Alabama launched its new Transition to Kindergarten Toolkit in December. We have really appreciated the opportunity to partner with Alabama on this important resource. Congrats to Secretary Barbara Cooper (Department of Early Childhood Education), her team, and her colleagues in other agencies. Alabama asks me to convey its thanks to the Rhode Island Department of Education for inspiring the basic idea of this toolkit.
States and counties may get ideas they can adapt from the toolkit, and communities will find helpful guidance materials in sections 2-9.
The focus of the toolkit is on supporting local communities in developing and implementing effective transition to kindergarten plans. Here are a few highlights that may be of interest:
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: 
New America published my new report on state and local First 10 initiatives today.
In 2018, state leaders in Maine determined that their efforts to support children and their families were hampered by the lack of coordination among key stakeholders—early education and care providers, public school educators, and health and social services providers. Addressing these challenges would require new forms of collaboration both among state agencies and at the local level. In response, they created initiatives designed to work in tandem—a state inter-agency team and a companion initiative in 13 communities throughout the state.
Maine chose to use the First 10 framework to guide and structure this work. First 10 partnerships bring together school districts, elementary schools, early childhood programs, and community agencies to improve the quality and coordination of education and care for young children and their families. They work to improve teaching and learning, deepen partnerships with families, and provide comprehensive services for children and families.
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
“ESSA requires school districts that receive Title 1 funding to coordinate with Head Start programs, and it gives states the flexibility to expand early childhood, incorporate early learning into school improvement plans, improve transitions to kindergarten, and improve educator professional learning. How should states and communities best take advantage of these opportunities? What would continuity of high-quality experiences look like in practice, and what are the implications for state and community system-building?
I suggest that leading-edge school and community partnerships focused on the first decade of children’s lives can help answer these questions and provide new direction to states and communities as they implement ESSA plans.”
For a helpful introduction to the First 10 study, see Eye on Early Education’s review, Addressing the Gaps in Children’s First 10 Years. Eye on Early Educationis the blog of Massachusetts’ early childhood advocacy organization, Strategies for Children.With its Massachusetts audience in mind, this post highlights examples of First 10 work in Boston, Cambridge, and Lowell. The First 10 study also includes examples from California, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, and Oregon.
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.
Over the course of three rounds of ELC competitions, the encouragement states received to address connections between early childhood and early elementary education became increasingly significant.
According to Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland Assistant State Superintendent, Leadership Academies for early and elementary educators are “getting us to shift from birth-to-five to birth-to-eight and not only in vision but in practice.”
Recognizing that communities have unique cultures, resources, schools, programs, children and families, and priorities, states devolved P-3 planning and implementation to communities and encouraged experimentation at the local level.
The concurrent development or expansion of early childhood comprehensive assessments and kindergarten entry assessments (KEA) has created an opportunity to link expectations between early childhood and the elementary school years.
ELC states are documenting lessons learned for P-3.
ELC state leaders are thinking … about the coherence among policy initiatives. New Jersey’s Vincent Costanza put it this way: “With so much happening in the three-eight space, we need to be intentional about how the pieces fit together. There is a missed opportunity if we don’t help educators see the connections between initiatives like teacher evaluation, Common Core, and KEA.” … When the systems are not aligned, multiple initiatives can create complex and burdensome demands for teachers and school administrators and undermine their support of the P-3 work.