This post updates a theory of action and 7 associated principles that I first posted last year. I’ve revised a few of the principles, and the principles line up with the graphics much more clearly now. I also draw attention to three distinctive features of the theory of action. According to the blogging platform Medium, this post is a 12-minute read. See this page for an overview of the core ideas. Many thanks to friends and colleagues for all the helpful feedback. ¹
Over the last 10 years, research, policy, and expert opinion have converged on the idea that addressing achievement gaps requires a comprehensive focus on the first 8-9 years of life, beginning with prenatal care and continuing with high-quality supports through third grade (P-3). The goal of this work is to improve the teaching and learning of cognitive and academic skills while deepening supports for physical and mental health, social-emotional learning, and family partnerships.
Community partnerships of elementary schools, community-based preschools, and other organizations serving young children and their families have great potential for achieving this goal and addressing achievement gaps. When these organizations take concerted action around a common set of goals and strategies, they are among the most effective and powerful ways of improving educational outcomes for lower income children.
Quality Within, Continuity Across
In order for early childhood education and early elementary school to be most effective, communities need to address two obstacles. The quality of both early childhood and early elementary education is highly inconsistent, and the mixed delivery system is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation. Addressing these twin obstacles–inconsistent quality within organizations and fragmentation across organizations–requires a collective response on the part of communities, efforts that require state and federal support as well.
Communities need to raise the quality of education and care in the various community-based organizations and public elementary schools that serve young children and their families in their locale; they also need to create meaningful linkages that align and coordinate the work of these organizations. Developing this capacity requires partnerships of schools, community organizations and families focused on quality and continuity–what I call P-3 Community Partnerships.
I’m pleased to announce that EDC has received a grant from the California-based Heising-Simons Foundation. The grant is funding a study of place-based approaches to improving early learning outcomes for young children. I will work with my colleague, Kyle DeMeo Cook, to investigate three types of community partnerships for early education:
Cradle-to-Career partnerships that bring together community leaders and community organizations around a common vision and common benchmarks,
Community approaches to wrap-around services for preschools and schools, and
P-3 Partnerships that support prenatal through third grade alignment
Cradle-to-career, wrap-around, and P-3 partnerships are all part of a new wave of educational collaboration for education. They each have a place-based dimension in that they attempt to concentrate their impact within defined geographic areas, and the early years figure prominently in all three. Yet they have developed as three distinct reforms, each with its own principles, priorities, and learned experience. Typically these partnerships have been implemented separately from each other. The new study will investigate how leading edge communities across the country are drawing from the three partnership models as they design integrated approaches to best serve young children and their families. The aim of the study is to inform—through recommendations, guidance documents and presentations—the work of communities interested in implementing effective community partnerships for early education.
This research study is part of a broader project to develop the P-3 Theory of Action, the associated 7 principles, and related practical implementation guidance. See in particular Principle 4 on integrating vertical and horizontal alignment strategies and Principle 5 on strengthening neighborhoods and communities by linking P-3 with cradle-to-career initiatives.
From the New York Times: “Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.”
“A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships with local organizations intended to deliver health, social and recreational supports for students and their families. The idea of a school that serves as a neighborhood hub holds widespread appeal, and 150 school districts, including Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Okla., and Lincoln, Neb., have bought into the idea.”