So exclaimed Libby Doggett, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the US Department of Education. Doggett discussed the Birth—3rd movement at the recent District Leadership Summit in Chicago organized by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She told the audience of district leaders that we are at “unique moment in time” and “can finally realize the promise of early learning” through the broader frame of the Birth—3rd approach. Diana Rauner, the President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, agreed with Doggett, saying, “We are at the beginning of something big here, a new normal, a new vision for educational attainment, and a new vision for collaboration.” Rauner shared the experience of the Birth-to-College Collaborative, a partnership between the Educare early learning program and the University of Chicago Charter School. Saying it took two years to “put our weapons down,” Rauner emphasized the importance of developing “a shared goal, a shared language, shared identity, and a shared vision for our kids.” Rauner suggested we need to “be able to present an aligned vision of parent engagement throughout the continuum.” In my post on the Birth-to-College Collaborative’s Toolkit, I mentioned how the Collaborative had created a Parent Advisory Committee to help guide their work, and family engagement comes through as a strong priority throughout the Toolkit.
The Ounce of Prevention Fund (“the Ounce”) has organized a Leadership Summit on the role of districts in Birth through 3rd Grade efforts in Chicago this week. More on the Summit to come, but as a start I’d like to highlight some of the recommendations found in the Ounce’s Birth-to-College Collaborative Toolkit, a compendium of guidance documents and tools that communities implementing Birth–3rd initiatives will find very useful.
The materials in the toolkit are an outgrowth of Chicago’s Birth-to-College Collaborative, a partnership spearheaded by Educare and the University of Chicago Charter School. Educare is a renowned birth-to-five program operated by the Ounce that serves low-income children and whose success in improving child outcomes has helped fuel the Birth–3rd movement. (See David Kirp’s The Sandbox Investment.)
By way of introducing the Toolkit, here are few highlights that resonate with and reinforce many of the themes that we have explored on the Learning Hub.
- First, note the helpful language the Collaborative uses to describe the Birth-to-College model: “a model of public education that (1) begins at birth and extends through college graduation, (2) is characterized by evidence-based, high-quality experiences and supports for students and their families, (3) is grounded in trusting relationships and communication among all adults who share responsibility for students’ learning and development, and (4) is aligned so that each experience has a cumulative effect—ideally, each coherently contributes to the next by sustaining and building upon the growth and learning that comes before. Therefore, birth-to-college (BTC) alignment refers to the coherent set of educational experiences and supports for students, families and the professionals and organizations that serve them that begins at birth and continues through college completion.”
- And here is an idea for all Birth–3rd Partnerships: the Collaborative has established a Parent Advisory Committee that helps assess family needs, provides feedback to family engagement staff, and provides advisory support to the Collaborative’s various committees.
- As a result of the partnership with the two PreK-5 campuses of the University of Chicago Charter School, Educare has begun using the STEP literacy assessment used by the Charter School. The school’s literacy coordinators helped train Educare staff in the use of the tool. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, the author of Driven by Data and Great Habits, Great Readers, is also a fan of the STEP assessment.
- The implementation guides include helpful questions for “Defining Your Educational Context” and advise that partnerships, “take stock of pre-existing structures and processes.” As the guidance says, “Determine how what you are trying to build can honor, support, and inform systems that are already in place, especially around staff professional collaboration and continuous improvement. It is important to note that this is not a ‘new’ initiative. Rather, it is about advancing and aligning the work of teaching children and supporting and engaging families.”
- Finally, encourage “cross-pollination“: “Consider cultivating strategies that will encourage cross-pollination of beliefs, approaches, and practices that could readily lend themselves to potential “buckets” for alignment, with the added benefit of developing mutual respect and understanding.” Ideas include “observations of classrooms, instructional approaches, and/or family events, as well as opportunities for staff to talk with one another.”
See this Toolbox for a set of practical alignment tools.The Birth-to-College Collaborative is developing a “bottom-up” model of collaboration across three schools structured around six professional learning communities. The thoughtful guidance and documentation the Collaborative is producing provides a fresh perspective on the work of Birth–3rd partnerships.
The New Bedford Birth–3rd Leadership Alignment Team has chosen to focus its work on three strategies: 1) improving transitions, 2) aligned and collaborative professional development for community-based and district early childhood teachers focused on social-emotional and literacy skills, and 3) effective use of Teaching Strategies Gold data. I’m supporting the New Bedford team along with Titus DosRemedios of Strategies for Children. The Leadership Alignment Team has been investigating the current state of transitions in New Bedford and is developing a survey that will capture additional information on transitions, curriculum, assessment, students served, and related practices.
New Bedford’s Birth–3rd team has also formed a Transitions Working Group that will plan and implement New Bedford’s transitions strategy in consultation with the broader team. As this group begins its work, we have come across a few helpful resources. Karen Surprenant of Pace Head Start shared this slide deck on Effective Transitions to Enhance School Readiness from Head Start’s National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. In addition to the two sample transition forms shared by Somerville and Pittsfield, we are reviewing the Articulation Checklist and Transition Discussion Template found in the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s very useful Birth-to-College Collaborative Toolbox. Also see this page of transition resources from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Of course these resources only scratch the surface of the many useful guidance documents on transitions, so please share ones you have found helpful by commenting on this post or emailing me at jacobsondl [at] gmail.com.
The Ounce of Prevention Fund is holding a summit on March 25-26, Excellence in the Early Grades: District Leadership Summit. Senior district leaders (e.g., superintendents, assistant superintendents, and directors of instruction) are invited to attend. Registration, accommodations, and meals are provided free of charge. Libby Doggett and Steve Tozer will present as keynote speakers. I’ll be leading a session with a excellent roster of panelists on Developing Community Partnerships to Support Alignment. Other breakout sessions will cover, among other topics, Allocating Resources to Achieve Your Vision, Kindergarten as a Critical Link, and Supporting Effective Teaching through Instructional Leadership.
Check out the agenda at the link above and share with district leaders in your area!
Aligning for Success
To sustain student gains from high-quality early childhood programs, research shows that we must invest in aligning children’s educational experiences through 3rd grade to truly close the achievement gap before it starts.
Hosted in partnership with the Urban Education Institute, Excellence in the Early Grades will highlight innovative alignment models and district-level policy and practice designed to achieve better student outcomes. With in-depth seminars and opportunities to network with other committed local leaders, attendees will leave with inspiring new ideas for approaching this critical work in their own district. The Summit will bring together district education leaders, including superintendents, assistant superintendents and school board members.
The District Leadership Summit is an outgrowth of the Birth-to-College Collaborative funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, and the Foundation for Child Development.