When you want to make an historic change—making high-quality early childhood education available and affordable to every young child—do you you think you can do it with just a small, dedicated band of advocates? Of course not. But many reformers work with a single interest group, such as parents, providers, or traditional advocates. This makes it more challenging to build a movement for transformational change. It creates the potential for different interests groups to feel that they are in competition and have conflicting goals and strategies. This signals to policy makers that any decision they may make will anger a group of stakeholders, paralyzing their will to advance reforms. This disastrous consequence is particularly regrettable because, in fact, most early education reformers share mutual goals, but their lack of communication, trust, and coordination can defeat them. OLÉ engages parents with young children, early educators who work in child care centers, and the women and men who have opened early learning centers in their communities in a long-term partnership that allows these groups to work around a common set of goals and strategies that have won changes in the extremely challenging environment of New Mexico.
When you get all of these groups talking, you realize they want the same thing: what's best for the kids. They want to remove barriers that prevent parents from enrolling their children easily and affordably; they want educators to gain access to the professional training and compensation they need to commit themselves to a lifelong career of high-quality early education; and they want early learning centers to prosper and provide high-quality education that is tailored to the community's needs and character. All three sets of stakeholders care about each of these things.
You don't often hear parents sticking up for their teachers, and early learning center owners speaking up for their teachers, though, so policy makers think they have competing interests. When you demonstrate unity among these groups, however, you can get a lot more accomplished. And when you create a structure that allows members from different interest groups to communicate regularly, they develop deeper bonds that allow them to support each other over the course of many years. Historic change takes a lot of time.
Deep bonds and relationships between groups also creates important changes in individual leaders: parents become informed experts on early learning pedagogy. Teachers gain a better understanding of the economics of their employer's early learning business. And center owners learn how both parents and teachers struggle to have a voice and gain respect from policy-makers and other experts who are used to looking to professional advocates for answers. This has allowed us to grow an army of volunteer activists with a breadth of experience and expertise that rivals professional advocates'.