"If you take all the vast human potential and the vast inequities endemic to the K-12 education system and magnify them, you have the stuff of the early childhood education beat,” journalist Sarah Carr recently wrote in The Hechinger Report’s
Early Learning newsletter
Sarah was reflecting on her time reporting on early childhood education (ECE) topics, but these words rang especially true for our work in the US at Imaginable Futures.
We know that 90% of the brain develops before the age of 5, setting the foundation of a person’s life – particularly their relationships to others and to learning – before they even reach formal schooling. As a country that historically—and still—sees early childhood development and caregiving as a private family matter, US public investment in the early years is shamefully miniscule. Compared with other OECD countries, the US spends 28 times less on our youngest learners, with children of color and those with lower income backgrounds getting an even smaller slice.
In this vast space between inequity and human potential, there are solutions – ones that are equitable, reflect the communities they serve, and can be sustained over the long term. But too few of us have access to the information that we need to advance a better way forward on ECE. We believe more early childhood education journalism could help fill these information gaps, but just 1% of education journalists focus specifically on the early years.
Despite the high stakes of early childhood, drastically shrinking budgets have forced media outlets to make tough choices about where to focus their coverage, particularly at the local level. With significant public investment in K-12 and the regional economic significance of postsecondary education, it’s unfortunate that early education coverage gets deprioritized. Outlets can also raise additional revenue from advertising products, services, or job listings marketed to K-12 teachers and administrators or postsecondary institutions, but this revenue stream in the early childhood market is small-to-nonexistent.
In this way, the lack of resources and attention for early education journalism mirrors the experience of the early education system as a whole. Covering learning and education in the early years simply doesn’t make economic sense – and we all get shortchanged as a result.
That’s where philanthropic investments can play a meaningful role in closing the ECE coverage gap, which can help advance efforts to transform the early childhood education system. Over the last three years, Imaginable Futures has steadily increased its investment in education journalism, including investments in the early childhood coverage of The Hechinger Report and EdSurge.
In this way, the lack of resources and attention for early education journalism mirrors the experience of the early education system as a whole.
Investments in early childhood journalism don’t just benefit reporters; most importantly, a well-resourced early childhood beat provides communities of parents, providers, and children with information that is relevant to their lives so that they can advocate for solutions that meet their needs.
The good news is that there are signs of change. In addition to dedicated coverage from EdSurge and The Hechinger Report, The Los Angeles Times garnered a lot of attention in 2022 for being among the few print dailies to invest in early childhood coverage, while local outlets like MPR, Chalkbeat Colorado, and EdNC are bringing this coverage closer to home. One of the earliest early childhood education beat reporters, Deepa Fernandez now co-hosts nationally syndicated radio program Here & Now, where in-depth stories on early childhood are broadcast on NPR stations across the country.
Covering the vast expanse between the human potential and the inequitable reality of early childhood education requires much more investment, particularly from philanthropic organizations. What we gain in return – well-informed, engaged communities that feel confident in advocating for the solutions that serve their youngest learners – more than pays off for generations to come.
We believe more early childhood education journalism could help fill these information gaps, but just 1% of education journalists focus specifically on the early years.