Book Review: The Most Important Year, Suzanne Bouffard

In international early education comparisons and rankings, Australia usually has very little to celebrate. We spend less than countries similar to us, our system is one of the most confusing in the world, and children have less access than most comparable countries.

But strangely, there’s one country that makes our system look, if not exactly fantastic, reasonably good. By any measure, the United States is decades behind accepted norms of early education provision and structure. Regulations and approaches to early education differ wildly between states, and national efforts to improve the system have been few and far between.

In tackling the history of these issues – and how they are affecting children, educators and communities today – author Suzanne Bouffard uses engrossing case studies with actual educators, leaders and policy experts in their own services and communities. Many of the stories are almost heartbreaking, particularly when they relate to their pressures and challenges of teachers trying to support children already falling behind with a lack of resources, funding and mentoring.

The book could be depressing and dire, but Bouffard approaches the topic with a sense of optimism and a focus on evidence. Comparing America to other countries is always challenging as there are particular strains to the American character that are complex, if not utterly bewildering to outside observers. The very idea of young children accessing state-funded early education is a huge barrier to many who view the idea of Government getting involved in what should be the parents’ role with suspicion.

But there are lessons here for Australia and other countries that relentless advocacy based on evidence and outcomes can be successful, even in small ways to begin with. Bouffard’s book is highly recommended to early education advocates everywhere.

Quick Review: A timely and comprehensive look at the significant aspects of America’s preschool system, with plenty of lessons for Australian educators and advocates.

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