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: 
Save the Dates. Such great work happening all around the country. We have lined up four engaging panels of fantastic leaders to share their expertise and experience. Our theme: Advancing equity through comprehensive approaches that address teaching and learning, deep family engagement, health and social service supports, and continuous improvement.
Excited to be working with terrific partners at AASA (The Superintendents Association), NAESP, CCSSO, New America, and the Early Childhood State Specialists in State Departments of Education to organize this event. Stay tuned for registration information.
“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.”
“As Jacobson shared, First 10 initiatives can occur in two formats: First 10 School Hubs and First 10 Community Partnerships. First 10 School Hubs are organized around a single elementary school. Emphasis is placed on play-based, developmentally appropriate learning, and transitions from families, to child care and pre-K programs, through the elementary grades. Comprehensive services and supports are provided to families in their local school facilities, community centers, and homes.
First 10 School Hubs purposefully engage families in the neighborhood with children from newborns through the early years. Many host play-and-learn or parent-child interaction groups to foster a dialogue around strategies that help children develop and learn, and provide resources that caretakers can practice at home. The Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan in Metro Omaha includes a School as Hub component, where a full-time home visitor and family facilitator conduct home visits and hold monthly parent-child interaction groups. Home visiting staff and family facilitators have fifteen families in their caseload at once, allowing them to build deep, trusting relationships over time.
The second format, First 10 Community Partnerships, unify a wide network of regional or district-wide schools, service providers, and families, into a cohesive system. For example, Cambridge Massachusetts’ Birth-3rd Grade Partnerships are bringing together a broad range of stakeholders to improve outcomes for children. …
To sustain and expand programming, Jacobson advises that states play a larger role by increasing investments and implementing policies that allow First 10 Schools and Communities to thrive, as Oregon has done. He recommends that states provide aligned standards and assessments across the early years and technical assistance to help staff with implementation. Pointing to the successes of the SUN Service System, Jacobson asserted, ‘I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Multnomah County is in the state of Oregon.’
Moving forward, Jacobson envisions a system synergizing First 10 Schools Hubs and First 10 Community Partnerships, a model that has not yet been implemented. As Jacobson summarized, ‘This convergent First 10 approach acknowledges a fundamental interdependence between schools, families, and communities. The success of each is integrally bound up with the success of others.'”
I provide a 20-minute overview of the First 10 approach and my major findings beginning at the 5:35 time mark. Then Education Week’s Christina Samuels does a great job moderating two panel discussions: the first with Deborah Stipek of Stanford and Kwesi Rollins of the Institute for Educational Leadership and the second with leaders of innovative First 10 projects in Omaha, NE, Multnomah County, OR, and Cambridge, MA.
Panel #1 discusses the implications of First 10 initiatives for building community systems that support young children and their families, how First 10 initiatives can strengthen developmentally appropriate practice, the challenge of sustaining ambitious initiatives, and the role of states in supporting this work.
Then in panel #2, Ms. Samuels talks with Brooke Chilton-Timmons, Cris Lopez Anderson, and Lei-Anne Ellis about their experiences leading First 10 initiatives. Topics include:
The role of play-and-learn groups
Improving teaching and learning in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms
Addressing the needs of culturally-specific groups
Community-wide quality improvement initiatives
Garnering principal buy-in
Governing First 10 Community Partnerships
Many thanks to Laura Bornfreund and New America for hosting the panel, to Christina Samuels and the panelists for their participation, and to the Heising-Simons Foundation for supporting this research.
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.
Massachusetts’ early childhood childhood advocacy organization, Strategies for Children, has posted a thoughtful article on how states should incorporate Birth-3rd strategies into their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Other states may find the recommendations to be of interest as well. As the article states,
“It’s … crucial for our state ESSA plan to include early education throughout — and not treat the early years as an afterthought. We have to look at how much Title I funding is being used locally to support preschools. How many children enter kindergarten each year with no prior preschool experience? Let’s figure these things out as a state and provide guidance to districts that want to build out their early learning strategies.
The state could also provide guidance for schools and districts on how to collaborate with the early childhood “mixed delivery” system of preschool programs that includes schools, centers, and family-owned settings.”