Everybody has them, but (it’s just a theory) women of a certain age may have them more than men do—those moments in life when you stop and ask yourself: “How did I get here?”
Margaret Blood, who is now 46, had such a moment several years ago, the afternoon she met with Chad Gifford, then president of Bank of Boston. Blood, a former community organizer in Roxbury and a co-founder of the Massachusetts Legislative Children’s Caucus, was calling on Gifford to talk about a new campaign to promote early childhood education in Massachusetts. She was a little nervous, and awed by the surroundings. But then she ran into a familiar face.
children she’s working for.
“I went to use the ladies’ room, and the woman who was cleaning was Adela Colon, one of my mothers from Mission Hill,” where Blood once served as a community organizer and now volunteers at the Maurice J. Tobin Elementary School. She laughs and shakes her head. “I thought, this is my life, that’s what it takes. You need integration, I think.”
Connecting: vertically, horizontally, every which way, comes naturally to Blood. One day she’s sitting in the Rowe’s Wharf high-rise office she finagled at a reduced rent from the law firm of Goulston & Storrs for her advocacy group Strategies for Children; the next she’s reading to kindergarteners in an inner-city classroom.
That skill paid off last year. As head of the four-year-old Strategies for Children, she spearheaded the organization’s trademark Early Education for All campaign, which was responsible for the 2004 law establishing a new state Department of Early Education and Care, which will be up and running by July 1 of this year, and for extracting a commitment—in spirit, if not yet in funds—to voluntary universal preschool for the state’s 240,000 kids between the ages of 3 and 5. That could entail an increase in spending of up to $1 billion dollars over the next 10 years, and $1 billion per fiscal year (including federal funds) after that.
It was a goal many saw as unachievable back when it was launched in 2000. “I was lecturing a little while back at a class at Harvard and I ran into a faculty member, a child development person, who said, ‘You know, when I first met you I thought you were nuts,’” she says. “I’ve since found out that other people didn’t think we’d succeed.”
They know better now. Blood and her staff approached their campaign as though they were working for a candidate, only this candidate was an idea. They married grass-roots organizing techniques to old-fashioned high-end networking. In so doing, they rounded up some ornery constituencies with often-conflicting agendas—legislators and human service providers, teachers’ unions and the business community, and the universe of public, private, and nonprofit child care providers—
to develop and support universal preschool education.
“I have to give Margaret a tip of the hat big-time, because she really drew everyone together,” says Alan Macdonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. He credits Blood with supplying the research that convinced the business community to get behind early childhood education as a priority for the state.
“We hadn’t made it as big a priority as K through 12, because you can only do so much. But she identified those who shared that interest in preschool and brought us together,” he says. “That strengthened the message and gave us the avenue to express ourselves, and to help us build the rationale for our support.”
Former House Speaker Tom Finneran, who pushed the idea in his last year in office, calls former Boston University president John Silber the “most valuable player” for first talking up early childhood education in his unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1990. Others point to the late Jack Rennie, founder of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and the driving force behind the Education Reform Act of 1993, for stressing early childhood education once ed reform had been passed. But it was Blood who lined up the business community, a move that proved crucial in building legislative support.
None of this was obvious when Blood first discussed the legislation with Finneran in early 2000. Finneran says he was intrigued but knew it would be a hard sell, given the expense and the state’s other expensive obligations under education reform.
“I told her it would be a be a good test for both of us. But I had a sense that if anyone could do it, it would be Margaret Blood,” says Finneran, who is now president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. “She’s very well focused, well organized, and she understands both policy and politics. She showed that when you can assemble people and a cause into a mission, it creates its own momentum and its own sense of inevitability.”
That sense of inevitability is still what early childhood education has going for it, as lawmakers contemplate the task of making good on a commitment that, up to now, has only required reorganization of the state bureaucracy. As they do, they will have to consider that, as popular as preschool education is, not everyone thinks it’s something the state should pay for, especially not for every child. No one disputes that early childhood education is a good idea, but some say it’s one that has to be weighed against—and put in competition for funding with—other efforts in education.
For instance, in a 2003 interview with the Framingham Tab, Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, acknowledged the importance of public funding of preschool for disadvantaged kids but called universal care “an indulgence and convenience for parents.”
