Welcome to our continuing conversation about reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In a previous post today, we wrote about some broad recommendations for changing the law to better support early learning programs.
Now we are looking for hints of what the administration might support and how exactly to make those changes happen.
On our mind this morning are the School Improvement Grants
, which are distributed under current Title I provisions within ESEA. Applications are due today, though some states have requested extensions. The Department of Education will be awarding these grants to states’ educational agencies in the coming year, using $3.5 billion in stimulus money and about $550 million in 2010 appropriations.
Some of the language in the application
for these grants can give us an idea of how early learning -- and more specifically, preK-3rd
strategies -- may be embraced by the administration when it comes to “turning around” low-performing schools. (The Department's budget request says that it plans to rename the School Improvement Grants; it wants to call them School Turnaround Grants instead.)
For example, to ensure that states identify needy districts with the strongest commitment to reform, the department will be looking for signs that these districts “use data to identify and implement an instructional program that is research-based and vertically aligned from one grade to the next, as well as aligned with state academic standards.” This sounds like a line from the PreK-3rd playbook. Vertical alignment, for example, is critical. What a child learns in first grade must be linked to what he has already learned in kindergarten, and that must be aligned with what he has already learned in pre-K. Otherwise, we’re at risk of offering children redundant or hopelessly disconnected instruction that makes it harder, not easier, for them to learn.
The grants also provide an opening for states and districts who seek funding for full-day kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. Both of those initiatives are considered "permissible" activities for school districts that use what is called a “transformational model” to turn around schools. Both full-day kindergarten and pre-K count under “increasing learning time and creating community-oriented schools.”
There are many more documents to analyze in the coming weeks now that the Department of Education's budget request for 2011
is available. The department’s selection of Race to the Top
winners later this spring will be telling too. We hope that our earlier post
and this one provide a starting point for discussion on injecting more support for early learning in a new ESEA.