3 Questions with Sharon Lynn Kagan | Teachers College Columbia University

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3 Questions with Sharon Lynn Kagan

Sharon Lynn Kagan is the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy and Co-Director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College, Columbia University. Recognized internationally for her work related to the care and education of young children and their families, Kagan has helped define school readiness, the early childhood system, dimensions of collaboration, and leadership in early care and education.

Kagan is a frequent consultant to the White House, Congress, the National Governors' Association, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, and numerous states, foundations, corporations, and professional associations. She has worked around the globe with UNICEF to establish early learning standards in more than 40 developing countries. Read more...

How would an increased investment in the early childhood education and care system impact the U.S. education system, and what is the role of TC's National Center for Children & Families in building such a system?

Decades of research have shown that high-quality early childhood education is one of the best investments a nation can make in its young people. The key words here are "high-quality" -- which means paying attention to physical, social and emotional well-being; to how kids approach learning, language and literacy, and cognitive knowledge and processes; to having great learning environments and, most of all, to having great teachers. Making a significant new investment in an early childhood system will ensure that we meet these criteria -- particularly when it comes to having an excellent teaching force. 

The role of NCCF has been to conduct the research and formulate the policy recommendations that make the case for why enacting these measures is important, and that demonstrate the ultimate impact they can have.

You have traveled around the world, helping other countries develop standards and programs in early childhood education.  How have those experiences influenced your teaching at TC?

I have learned two critically important lessons from my work abroad. First is that in working with in other countries, it is absolutely imperative to understand the diverse values that are present in the cultures, and to  build an early childhood system that reflects those values.  Particularly as a representative of the world's most powerful country, you cannot go in with a mission of imposing your own ideas and values. The other lesson is about the importance of building a fully integrated system that incorporates good standards, assessments, accountability and teacher preparation; that is aligned with K-12 education; that keep families and the public well-informed; and that is well funded at all levels. If you take away any one of these elements, you diminish the power of the whole. Building such a system is not only challenging in other countries, but in the United States, because we are so decentralized and politically fragmented.

Why do you feel it's important for members of the TC community to support the TC Fund?

The beauty of the TC Fund is that it can be used wherever there is greatest need. Often that means providing additional support to students, or enabling an important program to reach more people, or ensuring that we have the resources and facilities necessary to teach at the level that our students deserve. Even a small contribution can help make a very big difference.

Published Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013


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