“Why should the rest of us subsidize this?” she asked.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
“The number one thing is, powerless children need powerful friends,” Blood is fond of saying, quoting former House Speaker Charlie Flaherty. The kids have plenty of powerful friends these days, not only Finneran but also current House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini. Then there are Paul O’Brien, former chairman of New England Telephone; Mara Aspinall, president of Genzyme Genetics, who co-chaired the Early Education for All campaign; and the leaders of every major business group in the state. And don’t forget the editorial writers at The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and other papers around the state, who weigh in regularly in support of the movement. Everyone, it seems, is a friend of the kids. And of Margaret.
For Blood, the state’s ambitious foray into preschool education is the capstone of a career that has included stints at the State House (where, with her boss, then-state Rep. Kevin Fitzgerald, she helped found the Massachusetts Legislative Children’s Caucus) and with the United Way’s Success by Six program in the mid-1990s. Her campaign strategies drew on skills she picked up at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, from which she graduated in 1987. But Blood’s most potent weapon is her belief that she’s doing the right thing.
“If you look at the research and the literature [on correcting educational disadvantage], it just naturally takes you down to younger children,” she says. “It’s so clear that all these things we worry about trying to fix later could have a much bigger impact if we did it earlier in life.”
Still, there was nothing natural about securing a potential $1 billion IOU from a state government that was still emerging from a fiscal crisis. Universal preschool legislation seemed to have arrived out of nowhere when it took Beacon Hill by storm last year. Actually, Blood began laying the groundwork in 1998, when Greg Jobin-Leeds, then president of the Caroline and Sigmund Schott Foundation in Cambridge, approached her about looking into the issue for a possible advocacy campaign.
In the beginning, her work was all listening: to voters, business leaders, clients and providers of child care, anyone in the state who had something to say. Over the next 18 months, Blood commissioned two statewide polls and interviewed the state’s top opinion leaders on the subject. In late 2000, Blood and her group’s research and policy director, Amy Kershaw, organized 32 regional forums. They listened to complaints, issues, and ideas in venues ranging from the Auburn Police Station to the Peking Palace restaurant in Fairhaven. The following year, Blood created the umbrella group Strategies for Children to oversee the campaign.
Mary Ann Anthony, director of the child care division of Catholic Charities, says providers were skeptical when Blood first came on the scene: “They thought she had the legislation all written up in her back pocket,” Anthony says. “But she would come in and listen to what their concerns are. The next meeting, she’d come back with something [addressing the concerns and incorporating the suggestions] as if [they] had been her idea from the beginning.”
Then came the politicking. In February 2002, Blood and her allies kicked off the state’s election season by visiting 66 local party caucuses to get candidates to sign on. They set up shop at both the Republican and Democratic state conventions. Through the fall of 2002, the draft legislation was circulated, and on December 4, the bill was filed at the State House, sponsored by Rep. Peter Larkin, then House chairman of the education committee, and Sen. Fred Berry, now the Senate Majority Leader.
By laying the groundwork and preparing the legislation, “Margaret Blood had done the work that the Legislature wished they had the time to do,” says J.D. Chesloff, former legislative/issues director for the early-ed campaign.
“At the same time, the Speaker was looking for an issue,” says Chesloff. “He had always been a supporter of early childhood education, and now this thing fell into his lap ready to go.”
With the state deep in a post-9/11 fiscal hole, the timing seemed inauspicious. But before too long, the Speaker was ready to make his move. In January 2004, Finneran used his annual address to the House to announce that early childhood education would be one of his top priorities, along with job creation and affordable housing. In his new perch, Finneran says he’s more convinced of its importance than ever.
“As I learn more about the biotech community and how they relate to the economy, I see this as absolutely imperative,” he says. If the Massachusetts economy is going to grow, he says, “it will only be as a result of having adopted the best educational tools, policies, and practices in the country. Otherwise, start to turn out the lights.”
Some worried that with Finneran no longer in the State House, support for universal preschool—and especially for the funding necessary to make it happen—would fade. But in January, 132 state senators and representatives, or two-thirds of the Legislature, signed on as co-sponsors of a bill to require that universal early education be fully funded by 2012. The cost is estimated at about $1 billion—about double what we spend now, the bulk of which will be spent on the workforce.
Powerful friends, indeed.
Whatever you do, don’t call it day care. That’s what the care of children, from birth to age 5, used to be called. Then it became “child care.” Now it’s “early childhood education,” and that’s no accident. Language matters, as Blood learned early on in her opinion polling.
“What I found out was that ‘child care’ is generally given a low priority,” she says. “But when we reframed child care as ‘early childhood education,’ support for it went through the roof.”
Among policy-makers as well, especially when it’s tied to improved performance in school—a “prequel,” as one editorial writer labeled it. “We’re saying this is the unfinished piece of education reform,” says Blood.
