See my Education Week Commentary on bridging the gaps between early childhood, elementary school, and health and human services. Please join me in getting the word out and supporting these important collaborations. In addition to the leading edge communities I mention in the essay, 13 communities in Maine and 13 in Pennsylvania are implementing First 10 initiatives, with more to come in Alabama and Rhode Island.
As we rebuild after the pandemic, we have an enormous opportunity to reinvent early education and care in the United States in ways that dramatically improve outcomes for children and families, strengthen communities, and advance equity for all.
In this post, I share three core principles for rethinking how communities serve children and families and make the most of this opportunity. Thanks to the Partnership for Early Education Research at the Yale University School of Medicine for inviting me to blog.
“It explained how the care sector — defined as economic activity in the home and the market — was a crucial part of the economy but operated differently than other types of businesses.
You can’t measure the productivity of a child-care center the way you would, say, a car factory, she explained. The incentives are nothing alike. The profits don’t go only to the center’s owner. Instead, benefits are shared by children and their parents, and society as a whole. The country benefits from a more educated and productive work force.”
While I disagree with the suggestion that public schools can’t do this work, I appreciate the dual generation/comprehensive services thrust of Conor’s article. See this recent webinar series for more examples of school-community partnerships for the whole child.
A few excerpts:
“This juxtaposition — family members decades apart, but attending classes down the hall from one another — is central to a ‘dual-generation’ educational approach ….
These programs have a straightforward theory of education: If children’s success is tightly intertwined with their families’ stability (and we know it is), and families do better when they have access to nutrition, health care and economic opportunity, why not address all of these needs together? …
Now, more than ever, American schools are realizing that they cannot ignore these challenges as they try to reconnect students with learning opportunities. ‘Education is one arm in somebody’s success,’ said Reena Gadhia, the former manager of one of Briya’s work force training programs. ‘You really cannot disregard access to mental health services, access to social services, access to child care, transportation, all of it.'”
“At the root of this crisis is America’s relationship with child care itself. Unlike every other developed country, the United States has never, with the exception of a few years during World War II, treated child care as an essential service. Since at least the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon vetoed a bipartisan effort to implement a universal child-care system because it had what he called ‘family-weakening implications,’ the industry has been cast as a personal choice — more specifically, a mother’s choice.
‘We have never valued the work that goes into caring for our families — we’ve never accounted for it, we have made it invisible and have always taken for granted that women will shoulder the responsibility,’ said Ai-jen Poo, senior adviser for the nonprofit Care in Action and an expert on the care economy.”
New America’s Elise Franchino has summarized our recent webinar series in 10 takeaways. Check out her post here. She includes great insights from the presenters. Many thanks to all the panelists, moderators, and partner organizations! You can find the webinars and associated resources at these links:
Was recently surprised and honored to be included in the Education Week Spotlight. See articles on COVID-related learning loss, advice from Nell Duke, the impact of phonics on math, our national racial reckoning, and First 10.
The New York Times business reporter, Andrew Ross Sorkin, asked experts and industry leaders to name one thing we should do right now to “fix America.” Harlem Children Zone leaders Kwame Owusu-Kesse and Geoffrey Canada argue that we must, “We must broaden the focus of education to encompass the communities around the school building.” An excerpt:
“How do we make schools actually work for all children?
The nation has been pondering this question for decades, with answers that have fallen woefully short for poor students. But we think this is the wrong question. What the country should be asking is, how do we change the neighborhoods around schools to make them places where young people can find success — in school and beyond?
If we are going to break the cycle of poverty, we must reimagine education in America. We can no longer view education as simply the things that go on inside that building we call “school.” Such a narrow-minded focus has proved inadequate to the task of moving large populations out of poverty. We must broaden the focus of education to encompass the communities around the school building…
An emerging field of practice centered on “place” (i.e., where a child grows up) has championed the providing of comprehensive services to neighborhoods to effectively combat poverty. These services include high quality education and cradle-to-career youth programming, physical and mental health support, work force development, affordable housing and community leadership development.”
