“In many cities and towns across the United States, elementary schools are forging deeper partnerships with families and community organizations well before children arrive at kindergarten. The aim of this work is to improve children’s experiences and family engagement and support along the entire continuum from prenatal care through grade 3 and beyond.
This potent combination of educational supports and family services is the single best strategy we have to address pernicious opportunity gaps and raise achievement for low-income children. Communities such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Omaha, Neb., and Multnomah County, Ore., are embracing this approach to tackle persistent poverty, family instability, the hollowing out of the middle class, and the demand for a more highly skilled workforce.”
Last week approximately 35 Rhode Island teachers and coaches began learning how to implement an interdisciplinary kindergarten curriculum developed by the Boston Public Schools (BPS). This training is part of a pilot project sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) with the aim of supporting developmentally-appropriate, Common Core-aligned kindergarten teaching and learning. 23 kindergarten teachers from 8 districts are implementing Boston’s curriculum this fall with professional development support from BPS and coaching support from the Education Development Center (EDC). I’m running this project for EDC and will share highlights from the initiative in a few posts over the next couple of months.
This initiative began with RIDE identifying a need to support teachers and districts in improving kindergarten practice in ways that are both consistent with how kindergarteners learn best and aligned with the Common Core standards. RIDE then worked with us at EDC to develop an approach that began with the state’s first ever kindergarten conference this past September and continues with the curriculum and coaching pilot. In an effort to build district capacity, coaches from each district are joining the kindergarten teachers in the professional development sessions and participating in special coach training days.
As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading, an outgrowth of the federal No Child Left Behind law and interpretations of the new Common Core standards, even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states from Vermont to Minnesota to Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten.
“People think if you do one thing you can’t do the other,” said Nell Duke, a professor of education at the University of Michigan. “It really is a false dichotomy.”
New Jersey is well-known for its leadership in early learning. Notable examples include the state’s highly-regarded preschool and kindergarten implementation guidelines, its investment in preschool across the state, extensive support for PreK-3rd early literacy in low-income communities, its PreK-3rd Leadership Training Series, and leading edge success stories in communities like Union City and Red Banks. Vince Costanza, the Executive Director of the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge for the NJ DOE, recently shared some updates on the state’s early learning work in a blog post and in a presentation at the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Birth—3rd District Leadership Summit. Here are a few highlights:
1st through 3rd Grade Guidelines: Having created PreK and Kindergarten guidelines, the state is extending its implementation and best practice guidance to the early elementary years. Costanza says that the transition out of K is “the next frontier.” Regarding the new guidelines: “We want something that say the things that need to be said and aren’t currently being said; that conceptualize academic rigor and developmentally appropriate practice and show what it would look like.” Supported by NIERR and CEELO, the Department of Education has worked closely with teachers, districts, and higher education, building engagement and buy-in at the local level. Costanza expects that the guidelines will be finalized this fall.
Deepening Kindergarten Practice: The Early Childhood Department has developed a 3-part video series, High-Quality Kindergarten Today, that demonstrates best practice in kindergarten classrooms. Renowned early childhood educator Dorothy Strickland provides helpful commentary throughout the series. The department is also creating a professional development series focusing on problems of practice in kindergarten teaching.
Connecting State Initiatives: Regarding integrating state initiatives like the Common Core, educator evaluation, student growth objectives, and the kindergarten entry assessment, Costanza talks about the need to “double down and define what this work looks like in the early years.” See New Jersey’s Teacher Evaluation Support Document for PreK and K for an example.
The KEA and Social-Emotional Development: Rick Falkenstein, the superintendent of the Kingwood Township School District, describes a partnership in which the state supported KEA implementation in a number of school districts. Falkenstein reports his kindergarten teachers saying that their use of Teaching Strategies Gold has made them more “intentional” in their teaching. One veteran told him, “I know my students in ways I didn’t before.” Falkenstein also noted that as a result of his kindergarten teachers using the KEA, 1st and 2nd grade teachers are expressing more interest in social-emotional development. “It has been pretty contagious.” I wonder if other districts are experiencing this kind of contagion effect?
New Transition Tool from Washington State: And in a contribution to the session from the West Coast, Anne Arnold from the Highline Public Schools shared a Profile of a Kindergarten-Ready Child, a transition form developed by a cross-district coalition that included Seattle and that was supported by the Gates Foundation.