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.
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.
The Campaign for Grade Level Reading is holding a webinar on First 10 School and Community Partnerships on October 8 from 3:00–4:30 ET.. Please join me, Cris Lopez Anderson (Buffett Early Childhood Institute), and Brooke Chilton-Timmons (Multnomah County Department of Human Services) to learn about the exciting work happening in these communities.
You can find the registration link below, and here is an invitation from Cris that went out in the Campaign’s newsletter:
I’m excited to invite you to join me for a webinar highlighting the First 10 Schools and Communities model that is promoting collaborations between school districts and the early learning and family support fields to promote early school success. Please join us on Oct. 8, from 3–4:30 p.m. ET to learn about this model and how it is being implemented in two Grade Level Reading (GLR) communities — Omaha, Nebraska, and Multnomah County, Oregon.
First 10 schools and communities are forging partnerships with families and organizations to reach children long before they arrive at kindergarten. In Greater Omaha, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska is providing technical assistance to 11 school districts as they promote schools as community hubs to support families and children from birth through third grade. We will also learn how county leaders in Multnomah County, Oregon, are promoting community schools and early engagement with young children and families.
“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.'”
Education Week’s Christina Samuels begins her review of the All Children Learn and Thrive study as follows below. I appreciate that she highlights several examples from the study. While the Executive Summary provides the key findings and proposes a theory of action, see the Full Report for numerous case studies and a fuller explanation of the theory of action in the Conclusion. You can click on specific case studies in the table of contents, including ones on Multnomah County, OR, Greater Omaha, NE, the Cherry Park and Earl Boyles Elementary Schools, Normal, IL, and Boston and Cambridge, MA.
“A common complaint in the early-childhood field is that several different entities exist to support young children and their families, but those organizations often don’t work together.
But in a number of communities across the country, schools, districts, and early-childhood providers have come together to dismantle those organizational silos.
For example, Cherry Park Elementary School in Portland, Ore., a part of the 9,700-student David Douglas district, runs a summer kindergarten transition program to prepare young students for school, supports a home-visiting program, operates a food bank, and offers cooking classes and financial literacy programs.
Another example: the city of Cambridge, Mass., established a birth-to-3rd grade partnership that includes representatives from the 7,000-student Cambridge district, as well as early-childhood and community-health providers. The partnership there includes creating home visiting and play-and-learn groups for infants, toddlers and their parents; working to boost the quality of family child-care providers; and providing coaching in early literacy, math, and science for the district’s prekindergarten and early-elementary teachers.
Those efforts and many more are catalogued in the report “All Children Learn and Thrive: Building First 10 Schools and Communities” by David Jacobson, released earlier this spring. Jacobson, a principal technical adviser for the Education Development Center, said he was particularly interested in capturing work that is blending academic support for the first decade of a child’s life, along with programs that also help parents and caregivers ….”