We are so excited about this opportunity to bring First 10 communities together for ongoing learning and exchange. We are beginning with communities in Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island and will add new ones as we grow. I am so impressed with the work these communities are doing improving outcomes for children and families. Many thanks to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for supporting school-community partnerships driving change.
Launched in 2019, and guided by the vision “all children learn and thrive,” First 10 assists school-community partnerships in taking action to improve outcomes for children ages birth through 10 and their families.
In First 10 sites across the country, community partnerships are working to address educational inequities, improve the quality of teaching and learning, coordinate and deliver comprehensive services, and deepen partnerships with families in culturally responsive ways.
To launch and sustain the First 10 network, we will host a series of online learning events. The series will include presentations by First 10 leaders, feature experts in early childhood systems change, and focus on relevant topics, including:
Strengthening partnerships with families with young children
Launching community-wide parenting campaigns
Implementing comprehensive transition to kindergarten plans
Designing joint professional learning for prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers
Combining explicit anti-racism training with First 10 initiatives
Accessing and making effective use of federal funds
Promoting continuous improvement by gathering data and monitoring progress
The network activities will also include an ongoing online community of practice and publication of success stories and lessons learned to inform the field.
The first post in this series described how the first 40 First 10 and transition to kindergarten communities are working to improve quality and alignment and address early childhood challenge #3 (i.e., local system-building). I also previewed some of the lessons this blog series will explore. In this second post, I show how First 10 partnerships are funded, how they are advancing equity by using this funding to support children and families who live in low-income households, and how some partnerships are combining First 10 with anti-racism efforts.
“The tragic fact remains true in this country: children’s outcomes are predicted by their demographic characteristics, the color of their skin, their family’s income bracket, and their home language. These inequities begin before birth and follow children into the early care and education (ECE) system, one of the first systems with which they interact. Indeed, grave inequities in children’s access to, experiences in, and outcomes during and after early learning vary drastically based on what a child looks like, where they live, what language they speak, and where they are from.”
“The opportunity to finally bring about equitable change across America’s systems, including the early learning and education systems, is as ripe as it has been in a generation.”
Local school-community partnerships that carry out effective strategies to improve the quality and coordination of the supports communities provide to children and families are one of the most powerful strategies we have to address the “grave inequities” referenced above. In conjunction with increasing access to high-quality ECE programs and improving workforce compensation, cross-sectoral collaboration focused on the first decade of children’s lives has significant potential to improve outcomes for children and families who live in low-income households. This includes those most affected by current and historical racism and marginalization and those living in rural areas. A recent call to action on advancing equity in ECE from the Children’s Equity Project and eight other organizations recommends the field take the following four actions (among several others), all of which can be advanced by cross-sector community partnerships: 
“The ultimate goal of a stronger, more seamless care and education continuum is to initiate and sustain a strong foundation for future success by providing effective learning opportunities across the infant-toddler years, preschool ages, and early grades in all settings.” (National Research Council, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation).
“The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level by improving childhood environments.” (Chetty and Hendron, The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility)
The United States is on the cusp of making a historic investment in early care and education (ECE). This investment comes at a moment in time when the pandemic has exposed the fragmented and siloed nature of our early childhood systems in both urban and rural communities. Widespread racial protests have launched a national reckoning with pervasive racial inequities. Also, during the past two years, an important development has been taking place in the ECE world that can help inform our response to these challenges. Twenty-eight states across the United States have been hard at work improving state and local ECE systems, supported by $275 million of Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B–5) funds. The aim of these efforts is to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services, including how programs and services work together in a coordinated fashion to best meet the needs of children and families. I suggest that state and local system-building efforts like those supported by PDG B–5 are essential to how we address learning loss in the aftermath of the pandemic, and how, as we expand access to ECE programs, we rebuild better, more equitable systems of care and education.
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.
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.
“The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has focused the nation’s attention on the unequal treatment of Black Americans. Black children experience unequal treatment beginning at an early age, which contributes to inequalities in learning and development.
By the time they enter kindergarten, Black children are on average nearly nine months behind in math and almost seven months behind in reading compared to their White non-Hispanic peers (See Figure 1). Math and reading abilities at kindergarten entry are powerful predictors of later school success, and children who enter kindergarten behind are unlikely to catch up.
High quality early childhood education (ECE) programs can help all children enter kindergarten with the foundational academic and social-emotional skills they need to succeed. However, access to high quality ECE in the U.S. is low and unequal. [Emphasis added.]”
First 10 begins with a commitment to educational and racial equity. The goal of First 10 is for all children to learn and thrive. This goal encompasses academic and social emotional learning and physical and mental health as priorities. Realizing this educational equity goal requires that communities ensure that all children have opportunities and supports to enable their success and eliminate the predictability of success or failure that currently correlates with social, economic, racial, and cultural factors.
Published on June 3 by EDC’s President and CEO, Dave Offensend:
Once again, our country is grappling with its racist reality: the continuous and systemic oppression of Black members of our communities. Spurred by a new spate of high-profile incidents involving hatred and police brutality, people across the nation and around the world have taken to the streets to protest and show their outrage. EDC joins in that outrage and stands in solidarity with everyone committed to ending racism, injustice, and inequity.
As a nation, we still have a long way to go. The problems we are facing in the United States are not new, neither are the feelings of anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety that many of us feel today. Americans cannot sit idly by as such violence and injustice continues, and EDC will not do so either.
Continue to promote equity for all people in the work we do. We know how much work still remains. We remain committed to prioritizing and enhancing efforts to end racism, injustice, and inequity as expressed in our Equity Principles.
Encourage self-awareness of implicit biases that foster structural and societal inequities.
Actively promote equity, diversity, and inclusion within EDC, at all levels of the organization, in the ways in which we recruit and promote staff at all levels of the organization, and in how we interact with and learn from one another.
We appreciate that the problem of racism in our country has existed for centuries and will not be eradicated quickly or easily. Yet, we remain committed to being part of the solution. We look forward to listening, especially to our Black colleagues within EDC and the communities we serve, and continuing to work with our partners to develop concrete actions we can take together. I am confident that if we all remain committed to this course, we can provide a better future for America.