In response to last week’s post on rethinking early education and care in the aftermath of the pandemic, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of the Brookings Institution and Temple University pointed me to a different take on the same topic, An Unprecedented Time in Education Demands Unprecedented Change. Hirsh-Pasek and her colleagues issue a call for a “playful learning and a breadth of skills approach to education” that focuses on the six C’s: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence.
Likewise, in The 74 Paul Reville makes the case for a Whole Child Paradigm Shift in which community children’s cabinets oversee cradle-to-career systems of opportunity and support. Laura Bornfreund and Lisa Guernsey emphasize the need to design systems that are responsive to trauma, economic distress, and physical and mental health issues in the Hechinger Report. And writing in the New York Times Shantell and Conor P. Williams argue that the pandemic demonstrates the need to build a better child care system, one that prioritizes both children’s and caregivers’ mental health.
Connecting all of these perspectives is a clear throughline: the need to design comprehensive community-wide approaches that address the needs of the whole child. For a practical action guide on comprehensive systems produced by Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, see The Whole Child: Building Systems of Integrated Student Support During and After Covid-19.
And don’t miss the remaining two webinars in our series on School-Community Partnerships for the Whole Child: Partner with Families on December 3 and Lead Strategically and Continuously Improve on December 10.
COVID-19 has exposed a fundamental truth about our systems of education, health, and social services: They are fragmented and siloed, thwarting efforts to improve the quality of learning and care for children. Nowhere is this clearer than in the schools, preschools, and community programs that serve the 44% of U.S. children under 9 identified as low-income. The lack of collaboration and shared vision among these systems means that the extraordinary efforts of people who work on the frontlines are severely handicapped in meeting the needs of children and families.
As we rethink national and state education policies, and as we rebuild schooling and caregiving, we must ensure that the schools and programs that serve children and their families work together at the local level where it matters most.
For over a decade, I’ve studied the work of innovative communities nationwide where just this sort of collaboration is in full force. Preschools, elementary schools, and community health and social service organizations join forces to create and carry out a clear equity agenda that focuses on improving the quality of life for low-income children and their families and children of color and their families. Their successes provide a road map to reinventing early childhood education that begins with three core design principles:
Connect Early Years and Early Grades. When early childhood and K–12 educators collaborate, they can ensure high-quality learning for children. Yet this seldom happens. Instead, we have created two systems with very different philosophies and practices for children of similar ages. The innovative communities that I’ve studied bring early childhood programs together with elementary schools to align curricula, work on how best to teach young children, and develop common approaches to supporting families. As a result, children’s learning can proceed smoothly, consistently, and successfully.
Deepen Partnerships with Families. It’s time to move beyond “random acts of family engagement” like occasional back-to-school nights. Research shows that families play a vital role in children’s success in school, and schools and communities must make two major shifts to support families in this role. The first shift is one of mindset: begin with respect for families and their contributions, be responsive to families’ cultural traditions, invite families to participate as full partners in school affairs, and promote families’ development as leaders. These changes must be coupled with new structures to support families with comprehensive services such as family liaison positions, family resource centers, and well-thought-out partnerships with health and social service agencies.
Strengthen Communities. Harvard’s Opportunity Insights project has shown that of all government policies, investments in low-income children have the highest returns and pay for themselves. The project’s researchers have also demonstrated that the neighborhoods where children grow up have enormous impacts on children’s future social mobility. They conclude that, “The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level by improving childhood environments.” Here the first two design principles come together with a third: the most powerful way to improve childhood environments is to implement comprehensive strategies across the elementary schools, early childhood programs, and health and social service agencies that serve children and families in the same community.
Translating principles into action: How does life change for children in these communities? Communities in Maine, Nebraska, Oregon, and Pennsylvania are improving home visiting, family childcare, preschool, and Head Start programs. They are finding new, more effective ways to help children acquire key literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Families are receiving the health, mental health, and social service support they need to build on their strengths and overcome challenges. Schools, preschools, and community agencies are coordinating their work: sharing data, aligning curricula, supporting children and families through the transition to kindergarten, and leading community-wide campaigns on parenting, school attendance, and early literacy. They are sustaining this work during COVID-19. These communities are demonstrating how to create coherent systems. They are showing us the way forward to better futures for children and families.