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Parents' Guide to

Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America

By Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Persuasive documentary makes a case for early learning.

Movie NR 2020 63 minutes
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With a wealth of experts and charming footage filmed in preschool classrooms, this documentary makes a compelling case that early childhood education is crucial for the United States' future. In between segments in which policymakers and specialists underline their beliefs that pre-elementary education is a solid investment in a successful workforce, statistics paint a picture: 70% of today's moms are in the workforce, compared with 11% in 1960, yet educational policies on childcare haven't undergone a similar shift. And 4 million children enter kindergarten each year, but only 20% have previously attended a high-quality early learning program. Preschool, says former North Caroline governor James B. Hunt Jr., is a "secret sauce" that, if the United States gets it right, "will help us be successful in every other way. This is the key."

Perhaps the most compelling segment of Starting at Zero is its focus on the early childhood education renaissance of Alabama, a state that's made significant investments in young learners. We see well-kitted-out preschool classrooms, preschool teachers at their annual conference, and the universities that Alabama's early childhood education department has convinced to beef up the focus on pre-K students. Most persuasively of all, we learn that Alabama has instituted "pay parity": A pre-K teacher is paid exactly what K–12 teachers make. Seeing as many preschool teachers in other states earn less than babysitters, this sweeping initiative perhaps does more than any other to encourage great teachers to concentrate their energies on the pre-K classroom. Starting at Zero makes a strong case for an often overlooked area of education, and it's important viewing for educators, policymakers, parents, and anyone with an interest in education.

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