Two trends have converged in the past 20 years to buttress that argument. The first is scientific: advances in brain research measuring the capacity for learning in the first five years of life. Young children learn more in those early years than previously thought—and, conversely, can fall behind their peers if they’re not learning.
The second trend is political. Some education reformers increasingly make the case for quality preschool programs as a way to reduce the achievement gap for at-risk children. In her 358-page report to the Supreme Judicial Court in the Hancock school-finance case, Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford observed that “high quality preschool programs” could play a role in closing the education gap between wealthier and less privileged communities. In New Jersey, a similar case resulted in a court order expanding preschool programs in low-income school districts.
Add to that a growing body of research that shows high-quality early education pays off big dividends, both socially and economically. Among the best-regarded are the Abecedarian Study in North Carolina and the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study, which tracked 123 low-income, high-risk African-American children in the Ypsilanti, Mich., school district, starting in the 1960s and following them to age 40.
The Perry Preschool Program was the Tiffany’s of child care, with daily two-and-a-half-hour classes and weekly family visits. Teachers had bachelor’s degrees and were certified in education; classes were small, with five or six children per teacher.
says providers were skeptical at first, but
Blood understood their concerns.
In the study, 58 children who were 3 or 4 years old were randomly assigned to the preschool program, while a control group of 65 children were not. Data was collected each year from ages 3 to 11 and periodically thereafter, at ages 14, 15, 19, 27 and 40, to measure educational attainment, economic performance, criminal activity, family relationships, and health. In every category, children who attended preschool fared better: 60 percent earning more than $20,000 per year at age 40, compared with only 40 percent of non-program kids; 65 percent graduating from high school versus 45 percent of the non-program children. Those who received no preschool education had a significantly higher number of arrests and lower achievement levels overall.
According to the study’s cost-benefit analysis, the economic payoff of Perry Preschool was estimated (in 2000 dollars) at $258,888 per participant on an investment of $15,166 per participant—a total return of $17.07 per dollar invested. This includes $4.17 in direct benefits to the program participants, and $12.90 in taxpayer dollars saved, mostly on criminal justice, plus increased taxes to the state because of higher earnings. As a crime prevention program for men, the program was particularly cost-effective; more than 90 percent of the public return was because of the performance of the males, who committed substantially fewer crimes than non-program males.
Economists are also looking at early childhood education for its potential cost savings in areas such as special education, crime, and children’s health. Art Rolnick, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, found an annual return of 16 percent on an investment in preschool.
In a cost-benefit analysis developed specifically for Massachusetts, educational economist Clive Belfield of Columbia University projects that an expenditure of $578 million on early childhood ed would reap fiscal benefits of $680 million per year, a gain of $102 million, or 18 percent. Spending on early education would be offset by savings in other areas, such as K-12 special education and increased learning productivity ($205 million), crime prevention (about $288 million), and child health and welfare expenditures ($71 million). In addition, Belfield estimates increased tax revenues of $115 million from the earnings of parents, and later in life, the children who attended preschool programs.
Return on investment like this has made early education catnip to the business community, as evidenced by the support preschool has drawn from every major business group in the state. But there are other reasons for business to like early childhood education, says Chesloff, who now works for the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. First, there’s the “pipeline” issue: Business leaders believe that early education can help prepare better workers in the long run. Then there is the employee morale issue: Slightly more than 75 percent of Massachusetts parents of preschoolers work. “It helps productivity in the workplace when people aren’t worried about their kids,” says Chesloff.
But some researchers say the economic payoff for disadvantaged children does not necessarily mandate preschool for all, because higher-income, nonhandicapped children are less likely to generate the kinds of social costs that the Perry program reduced. Federal Reserve economist Rolnick points out that the biggest economic return comes from targeting at-risk kids, a point made by Perry Preschool observers over the years.
“In generalizing from the Perry study, the case for public funding is strongest for disadvantaged children who can be expected to have the same kinds of social experiences as the Perry participants,” wrote education economist W. Steven Barnett in the journal Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis in 1985. “The economic rationale does not readily generalize to public funding for universal preschool programs, however.”
Indeed, although no one contests the positive social benefits of preschool and its effects on school readiness, there’s some disagreement over whether preschool delivers long-term academic benefits. In a paper delivered last April at a Kennedy School conference on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Ron Haskins, of the Brookings Institution, cited research showing that achievement gains in nine state-funded preschool programs fall off after first grade.
