The Way Forward: Reinventing Early Childhood Education After COVID-19

Burt Granosky/EDC

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.

State, Regional, and Community Initiatives in Maine and Pennsylvania

NAEYC

Learn about how state agencies, regional support organizations, and communities collaborate to improve outcomes for children and families. Lee Anne Larsen of the Maine Department of Education joins me in this NAEYC Virtual Institute video recording.

  • I begin with an introduction to the First 10 approach
  • Lee Anne discusses how Maine’s state and local First 10 initiatives work together
  • I share the story of First 10 in Pennsylvania as it moves from a state institute to a county United Way Collective Impact grant to a regional initiative in 13 communities
  • Lee Anne and I discuss challenges and lessons learned
  • Lee Anne closes with a reflection on the significance of First 10 partnerships in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

First 10 Community Partnerships: State, Regional, and Community Approaches to Improving the First Decade of Children’s Lives (NAEYC)

Need for a Child Care Sector Bailout: Elizabeth Warren and Others

Boston Globe

“One thing is clear: We can no longer afford to approach child care as an economic accessory. We must approach it as the oxygen on which every facet of our recovery will depend.”

See this opinion piece from the Boston Globe by Elizabeth Warren, Bruce Mann, Joseph Kennedy III, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, and Conan Harris. While Massachusetts is referenced, the take-aways are national in scope.

https://go.edc.org/ffla

In Washington, Good Grades for Universal Pre-K (NYT)

Nice article by Connor Williams. He begins:

“Free public school starting at age four, or even three, is growing in many American cities. It’s gaining traction as a way to help young children learn the reading, counting and social skills that prepare them for kindergarten. It also promises to help close academic gaps between rich and poor children. Above all, it may have lasting benefits for attendees, including success in school and better lives as adults.

But promises are not guarantees, and universal pre-K works better in some places than in others. Washington, D.C., runs one of the country’s oldest, best-funded, most comprehensive pre-K systems. So what can other cities learn from Washington’s success?”

Initiative aimed at helping children get a better start in life offers real promise

A strong editorial statement on P-3 by the Lancaster County newspaper, the Lancaster LNP:

“It’s devastating to think that as early as infancy, a child might be deemed to be “at-risk” — that is, at risk of failing in school, of being trapped in poverty, of even facing a diminished life expectancy.

‘The achievement gap exists in kindergarten,’ Andrea Heberlein, a United Way of Lancaster County staffer and P-3 advocate who oversees an education task force for the Coalition to Combat Poverty, told Hawkes.

And that achievement gap opens up very early in a child’s life.

As a National Association of Elementary School Principals publication noted in 2013, ‘Data from a nationally representative sample of children, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study — Birth Cohort 2001, reveal that gaps in what children know and are able to do appear as early as 9 months of age. Not surprisingly, these gaps only grow over time.’

And sadly, those gaps — if not addressed — can doom a child’s lifelong opportunities before he learns to tie his shoes.

It is a monumental challenge, but it is critical to free children from the life sentence that the ‘at-risk’ designation can be. So we laud those who are working to launch prenatal-to-third-grade, or P-3, programs in Lancaster County.

We’ve repeatedly advocated for quality prekindergarten education, which also is championed by everyone from district attorneys to academics to military leaders because it benefits all of us when children are prepared for school and lifelong learning. It benefits employers (who need skilled workers), the armed forces (which need educated recruits) and taxpayers (prekindergarten education is far cheaper than building prisons).

Now, we are excited by the prospects for P-3 education in Lancaster County. We hope state lawmakers and county officials are excited, too, by this promising new front in the quest to stem intergenerational poverty.”

You can find the article here.

Lancaster County’s Purple Agenda

Woohoo, Lancaster County, PA! What Friedman doesn’t say is that Lancaster County is gearing up for a comprehensive P-3 initiative. More to come about the Lancaster County  approach to comprehensive P-3 in the coming months. For the connection between the kind of bi-partisan, place-based collective impact initiative Friedman describes and early childhood/P-3, see A Purple Agenda for (Early) Education.

When Children Grow Up Poor, the Nation Pays a Price

“Yet as is so often the case, the reality is much different from what the political rhetoric says. The United States has the weakest safety net among the Western industrialized nations, devoting far fewer resources as a percentage of gross domestic product to welfare programs than do other wealthy countries.

Partly as a result, a majority of Americans will experience poverty during their lives, and America’s rate of poverty consistently ranks at or near the top in international comparisons. Rather than slashing anti-poverty programs, the fiscally prudent question to ask is: How much does this high rate of poverty cost our nation in dollars and cents?”

9 Building Blocks of World Class Education through a State Lens

Marc Tucker on David Driscoll’s new book about the Massachusetts experience and on 9 Building Blocks of World Class Education Systems. Fully agree that David Driscoll “is such a decent, caring human being, overflowing with that most uncommon quality: common sense as well as a vast horde of carefully considered experience.”

See the 9 Building Blocks, including numbers 1 and 2.

https://go.edc.org/zl7s

Former Lawmakers Set Aside Policy Differences for Early-Childhood Initiative

Another example of the potential for bi-partisan support of early childhood programs (in line with A Purple Agenda for (Early) Education).

From Education Week’s Early Years blog:

“Proving that leaving Congress sometimes makes it easier to find bipartisan accord, former Democratic Rep. George Miller, of California, and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, have come together to back a dozen child-related policies they say can be supported on both sides of the aisle.

Among the policy recommendations:

  • Increase the value of, and access to, the federal Child Care Tax Credit.
  • Reauthorize the federally-funded home-visiting program. (Funding for that program expired at the end of September.)
  • Create a competitive-grant program to encourage states to design state-level tax programs that increase access to high-quality early-childhood programs.
  • Encourage states to establish minimum levels of training and competencies for their child-care workforce and to improve professional development systems for the child-care workforce in ways that have been shown to impact child outcomes.

The full report offers more recommendations and rationales on why these particular recommendations should be adopted quickly.”