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U.S. Secretaries: Early Child Success Takes Teamwork

December 9, 2009 - Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged the historical disconnect between their departments during the Dec. 8 national summit convened by the School of Nursing & Health Studies, the U.S. Department of Education and zero to Three. But they agreed that a shared vision serves as the best way to promote early success for schoolchildren.

“This is an economic imperative and a moral imperative. When we fail to educate, we perpetuate poverty, [and] we perpetuate social failure,” Duncan said.

Poor early childhood programs create a “catch-up game” from which most children never break free, Duncan explained.

“We have to level the playing field … It’s not just about access, but about quality,” he added. “If it’s glorified babysitting, we’re not changing lives.”

Sebelius called for actions to back up speeches about boosting school readiness programs and other child development initiatives.

“Clearly, as a country, we still fail to act on those words or to put resources behind them,” Sebelius said. “Too frequently the words and the budgets don’t connect in any way, shape or form.”

The secretaries honored a woman who has dedicated her career to backing up words with actions. Barbara Bowman, chief officer of Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Early Childhood Education, received a special award for her early education advocacy and work to promote higher education among those who care for young children.

Sharon Ramey, co-director of the Center for Health and Education, said the value of the summit involved having leaders from higher education, community-based programs, school districts and scientists gather together to outline early childhood education improvements and what needs to be further pursued.

“Our hope for this summit is that participants will be able to reach a consensus about the information we can act on,” said Ramey, who leads the center with husband Craig Ramey. “We hope to have follow-up activities to help states, local school districts and community programs have access to that knowledge so we can put it into action.”

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