This post is a cross-posting from Preschool Matters Today, the blog of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). Thanks to Michelle Ruess at NIEER for her support.
In western Oregon, a regional early learning hub supports 30 partnerships of elementary schools, neighboring family childcare providers and community-based preschools focused on professional learning and family engagement.
In Lowell, MA, elementary schools, preschool centers, and family childcare providers working in the same neighborhoods participate in “communities of practice” to improve teaching and family engagement. In addition, the city’s P-3 Leadership Alignment Team developed a school readiness definition and strategy that is informing city health, social services, and education programs.
A Community Innovation Zone in Harrisburg, PA recognized that a paucity of pre-kindergarten opportunities resulted in too many children entering kindergarten with no preschool experience. It responded by providing a summer bridge program offering not only activities and starter libraries for children, but also workshops for parents.
Such partnerships are not accidental. Each resulted from deliberate efforts by state education agencies (SEAs) to support quality improvement and alignment throughout the prenatal through third grade (P-3) continuum. This support includes grant programs funding local P-3 efforts and state policy work to align standards, develop formative assessments, and organize leadership and workforce development opportunities.
My recently published report, Building State P-3 Systems: Learning from Leading States, examines the P-3 work underway in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, states that are part of a broader movement focused on improving quality and continuity across the P-3 continuum. Three overarching lessons for future state P-3 initiatives stand out.
We are aware that building a coherent system is more time consuming and less flashy than just adding more slots or more dollars to an existing system. But we have an opportunity to … build a system that coherently knits together our existing resources and thoughtfully brings in new resources to meet the needs of our youngest residents.
–Richard Rossi, City Manager, Cambridge, Massachusetts
This is about as important as it gets, frankly. Achievement gaps do not begin in the fifth grade or the third grade. They begin much earlier. The right way to reduce and eventually eliminate achievement gaps is to start early…I believe whole-heartedly that with this effort to get there, we can make that difference. It is about coherence. The adults have to come together.
–Jeff Young, Superintendent of Schools, Cambridge, MA, speaking to a joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee
On November 16, the City Council and School Committee in Cambridge, MA met to review an ambitious set of recommendations to develop a citywide Birth through Third Grade (Birth—3rd) system. The recommendations were presented by the City Manager, the Superintendent, and the city’s Early Childhood Task Force with the aim of expanding access to early childhood services and improving quality across the organizations that serve young children and their families. These recommendations are intended to guide a significant financial investment the city will make in improving Birth—3rd services, projected at $1.3 million in the first year, $2.6 million in the second year, and potentially increasing further in subsequent years. Continue reading “Building a Citywide Birth—3rd System: One City’s Plan”
So exclaimed Libby Doggett, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the US Department of Education. Doggett discussed the Birth—3rd movement at the recent District Leadership Summit in Chicago organized by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She told the audience of district leaders that we are at “unique moment in time” and “can finally realize the promise of early learning” through the broader frame of the Birth—3rd approach. Diana Rauner, the President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, agreed with Doggett, saying, “We are at the beginning of something big here, a new normal, a new vision for educational attainment, and a new vision for collaboration.” Rauner shared the experience of the Birth-to-College Collaborative, a partnership between the Educare early learning program and the University of Chicago Charter School. Saying it took two years to “put our weapons down,” Rauner emphasized the importance of developing “a shared goal, a shared language, shared identity, and a shared vision for our kids.” Rauner suggested we need to “be able to present an aligned vision of parent engagement throughout the continuum.” In my post on the Birth-to-College Collaborative’s Toolkit, I mentioned how the Collaborative had created a Parent Advisory Committee to help guide their work, and family engagement comes through as a strong priority throughout the Toolkit.
The Ounce of Prevention Fund (“the Ounce”) has organized a Leadership Summit on the role of districts in Birth through 3rd Grade efforts in Chicago this week. More on the Summit to come, but as a start I’d like to highlight some of the recommendations found in the Ounce’s Birth-to-College Collaborative Toolkit, a compendium of guidance documents and tools that communities implementing Birth–3rd initiatives will find very useful.
The materials in the toolkit are an outgrowth of Chicago’s Birth-to-College Collaborative, a partnership spearheaded by Educare and the University of Chicago Charter School. Educare is a renowned birth-to-five program operated by the Ounce that serves low-income children and whose success in improving child outcomes has helped fuel the Birth–3rd movement. (See David Kirp’s The Sandbox Investment.)
By way of introducing the Toolkit, here are few highlights that resonate with and reinforce many of the themes that we have explored on the Learning Hub.
First, note the helpful language the Collaborative uses to describe the Birth-to-College model: “a model of public education that (1) begins at birth and extends through college graduation, (2) is characterized by evidence-based, high-quality experiences and supports for students and their families, (3) is grounded in trusting relationships and communication among all adults who share responsibility for students’ learning and development, and (4) is aligned so that each experience has a cumulative effect—ideally, each coherently contributes to the next by sustaining and building upon the growth and learning that comes before. Therefore, birth-to-college (BTC) alignment refers to the coherent set of educational experiences and supports for students, families and the professionals and organizations that serve them that begins at birth and continues through college completion.”
And here is an idea for all Birth–3rd Partnerships: the Collaborative has established a Parent Advisory Committee that helps assess family needs, provides feedback to family engagement staff, and provides advisory support to the Collaborative’s various committees.
