The RTT-ELC is the first joint grant competition between the Departments of ED and HHS. Pictured here are U.S. Secretaries Arne Duncan and Kathleen Sebelius, leaders of the two departments.
This is the final post in a series on winners of the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), the Obama Administration’s competition to spur improvements in early learning for children up to age 5. Two weeks ago, we wrote about states’ plans to develop the workforce. Prior to that, we dove into states’ plans to improve early learning standards, birth to 5. The first two posts in this series described states’ plans to use and evaluate quality rating & improvement systems. Earlier this week we explored states’ plans for kindergarten entry assessments. In this post, we’ll revisit the invitational priority for sustaining and building upon early learning outcomes throughout the early grades of elementary school.
Last December, we wrote about states that included plans for either pre-K through third grade or birth through third grade improvement in their RTT-ELC applications. Today we’ll focus on the winners’ plans under this optional invitational priority. Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington focused on sustaining gains into the early grades, while two other winners, California and Minnesota, chose not to participate.
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.
Below are examples of the kinds of pre-K-third grade specific initiatives winners plan to put into place. (Most of these initiatives were also highlighted in our December blog post on RTT-ELC applications.)
Delaware is 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 will be charged with helping to smooth children’s transitions from pre-K to kindergarten, building on linkages between early learning and kindergarten 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 will expand 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 plans to 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.
In addition to North Carolina’s plans for K-3 assessments and early learning through K-12 standards alignment, the state plans to set aside $1 million from the grant to pilot a project that improves the use of classroom and assessment data among principals and teachers in school districts within its “Transformation Zone,” an economically distressed area with large numbers of high-need children.
Ohio intends to develop K-3 standards in the domains of social-emotional development, physical well-being and health. With the RTT–ELC grant, Ohio will 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 (pre-K-3), 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 pre-K through third grade 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:
- 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;
- Providing dedicated time for program, classroom, school and district level planning; and
- 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. Many states discussed professional development of current teachers, but few even mentioned a focus on prospective teacher preparation or licensure.
Washington has been working on making free full-day kindergarten available to all children, and in 2009, thelegislature made it a part of the states’ basic education requirements for the first time. 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 will be available to elementary school teachers as well as to pre-K providers.
As we’ve written many times, we were disappointed Race to the Top gave only an “invitational” nod to the concept of a seamless continuum of learning for children from birth through third grade. But we were happy to see that the vast majority of the winning states included this as a priority in their work.
This concludes our series on what RTT-ELC winners plan to do to implement and evaluate quality rating and improvement systems; improve early learning standards, develop the workforce and assess kindergarten readiness. We will follow these states as they begin to carry out their projects, and we’ll report from time to time on the progress they are making, as well as on future RTT-ELC competitions.
Be sure to visit our special page on the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge for continuing coverage.
CORRECTION 3/20: In an earlier version of this post, a sentence summarizing the winning states' plans referred to only some of them having a focus on "early childhood" although the subject of this post was more specifically on "sustaining gains into the early grades." We apologize for the confusion.