current push can be a major step toward building a solid infrastructure that
ensures that all children are provided with the opportunities to learn and the
ability to grow and succeed in an ever-changing global society.
The Call for Leadership
This, then, is where you and I enter the picture. The context of the times is
calling for an investment in young children. But that investment in young chil-
dren will only pay off if we also invest in the training and development of early
childhood leadership. The broad societal demand for early childhood education
is propelling educators to become well-trained and highly effective leaders.
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