As a result of the partnership with the two PreK-5 campuses of the University of Chicago Charter School, Educare has begun using the STEP literacy assessment used by the Charter School. The school’s literacy coordinators helped train Educare staff in the use of the tool. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, the author of Driven by Data and Great Habits, Great Readers, is also a fan of the STEP assessment.
The implementation guides include helpful questions for “Defining Your Educational Context” and advise that partnerships, “take stock of pre-existing structures and processes.” As the guidance says, “Determine how what you are trying to build can honor, support, and inform systems that are already in place, especially around staff professional collaboration and continuous improvement. It is important to note that this is not a ‘new’ initiative. Rather, it is about advancing and aligning the work of teaching children and supporting and engaging families.”
Finally, encourage “cross-pollination“: “Consider cultivating strategies that will encourage cross-pollination of beliefs, approaches, and practices that could readily lend themselves to potential “buckets” for alignment, with the added benefit of developing mutual respect and understanding.” Ideas include “observations of classrooms, instructional approaches, and/or family events, as well as opportunities for staff to talk with one another.”
See this Toolbox for a set of practical alignment tools.The Birth-to-College Collaborative is developing a “bottom-up” model of collaboration across three schools structured around six professional learning communities. The thoughtful guidance and documentation the Collaborative is producing provides a fresh perspective on the work of Birth–3rd partnerships.
The Ounce of Prevention Fund is holding a summit on March 25-26, Excellence in the Early Grades: District Leadership Summit. Senior district leaders (e.g., superintendents, assistant superintendents, and directors of instruction) are invited to attend. Registration, accommodations, and meals are provided free of charge. Libby Doggett and Steve Tozer will present as keynote speakers. I’ll be leading a session with a excellent roster of panelists on Developing Community Partnerships to Support Alignment. Other breakout sessions will cover, among other topics, Allocating Resources to Achieve Your Vision, Kindergarten as a Critical Link, and Supporting Effective Teaching through Instructional Leadership.
Check out the agenda at the link above and share with district leaders in your area!
Aligning for Success
To sustain student gains from high-quality early childhood programs, research shows that we must invest in aligning children’s educational experiences through 3rd grade to truly close the achievement gap before it starts.
Hosted in partnership with the Urban Education Institute, Excellence in the Early Grades will highlight innovative alignment models and district-level policy and practice designed to achieve better student outcomes. With in-depth seminars and opportunities to network with other committed local leaders, attendees will leave with inspiring new ideas for approaching this critical work in their own district. The Summit will bring together district education leaders, including superintendents, assistant superintendents and school board members.
The District Leadership Summit is an outgrowth of the Birth-to-College Collaborative funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, and the Foundation for Child Development.
Are some teams “smarter” than others? Researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon say yes. They have found three characteristics that distinguish smarter teams. You may be surprised by the results, which make a strong case for well-structured, interactive meetings guided by discussion protocols that create a level playing field for rich conversations.
I have occasionally referred to the Collective Impact Model, a powerful approach cross-sector collaboration used by many communities across the country, including Pittsfield. The approach is based on the five conditions shown in the graphic above. The Collective Impact Forum has recently shared a great collection of resources in its Top Reads and Resources for 2014. In particular I recommend Committing to Collective Impact: From Vision to Implementation and Collective Insights on Collective Impact, the second and third items on the list. Also, see the video about Somerville’s Collective Impact initiative, Shape Up Somerville, under Top Videos.
The following passages from “Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact” (in the Collective Insights document) reinforce the connections between relationships, capacity, and innovation that I described in October. Note the joint emphasis on evidence and relationships and on “collective seeing, learning, and doing.”
We have seen that data and evidence are critical inputs for collective impact efforts, but we must not underestimate the power of relationships. Lack of personal relationships, as well as the presence of strong egos and difficult historical interactions, can impede collective impact efforts. Collective impact practitioners must invest time in building strong interpersonal relationships and trust, which enable collective visioning and learning. …Collective impact can succeed only when the process attends to both the use of evidence and the strengthening of relationships. …
We believe that a critical mindset shift is needed: Collective impact practitioners must recognize that the power of collective impact comes from enabling “collective seeing, learning, and doing,” rather than following a linear plan. The structures that collective impact efforts create enable people to come together regularly to look at data and learn from one another, to understand what is working and what is not. Such interaction leads partners to adjust their actions, “doubling down” on effective strategies and allowing new solutions to emerge.
A chief benefit of blogs is the interactive dialogue they can support. With the Birth–3rd Learning Hub, I have an opportunity to test ideas with people who are deeply involved in doing Birth–3rd work. A few weeks ago I posted a number of “lessons” based on the work thus far, giving examples of each to illustrate the central take-away. Here is a summary of these five take-aways:
Community- and Relationship-Building are Necessary but not Sufficient
Attending to the Imbalance of Power Requires Care
Partnerships Need a “Backbone”
Birth—3rd Improvement Requires District Early Childhood Capacity
An Important Balance: Strategy with an Eye towards Capacity-Building
I’m very interested in learning about any experiences you have had that either support or challenge any of the points I make in this post. I invite you to share them via the comment section below. I’ll draw on your feedback in future posts. If you prefer to communicate with me directly, just put “private” in your comment, and I won’t make it public. Or email jacobsondl at gmail.com. Thanks for your help.