Voices from the Field: Jana Martella

“All children, whether in poverty or a matter of ‘my’ kids or ‘your’ kids, deserve the best that we can give them.”

Interview with
Jana Martella
Co-Director
Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO)

Jana Martella

Jana Martella with state leaders: (from left to right) Jim Squires, Lindy Buch,
Penny Milburn, Jana, Rolf Grafwallner, and Jim Lesko

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Jana Martella is the Co-Director of the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) at the Education Development Center. She has worked on multiple initiatives designed to advance high quality in early education, and is focused on education system and program improvement through standards-based reform. Prior to joining EDC, Martella was the executive director of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE) and the National Association for Regulatory Administration (NARA Licensing), providing leadership and support to states and organizations on early childhood initiatives. She has dedicated over 30 years to education and has served as a state legislative liaison, coordinator for federal programs, school administrator, and teacher.

 

Steven: How did you begin your career in Early Learning?

Jana: I started as a teacher and I had a looped classroom of second and third graders, and I saw a remarkable difference between a second grader and a third grader. Their needs were significantly different, as was their development as an early learner. Flash forward to my policy world. I first came to Washington in 1984, which is right after A Nation at Risk came out. I began working on policy initiatives and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the second authorization that I went through, my boss at the time, who was State Superintendent from Washington, informally worked during the 1987 reauthorization, for the House Education Committee, and in particular on Chapter I [now Title I]. She was absolutely committed to changing the face of compensatory education to include early childhood as three distinct strategies. Your query made me pull out some testimony that I wrote for her as she appeared before Congress—she was the only witness—and she spent three pages on early childhood education. At the time, the 1989 data point showed that only 1.5 percent of Title I dollars—it was Chapter 1 at the time—was spent on Pre-K, and less than 5 percent was spent on kindergarten. That was the very beginning. Then I began full-time on K-12 policy until 2001. Since then, I have been full-time on early childhood policies, and I feel so fortunate because that’s when all of the brain research kicked-in, like Neurons to Neighborhoods and Eager to Learn. When we were in Baltimore, Marcy Whitebook said that from the beginning, as teachers we knew that early childhood was really important and now we have the science on our side. I feel like that’s been the course of my career, too—I’ve had passion along the way and now we have the science on our side.

Steven: What do you see as the role of the State early childhood specialists in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Jana: I am an unapologetic school person. I’ve been in public education for more than 30 years, and I am totally committed to improving the way states do business as well. That’s been the gate to the policy world for me. All of my work over the last 30 years has been state-focused. It’s on the ground. It’s in communities where children experience schools, and settings where they experience their environment and great teachers. But I do think that it’s the state’s skeleton that holds the body up.

Steven: Why would you say the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning programs is important to our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities, particularly as it may relate to equity?

Jana: I’ll start by really giving high praise to the administration. One of the things I really appreciate about the last seven—soon to be eight—years is that the approach has been comprehensive, and that it’s been very intentional and woven throughout, so that if there’s an initiative on data, early childhood has been included. If there is an initiative on assessment, early childhood has been included. If there’s a systems approach, and particularly the Challenge grants, then that’s kind of giving a nod to the states and their needs to have policy infrastructure in order to serve kids in the best way possible. It has certainly been about access, but it also has been about building capacity in the states, and I think that that footprint is not going to go away anytime soon. That’s the upside; the challenge is that you have woven early childhood throughout virtually everything so that there are multiple initiatives trying to find alignment. That’s always challenging, but I also think it has driven all of us to think about collective impact and making sure that we’re putting one foot in front of the other and going on that long walk.

Steven: Is there anything else you want to add?

