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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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How Would States Include the Early Grades in their RTT – ELC Work?

Published:  December 15, 2011

As we said in our last post on the Early Learning Challenge, 18 of the 37 applicants decided to write specifically about their states’ plans to sustain and build upon early learning outcomes throughout the early grades of elementary school.

The Departments of Education and HHS invited states to explain how they planned to:

  • Align K-3 standards with early learning guidelines across all essential domains of school readiness;
  • Ensure smooth transitions between pre-K and kindergarten programs;
  • Promote health and family engagement across the early learning continuum;
  • Increase the percentage of children who are proficient readers and able to do mathematics at grade level by the end of third grade; and
  • Leverage existing federal, state and local resources.

The states that chose to write to this “invitational priority” are: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington. (Mississippi also stated that its early education team would work to address all of the goals, but we did not include them in our count because the state did not provide any deeper information.)

You might be surprised that states like New Jersey and Oregon – both known for communities that have developed PreK-3rd approaches – are missing from the list, but remember states don’t get credit for developing or describing their PreK-3rd or birth-to-third-grade plans since it was only an invitational priority and didn’t enable states to win any points with reviewers. However, if these states do win a grant, they can use RTT – ELC dollars to accomplish their work under this priority.

We took a read of states’ plans and pulled out a few examples of the kinds of initiatives states would put into place if they win a grant:

  • Connecticut would provide professional development opportunities that bring together preschool providers and K-3 elementary teachers to talk about children’s growth and development, strategies to improve learning environments and instructional practices that are developmentally appropriate. The state has revised its early learning standards in more domains of school readiness, including “approaches to learning,” (a measure of a child’s persistence) logical reasoning and social and emotional development. It plans to develop standards for those categories across the K-3 grades as well. Finally the application proposes developing “common language” between K-3 and pre-K teachers. This has often been mentioned as a communication barrier as well as a barrier to seamless transitions into elementary school.
  • Delaware proposes developing “Readiness Teams” in high-need communities. These teams would include early grade teachers, elementary school principals, pre-K providers, parents and community partners. The teams would be charged with helping to smooth transitions, building on linkages between the early learning standards and K standards; aligning children’s learning and development experiences in the early years and early grades; and working to address potential barriers to success in school.
  • Maryland would extend its already existing “Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Academies” by creating “Leadership in Early Learning Academies.” These would enable teachers working with high-need children in pre-K, Head Start, childcare and up through second grade to learn developmentally appropriate instructional strategies that support the Common Core Standards.
  • Over the next four years, officials from Massachusetts say the state will dedicate $4 million to sustaining gains made in early learning programs by building on practices from its statewide birth-to-third-grade literacy initiative. The state’s goal is to have a “fully aligned system” encompassing the following areas: cross-sector alignment, leadership quality, teacher quality and capacity, instructional tools and practices, instructional environments, data and assessments, family engagement, and transitions through the birth-to-third-grade continuum.
  • Nevada plans to develop a statewide Community of Practice (CoP) for teachers, early learning providers and other specialists, such as speech therapists, from around the state. The members of the CoP will receive training on the Common Core Standards, the relationship between content and standards, curriculum and assessment. They will also pilot model curricula and help to improve materials and resources in development.
  • Ohio would develop K-3 standards in the domains of social-emotional development, physical well-being and health. With the RTT – ELC grant, should it win one, Ohio would implement and evaluate an effort in three rural communities that combines two existing Ohio initiatives: SPARK Ohio (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids) and the Ready Schools Initiative. Ready Schools is a “school-focused” initiative, aiming to improve linkages with the early learning community (birth – 5), align standards, curriculum and assessment (PreK-3rd), improve services and communications with families and community organizations, and evaluate the initiative. SPARK is a “family focused” initiative that prepares high-need 4-year-olds for kindergarten by helping families help their children succeed in school.
  • Rhode Island plans to build on its PreK-3rd literacy policy, leveraging existing federal, state and local resources to ensure that pre-K programs and K-3 classrooms are strong teaching and learning environments. The state lists a number of strategies on which it intends to focus. Here are three:

o   ensuring that evidence-based literacy instruction is integrated into early childhood and K-3 teacher preparation programs, professional development and support for teachers and early learning providers;

o   providing dedicated time for program, classroom, school and district level planning; and

o   implementing scalable solutions to chronic absence from school and summer learning loss.

(Rhode Island’s application made the most explicit reference to improving teacher preparation programs. We were thrilled to see this, but would have liked to see it as a focus from more states. There were many states that discussed professional development of current teachers, but few that even mentioned a focus on prospective teacher preparation or licensure.)

  • Washington has been working on making free full-day kindergarten available to all children. The 2009 legislature made it a part of the states’ basic education requirements. State-funded full-day kindergarten will be fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year. This year, the legislature approved new funding to expand the sites currently offering state-funded full-day kindergarten. The state is also building a longitudinal data system that would include student-level information on children’s pre-K experiences and outcomes. This information would be available to elementary school teachers as well as to pre-K providers.

We won’t have to wait long to find out if any of these states are winners. The White House, in partnership with the Departments of Education and HHS, is holding a briefing tomorrow morning. The Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant winners are expected to be announced then. We wonder if any of our top contenders made the cut! You can find out by watching it live online at www.whitehouse.gov/live, or you can read Early Ed Watch to find out the results.

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