I'm often asked what one education reform I think would make the biggest impact on American students' achievement. I don't like this question. The real answer–vastly decrease poverty–isn't going to happen anytime soon, and given the options on the table, I'm optimistic about a wide array of school reforms.
That said, if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to choose just one education priority, I'd probably focus on the months and years from a baby's birth to age 5. Only about half of American children in this age group are enrolled in any organized educational activity, yet we know early vocabularly-building and social-emotional learning are among the biggest factors that contribute to lifelong success, both within and outside of school. I go over all the research in this article, and discuss it further in this episode of WNYC's Brian Lehrer show (segment begins at minute 25).
So it's been intersting to see, over the last several weeks, how the Romney campaign has zeroed in on Head Start as a supposedly prime example of wasteful federal spending, even as, in last night's debate, the candidate vowed to help the very same "women in poverty" who rely on the program for childcare and early education.
Romney's statements last night in favor of two-parent households (a good thing, I agree!) and against single motherhood (supposedly a major cause of gun violence?) are all part and parcel of his ongoing rhetoric about the private family being a sufficient substitute for all the many public programs a Romney administration would be likely to devolve to the states, from Medicaid to food stamps to Head Start. And devolving to the states would mean, in many cases, major budget cuts and decreases in services.