Mass Gubernatorial Candidates address Early Childhood Education issues

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Last week eight of the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates took to the stage at UMass Boston to discuss important issues in early childhood education during the Early Education for All’s “Closing the Achievement and Opportunity Gap” Candidates Forum.

“60 percent of children have access to pre-kindergarten.” said Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, “That means 40 percent of children do not.” O’Leary continued with troubling facts surrounding education access in our state. There are currently 41,581 children on the wait list for early education in Massachusetts. 43 percent of third graders statewide don’t read at a proficient level, and in Holyoke that number is only 13 percent. Yet the tone of the event was hopeful and gave each candidate the opportunity to showcase their plans for the future of children’s learning.

Meet the candidates:

Joe Avellone – A Democratic candidate with a background in healthcare and business, Avellone stressed that education reform is one of his top priorities. He even published a detailed plan about closing the achievement gap last September. Avellone says that without closing that gap in public schools it leaves some children with no real chance. He calls Massachusetts a “knowledge economy,” with businesses and jobs that depend on making sure we stay elite in educational opportunities.

Favorite children’s book: “Horton Hears a Who!” by Dr. Seuss

Joe Avellone failed to cross the 15 percent threshold at this past weekend’s Massachusetts Democratic Convention and will not appear on the ballot.

Don Berwick – A Democratic candidate with a background in pediatric medicine, Berwick believes that having a support system in place to help fight poverty will greatly affect outcomes in education reform.

Favorite children’s book: “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown

Don Berwick received a 22.1 percent vote at this past weekend’s Massachusetts Democratic Convention, earning him a place on the ballot.

Martha Coakley – A Democratic candidate as well as the Massachusetts Attorney General, Coakley strongly believes in creating an equal opportunity for every child and ensuring education reform remains a top priority. She explained why education reform is important to our state, saying that “continuing to invest in all our kids is the key to our economic success in Massachusetts and the key to providing every child the opportunity to find whatever their dream is and be able to follow it.”

Favorite children’s book: “The Sneetches and Other Stories” by Dr. Seuss

Martha Coakley came in second place at this past weekend’s Massachusetts Democratic Convention with a 23.3 percent vote.

Evan Falchuk – An Independent candidate with a healthcare business background, Falchuk hopes to put a strategic plan in place to address the negative statistics in student achievement.

Favorite children’s book: “Strega Nona” by Tomie DePaola

Mark Fisher – A Republican candidate who experienced the negative effects of poor early childhood education firsthand, Fisher’s plan includes bringing jobs to Massachusetts and using revenue to aid education reform.

Favorite children’s book: “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown

Steve Grossman – A Democratic candidate and State Treasurer, Grossman aims to strongly address poverty, birth to age five level literacy and family support to help close the achievement gap.

Favorite children’s book: “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown

Steve Grossman won the Massachusetts Democratic Convention and the party’s official endorsement this past weekend when he received a 35.2 percent vote from convention delegates.

Juliette Kayyem – A Democratic candidate with experience at the state and federal levels of government, Kayyem believes that we need to use the research we already have and create a plan of action for education reform.

Favorite children’s book: “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein

Juliette Kayyem failed to cross the 15 percent threshold at this past weekend’s Massachusetts Democratic Convention and will not appear on the ballot.

Jeff McCormick – An Independent candidate, McCormick believes that education reform is a long term investment that is contingent upon creating jobs and improving our healthcare system.

Favorite children’s book: “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein

Note: Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker did not attend the forum.

Highlighted Issues:

The candidates were asked a series of questions culled by moderators from Early Education for All campaign. The audience also asked questions via tweets, emails, and by writing them in.

 

  • Universal access to high quality pre-kindergarten

Candidates were asked about their plans to expand access and ensure quality of pre-K programs. Avellone’s detailed plan includes targeting at risk schools, funding early education, lengthening and enriching the school day, and continuing to fund the education of teaching staff. Every candidate mentioned developing a strategic plan and making access to pre-K a top priority in education reform.

  • Early literacy

Candidates were asked what they will focus on to improve learning development in children from birth to age three. Fisher argued that we must “sell” the importance of early education to parents, and most of the candidates agreed that we must improve family support services. Coakley brought up the importance of access to safe and available daycare, and Grossman chimed in with reading to children regularly and the assistance of programs he’s worked with such as Reach out and Read. Avellone mentioned that we must focus on supporting immigrant families as well.

  • Salary for early childhood educators

Martha Coakley was asked what she plans to do about the issue of low salary for early childhood educators. She believes a livable wage should be at least $35,000 annually based on education levels, and teachers should receive added incentives such as providing tuition repayment relief and career pathways.

  • Summer Slide

Don Berwick was asked how he plans to prevent summer learning loss in early childhood education. He theorized that there is no real learning in the summer and we must think of family and social support, teamwork, and pooling our resources to combat the summer slide. Coakley agreed and brought up the idea of changing the structure of the school year, which is based on vacation planning and an outdated agricultural calendar instead of student success.

  • Healthcare

The candidates already established that healthcare policy supports education reform, and two candidates were asked questions relating to healthcare policy. Evan Falchuk was asked about how he plans to provide universal healthcare for educators, and the candidates debated on universal healthcare and affordable access. Joe Avellone was asked what strategies he has in mind for children with mental and behavioral conditions. All candidates agreed that access to healthcare is important for families to support students with learning issues, and Coakley said we need to remove the stigma of both mental and behavioral problems for early diagnosis and better treatment.

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