By MAREN WRIGHT
WASHINGTON (March 31, 2009) - Maryland is a model of integrating early child learning programs and traditional schooling, Maryland State Board of Education member Karabelle Pizzigati told a national education conference on Tuesday.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation hosted the gathering to promote successful birth-to-third-grade learning models. The foundation is concerned that achievement depends not only on what happens in school, but on what happens long before a child gets there.
Maryland has been at the forefront of integrating the pre- and post- kindergarten environments, Pizzigati said. In 2005, the General Assembly voted to unify the state's early-care programs under the Maryland State Department of Education.
The 2005 legislation centralized policy making, she said. It was supported by a wide range of children's advocates, including Head Start, the state education department, child care providers and the Maryland Business Roundtable.
That cooperative approach has Maryland kindergarten students showing positive progress. A recent Maryland report found that 74 percent of children in the state were fully prepared for kindergarten, up 24 percent from 2001.
"It provided the policies that allow us to ensure continuity and to provide for connectedness between education settings."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told conference attendees that the road to college begins at birth.
"Ensuring continuity between early learning programs and early elementary school is critical," Duncan said.
Maryland's education governance structure is an advantage, Pizzigati said, especially as funds from the stimulus bill are allocated to both education and early-childhood programs.
"Because of the integrated system, we've had the opportunity to consider that through the whole lens of the system," said Pizzigati, indicating the state board has already had conversations about stimulus allocations.
But implementing programs still requires ground-level action in schools and homes. Advocates were encouraged to engage parents and coordinate efforts.
Sterling Speirn, president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said that enhancing student achievement isn't just a cognitive issue, but also a health issue, a food issue and a community issue.
"We know what needs to be done," Speirn said, "and we know how to do it."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.