“Preschool education is the little train that could, not the little train that will,” Haskins wrote, noting as well that high quality preschool along the lines of Perry is expensive, coming to at least $9,000 per child. “The field of early childhood education is not in a position to tell policy-makers that if they just spend the money, the evidence allows a confident prediction that the education gap will be closed or even substantially reduced.”
LEARNING TO SHARE
Massachusetts prides itself on being forward looking, but in early childhood education the Bay State is way behind the curve. The nation’s first universal preschool program was established in Georgia, by Gov. Zell Miller (on the advice of a strategist named James Carville), in 1993. The Georgia program is funded through the state lottery and is open to any 4-year-old in the state. Georgia’s Office of School Readiness was established as an independent state agency to oversee universal preschool. The office approves providers and distributes funding on a per-child basis. Providers include public schools, private nonprofit organizations, and Head Start agencies, and all must use a state-approved curriculum. Programs with higher teacher qualifications and standards are funded at a higher rate.
Oklahoma launched its own program in 1998, and currently 65 percent of its 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool. In that state, preschool is offered by the public school districts, and teachers are held to standards similar to other elementary school teachers in the state: a bachelor’s degree and certification in early childhood education. While the state regulates credentials, programs are free to develop their own curricula.
In Massachusetts, even as the state bureaucracy gets rearranged to accommodate a major initiative in early childhood education, the governor has remained cool to the idea. Toward the end of 2004, Gov. Romney became increasingly vocal in expressing his misgivings about making a big investment in preschool. In a statement issued in December, Romney said he was “concerned” that increasing standards for early education “will increase the cost of child care beyond the economic capacity of working parents, especially low-income working parents.”
Then, in an interview with CommonWealth (“Meeting him halfway,” Winter ’05), the governor raised questions about the efficacy of preschool relative to other educational investments. “The preliminary information shows that kids [who] get early education get a real head start for the first two or three years of elementary school,” Romney said. “But by the time kids start dropping out of school—sixth, seventh, eighth grades—early education hasn’t impacted their dropout rate nor their success on the MCAS…. If that’s the case, I’d rather be spending money in after-school programs for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.”
Romney’s education advisor, Anne Reale, says the administration’s focus is to stay the course with ongoing efforts to improve K-12 through more time in the classroom, an increased emphasis on science education, and giving principals more authority to manage schools.
“His focus is on improving K through 12, and there are still significant challenges there,” she says. “Ron Haskins’s work definitely shows there are some gains initially and then they taper off if you don’t have a strong K-12 system.”
And there’s no getting around Romney’s main point: More early childhood education means less of something else. By erecting a department, rather than expanding services, the Legislature has thus far expressed its commitment to preschool without committing significant resources. But it will not be able to do so forever.
“The Legislature recognizes the support for this, because it speaks to their districts. But we’re going to be hard-pressed to identify that level of funding,” says Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “It’s similar to health care, where we’re struggling to meet our present obligations yet we’re talking about expanding. Both are laudable objectives, early education and covering the uninsured, but I don’t think the Commonwealth can add those without making significant cuts in other areas, or identifying new revenue sources.”
Widmer predicts that the Legislature will take a “small step” toward universal preschool, “but the question is whether they’ll be able to maintain that level of commitment. If this becomes a priority, then it will be funded, but then you won’t be able to restore funding in anything but a limited way to [public higher education] or K-12. Something will have to give.”
That’s true even when it comes to addressing the achievement gap. Everyone seems to support the idea of high quality preschool, particularly for at-risk kids, but some say there are other good ideas that might be worth part of the $1 billion universal early education could cost. For instance, in his Kennedy School paper, the Brookings Institution’s Haskins cites the importance of improving home environments, noting the success of a program in which nurse practitioners visit at-risk families to provide advice on child rearing and development.
“There’s no single silver bullet,” says William Guenther, head of Mass Insight Education, a Boston-based nonprofit research and advocacy group. “You can’t simply do one program and expect to significantly raise achievement and eliminate the minority achievement gap. We need to include this [preschool] age group, but it needs to be [in] a comprehensive strategy.”
about low salaries.
That strategy needs to take into account the fact that the most serious educational discrepancies emerge while children are in school, not before, he says. “The irony is that, in general, our younger kids in school do better on competitive benchmarks. As they get older, they start to do worse,” Guenther says. “Our fourth-graders do better on international standards than our high school kids do. So you need to look at the whole educational system and decide where your major challenges are and what investments will make a difference.”
