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Webinar Series – What Every Policy Maker Should Know About Early Childhood Education: Steven Barnett on San Francisco’s Path Less Travelled

San Francisco is on the precipice of some very exciting advancements in early childhood. Prop C, and the initiatives that preceded it indicated a huge public investment in early childhood. This Webinar series, What Every Policy Maker Should Know About Early Childhood Education explores Early Childhood Education research and case studies as shifts come to San Francisco early education funding.

Webinar 1: Dr. Steven Barnett on San Francisco’s Path Less Traveled | Webinar 2: Dr. Yoonjeon Kim and Dr. Caitlin McLean on Building a Highly Qualified, Well-Compensated Early Educator Workforce | Webinar 3: Dr. Cynthia Osborne on the Prennatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap


Webinar 1: Steven Barnett on San Francisco’s Path Less Travelled 

Watch: What Every Policy Maker Should Know About Early Childhood Education – Steven Barnett on San Francisco’s Path Less Travelled

Download: Webinar Slide Presentation

As the first featured speaker of the series, Steven Barnett wastes no time getting started. He is a Board of Governors Professor and Senior Codirector of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NEER) at Rutgers University. His research includes studies of the economics of early care and education, the long-term effects of preschool programs on children’s learning and development, the distribution of educational opportunities, and lots more. 

“Most of the inequality that we worry about at the end of high school is there before children ever walk through the kindergarten door.” This is at the core of the paradox of early childhood policy. Barnett’s research suggests that we need to get comfortable working at the local level when it comes to programs, evaluations, and individual children. Strong systems start with community buy-in, strong guidance, and strong political will. “I think you have that here in San Francisco, so that is a start,” Barnett remarks. 


New Jersey is a key case of an early education system that has scaled well. Much like San Francisco, the childcare landscape can be characterized by its diversity in operating systems. Yet, New Jersey does not see quality differentials between for-profit and nonprofit, private or public schools. The quality of the education is the same, and that is because the program, qualifications, and supports are all the same. By supporting providers in their pursuit of high standards, providers feel reassured and encouraged, parents feel confident in their child’s care, and children learn.

When Barnett distills what we need to know, he starts by saying that every child can benefit from this financial investment. Some children benefit more than others, for example, bilingual children, low-income children, and non-neurotypical children all stand to benefit the most. But the rising tide lifts all boats. Barnett is passionate about the exponential growth potential of investing in ECE early. “Focus on what matters most: deep learning.” To Barnett, this includes reading and mathematics, but also social and emotional lessons that stay with children from the earliest ages. The bar is set highest for the earliest learners. 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Steven Barnett knowingly quotes Robert Frost to emphasize our opportunity here. Frontloading investment in education to the first three years is certainly the road less traveled, but in study after study, it has reliably made all the difference.

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