We are so excited about this opportunity to bring First 10 communities together for ongoing learning and exchange. We are beginning with communities in Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island and will add new ones as we grow. I am so impressed with the work these communities are doing improving outcomes for children and families. Many thanks to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for supporting school-community partnerships driving change.
Launched in 2019, and guided by the vision “all children learn and thrive,” First 10 assists school-community partnerships in taking action to improve outcomes for children ages birth through 10 and their families.
In First 10 sites across the country, community partnerships are working to address educational inequities, improve the quality of teaching and learning, coordinate and deliver comprehensive services, and deepen partnerships with families in culturally responsive ways.
To launch and sustain the First 10 network, we will host a series of online learning events. The series will include presentations by First 10 leaders, feature experts in early childhood systems change, and focus on relevant topics, including:
Strengthening partnerships with families with young children
Launching community-wide parenting campaigns
Implementing comprehensive transition to kindergarten plans
Designing joint professional learning for prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers
Combining explicit anti-racism training with First 10 initiatives
Accessing and making effective use of federal funds
Promoting continuous improvement by gathering data and monitoring progress
The network activities will also include an ongoing online community of practice and publication of success stories and lessons learned to inform the field.
What a great idea–in addition to hosting a presentation and discussion, the First 10 team set up tables on play and learns, the transition to kindergarten, the First 10 community school at Hennessy Elementary, The Basics, and early childhood programs for the Mayor and city council and school committee members.
All across the country, Head Start, school, and community organizations are working to address the fundamental fragmentation that characterizes our mixed-delivery early childhood systems. In my work leading First 10 school-community partnerships, I’ve witnessed the vital role that Head Start and Early Head Start programs play in supporting the whole child and promoting family well-being. Head Start leaders are part of innovative First 10 initiatives across the country that are successfully reinventing school-community partnerships focused on young children and their families. Now more than ever, Head Start agencies have an opportunity to extend their influence, drive change, and improve outcomes for all children and families in their communities.
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:
I’m really looking forward to this conversation with Dan Wuori of the Hunt Institute about the great First 10 work underway in Maine and Pennsylvania. We’ll also talk about similar initiatives in Alabama and Rhode Island. I hope you can join us.
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: 
“The ultimate goal of a stronger, more seamless care and education continuum is to initiate and sustain a strong foundation for future success by providing effective learning opportunities across the infant-toddler years, preschool ages, and early grades in all settings.” (National Research Council, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation).
“The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level by improving childhood environments.” (Chetty and Hendron, The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility)
The United States is on the cusp of making a historic investment in early care and education (ECE). This investment comes at a moment in time when the pandemic has exposed the fragmented and siloed nature of our early childhood systems in both urban and rural communities. Widespread racial protests have launched a national reckoning with pervasive racial inequities. Also, during the past two years, an important development has been taking place in the ECE world that can help inform our response to these challenges. Twenty-eight states across the United States have been hard at work improving state and local ECE systems, supported by $275 million of Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B–5) funds. The aim of these efforts is to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services, including how programs and services work together in a coordinated fashion to best meet the needs of children and families. I suggest that state and local system-building efforts like those supported by PDG B–5 are essential to how we address learning loss in the aftermath of the pandemic, and how, as we expand access to ECE programs, we rebuild better, more equitable systems of care and education.
As we rebuild after the pandemic, we have an enormous opportunity to reinvent early education and care in the United States in ways that dramatically improve outcomes for children and families, strengthen communities, and advance equity for all.
In this post, I share three core principles for rethinking how communities serve children and families and make the most of this opportunity. Thanks to the Partnership for Early Education Research at the Yale University School of Medicine for inviting me to blog.
New America’s Elise Franchino has summarized our recent webinar series in 10 takeaways. Check out her post here. She includes great insights from the presenters. Many thanks to all the panelists, moderators, and partner organizations! You can find the webinars and associated resources at these links:
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.