Chris Gabrieli, chairman of Massachusetts 2020, which advocates for a longer school day and after-school programs to boost educational achievement, cites the success of the Knowledge Is Power Program, a network of high-performing urban schools started in Houston, Texas, that now includes the KIPP Academy Charter School in Lynn. KIPP academies require nearly two-thirds more learning time than other middle schools, including longer days, Saturday classes, and a longer school year.
“Surprise, surprise, they’ve shown tremendous progress,” says Gabrieli.
Gabrieli supports preschool for at-risk children. But he also argues that other simple interventions, like eyeglasses for kids who need them, and even nutritious breakfasts in the schools, have big—and proven—payoffs. They have yet to capture policy-makers’ attention, he says.
“We’ve spent billions on inside-the-box solutions,” says Gabrieli. “Now it’s time to get outside the box.”
Romney wanted to make the new Department of Early Education and Care an agency of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, but the Legislature rejected an amendment to that effect. As a result, the department will be a separate state agency governed principally by a nine-member Board of Early Education and Care, which will have the power to hire and fire the commissioner, much as the state Board of Education does with the commissioner of education. The board consists of the secretary of health and human services, the commissioner of education, the chancellor of higher education, and six members appointed by the governor to reflect specified interests, including a business representative “with a demonstrated commitment to education,” an early-education teacher selected from those nominated by the state’s two teachers’ unions, a parent (or family day care provider), and an early-education administrator.
Traditionally, child care has been provided as part of a patchwork of services for low-income families or special needs kids through state agencies such as the Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Health. Indeed, during the Dukakis administration, child care was viewed as a component of welfare reform, a service that made it possible for recipients to pursue education and job training.
The state already has a big investment in child care, spending a half-billion dollars per year. About $365 million of that goes to the Office of Child Care Services (established by Gov. William Weld to replace the Office for Children), which licenses child care providers and advocates for children’s issues. Another $74 million goes to Community Partnership Program, which provides preschool services to low-income children across the state. It’s administered by the Department of Education, which was brought into the child care picture by the Education Reform Act of 1993.
The new Department of Early Education and Care is expected to streamline a system that currently has varied requirements, reimbursement rates, and sets of paperwork, depending on geography and eligibility. It may also alleviate duplication of services while allowing for better accountability. In 2001, state Auditor Joseph DeNucci found serious irregularities with the Community Partnership Program, which at that time was budgeted at $93 million, including the purchase, for more than $300,000, of modular classrooms that were then used by a private child care provider.
State Rep. Patricia Haddad co-chairs, along with state Sen. Robert Antonioni, the Legislature’s Advisory Committee on Early Education and Care, which was set up shortly after the early-ed legislation passed last year. She’s also co-sponsor, with Berry, of this year’s legislation, which will deal with workforce development. Haddad, a Democrat from Somerset who is also the new House chairman of the education committee, says all child care money will now flow from the new department. But don’t expect there to be a lot more of it.
“I’m sure there won’t be a lot of money, but the other thing I’m sure about is that we have an opportunity to identify those things that work,” Haddad says. “It’s not necessarily spending new money, but allocating the money we have in the best possible way. It’s a huge opportunity to be very critical of ourselves and make sure we’re using our resources well. You don’t get this opportunity very often.”
The next few years will be about laying the foundation for universal preschool, says Haddad. The main questions, she says, have to do with quality and capacity.
“We’ll be asking, ‘What’s a quality program? What’s the best delivery service?’” Haddad says. “We’re talking about a mixed service, but what’s the best way to get the money out there as equitably as possible? Then there’s capacity. Do we have the capacity to offer quality preschool to everyone?”
One challenge for both capacity and quality is workforce development, says Haddad. The new department will aim to raise the credentials of early education and care providers, and to increase the number of caregivers with two- and four-year degrees. A report issued in December by Haddad’s legislative advisory committee showed that about half of the state’s 30,143 preschool teachers and assistant teachers have levels of education below an associate’s degree.
But where would more educated teachers come from? Most observers say that the higher education programs for early childhood educators have withered on the vine because of low salaries in the field. Only about 200 bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education were awarded last year.
“It’s a market issue,” says Douglas Baird, who runs the Boston–based Associated Early Care and Education—at age 127, New England’s oldest child care and early education agency. “If you complete a four-year degree and get a job for $18,000, you can’t afford to pay your loans back.”
William Eddy, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Early Education and School Age Providers, says his members have succeeded in increasing the average salary for child care workers from $17,000 in 1996 to about $22,600 today. Still, that’s hardly a livable wage, Eddy acknowledges, noting a turnover rate of 28 percent per year in the field.
