This guest post was written by Paul Nyhan, a journalist and early education expert. He writes about early education at Thrive by Five Washington.
For the past several years, Congress has approved funding for several small grant programs that could offer lessons for policymakers across the country but that rarely attract attention from the mainstream press. These programs include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, the Social Innovation Fund, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods. While Congress is unlikely to make headway on larger plans, such as President Obama’s 2013 early learning proposal, the work underway in these smaller programs shed light on what states and local communities could aim for – and what mistakes to avoid -- in the future.
In the next few months, guest blogger Paul Nyhan will provide a window onto four places around the country where these grant programs are triggering changes in early childhood systems. Nyhan kicks off his series by examining how the state of Washington is using its Early Learning Challenge grant. Washington was one of nine states in 2011 to receive the first-ever Early Learning Challenge grants designed to improve a state’s infrastructure for early childhood programs.
Check out our sidebars on Washington's Early Learning Challenge grant and on the PreK-3rd efforts in seven Washington school districts.
When Washington won an Early Learning Challenge grant, what it really earned was an opportunity to put its vision for early learning on a fast track, one that quickly led to progress and some turbulence within a year.
Essentially, Washington is spending its four-year $60 million grant to speed up three projects that were already underway: construction of a ratings and improvement system for early learning centers (known nationally as QRIS); development of a child assessment and transition program (WaKIDS); and creation of better professional development for early educators.