“In the old days, we’d lose our staff when they got a four-year degree,” he says. “The problem now is we lose our staff to become CVS managers. That’s one reason why we’ve jumped on this campaign. It points to systemic change.”
But some forms of change worry independent, mostly nonprofit providers like Eddy’s, who are wary of being put out of business by public schools that expand their programs for younger children. Public schools currently provide only about 13 percent of the early childhood education in the state, and the 2004 legislation specifies that the current mix of providers should be retained. But that assurance does not comfort some early education providers, many of whom testified about their concerns at legislative committee hearings.
“We certainly don’t feel it’s a public school function,” says Eddy, who notes that most parents need child care even when schools are closed for summer and holiday vacations. “We don’t believe the public schools are prepared to do 7:30-5:30, year-round care. And I don’t think the Legislature will want thousands of unemployed child care workers.”
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARGARET
On a cold January morning, Margaret Blood arrives at the Newton Marriott in a puffy down coat, tugging her suitcase on wheels loaded with handouts about the legislation. She’s been invited to speak to the Boston Association of Education for Young Children, a group of directors and staffers of preschools around the state.
Talk to folks here—they’re mostly women—and you get a sense of excitement about the new public focus on early childhood education. It’s a sign, they say, that people are starting to see the value of what they do, and think about what they need to do their jobs better. But they’re nervous as well, still unsure of the consequences—intended or unintended—of the new state initiative that could change their profession, and their business, forever.
“Cautious is a good word to describe it,” says one director from the South Shore. He will be glad to see more money flowing and a streamlining of the cumbersome state voucher system, but he worries that public school districts will eventually take over the job of educating 3- and 4-year-olds, leaving his center to care only for infants and toddlers—which is so cost-prohibitive, it could put him under. “Look at what happened with public kindergarten,” he says.
“It’s change, and nobody likes change,” says Catholic Charities’ Mary Ann Anthony. “There’s been so much misinformation and scary stuff. We brought Margaret here because I wanted them to hear the gospel directly from her.”
Blood takes the podium and runs through a presentation set up by staffer Amy O’Leary. By now, she’s told the story so many times to local groups, politicians, and reporters that she must dream in PowerPoint. She rattles off the keywords —powerless children, powerful friends, what the research shows—and encourages everyone to have their legislators come in and read to their kids.
One director asks whether, under the new regime, the “care” in child care will become “a four-letter word.” It’s another worry: that, in reframing child care as early education, we are funneling downward the high-stakes mantra, and in danger of pushing little ones too far, too hard, and too fast in ways that don’t make sense developmentally.
After her speech, several women approach Blood to say hello. “I just wanted to say thanks so much for the work you’ve done,” says one center director, shaking her hand. “All the years I’ve been working in this field, I could see what was wrong, and [everyone] knew what was needed, but
nobody has been able to look at the whole picture, and you’ve done that.”
Early in her research on state legislators around the country, Blood asked if they could identify a children’s advocate by name. None could. Today, in Massachusetts anyway, they’d probably say “Margaret Blood.” The visibility does not necessarily endear her to some people, more than one of whom opines that this whole campaign was not about the children but about Margaret Blood.
“A lot of people out there think she’s set this thing up so she can run it, but I know that she’ll never have anything to do with” the new agency, says Doug Baird, who has known Blood for years. “Whenever you have a gifted leader who’s changed the waterfront, people have to invent conspiratorial stuff. I’ve worked in human services for years, and in this field, there is nothing like success to bring out the nastiness and terrible enmity in people.”
Packing up after her talk to the early educators, she’s already thinking ahead to the one she’s going to present tonight to an audience of businesspeople. It’s a hectic time; in two days she’s heading off to a village on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to teach for a month—her idea of a vacation.
“A few weeks ago I was at the Copley giving a presentation on a panel with Malcolm Gladwell,” says Blood to a few lingering fans. “It was so great.” Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point is one of Blood’s favorites. Gladwell’s theory is that small events can lead to big changes in society, and those events are helped along by three types of social instigators: connectors, those who know everybody and make a point of meeting those they don’t; mavens, who love gathering and sharing information; and salesmen, those who are adept at persuasion. Easily fitting into all three categories, Blood could have been his cover girl.
The panel she’s talking about was at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting. It was called “Creating an Advocacy Epidemic.”
“All these librarians, they kept asking me, ‘How can we bring this same kind of movement to what we do?’ I get e-mails from them all the time.”
Memo to legislators: Consider yourselves warned.
B.J. Roche teaches journalism at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.