Jana: Particularly about equity, because the focus has been about building data capacity, and building teaching capacity, and building state policy capacity, and in a sense from the research—and particularly from an equity perspective—kids are going to do better in second grade if they get what they need in first grade, and it is a continual drum beat from birth through third grade and beyond. I think even third grade, to be honest, is kind of an arbitrary line of demarcation that resulted from the fulcrum of reading. In fact, everything we know about domains of learning continues into adulthood and that we ought to attend to play and experiential learning throughout a child’s educational career. That’s challenging because it’s putting a lot of complex things together. The other thing is in terms of investment, all children, whether in poverty or a matter of “my” kids or “your” kids, deserve the best that we can give them. We have the brain science and we have economic science as well, but I think that sometimes we read that for one dollar you get seven dollars of return, or for one dollar you get seventeen dollars of return—whatever the dollar return is mentioned—it’s not that, it’s an economy of scale. It’s $7,000 or $10,000 of investment that will get you that return on investments, so the economic promise of investment is there, but it’s dependent on quality and threshold.

Voices from the Field: Hedy Nai-Lin Chang

“It turns out that attendance matters as early as preschool in high quality programs.”
Interview with
Hedy Nai-Lin Chang
Executive Director
Attendance Works

Hedy Chang

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Hedy Nai-Lin Chang directs Attendance Works, a national and state level initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absence. Deeply committed to promoting two-generation solutions to achieving a more just and equitable society, Hedy has spent more than two decades working in the fields of family support, family economic success, education and child development. In February 2013, Hedy was named by the White House as a Champion of Change for her commitment to furthering African American Education.

Steven: How did you begin your work in Early Learning?

Hedy:  I began my career while I was at California Tomorrow, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping schools, public agencies, communities and families ensure equal opportunities to succeed while drawing strength from our ethnic and linguistic diversity.   While the work focused on California, we also worked nationally since the demographic changes we were experiencing were soon being felt everywhere.   I focused on early childhood programs because this was the first time many young children had the experience of being cared for by someone outside their family and in some cases, interacted with other adults and children from other backgrounds.  I sought to ensure this would be a positive experience that helped strengthen a child’s and family’s sense of identity while also equipping them with the ability to appreciate and negotiate differences.  I still draw upon much of what I learned from that research on best practice and policy in early childhood programs in the work that I do today on chronic absence.

Steven: In what way is the issue of chronic absenteeism a factor in improving outcomes for young children in preschool through third grade?

Hedy: It turns out that attendance matters as early as preschool in high quality programs. Research shows that preschoolers who miss 10 percent or more of the school year – in excused or unexcused absences – arrive at kindergarten without the school readiness skills they need.  If they are chronically absent in more than one year, they are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade, and more likely to be retained in elementary school. Absenteeism affects all children, but its impact intensifies among children whose families lack the resources to make up for lost time.

Steven: Why is the President’s initiative, Every Student, Every Day, important and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities?

Hedy:  This is a huge opportunity for many reasons. The release by the Office of Civil Rights of the first ever national data set is a wake-up call letting us know that because too many students are missing so much school, they don’t have an equal opportunity to learn. At the same time, the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor Initiative offers a concrete example of how schools and communities can work together to use relationships to motivate daily attendance and help students and families overcome barriers to getting to school, especially if we adapt the concept to work with our youngest students as well as address the needs of those in middle and high school.   Equally important, the national summit, held on June 9th and 10th, created a fabulous opportunity for state teams to learn about how communities and states across the country are beginning to successfully tackle the issues. Given the opportunity to weave attention into ESSA implementation, state action is especially essential.  The challenge is making sure that the growing awareness of chronic absenteeism results in prevention and early intervention rather than in blaming families and adopting punitive responses.

Early Learning Career Pathways Initiative: Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field

Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field Report Released

By
Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning
U.S. Department of Education
and
Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Between 2012 and 2022 there is a projected 30 percent increase in job openings for early educators (USDOL, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). That means 184,100 job openings for qualified child care teachers and 76,400 for preschool teachers. But who will fill these critical roles?

Spearheaded by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Early Learning Career Pathways Report examines comprehensive career pathway systems in the early childhood education (ECE) field. Career pathways, defined as comprehensive education and training systems, provide a sequence of coursework and credentials aligned with employer and industry needs. Pathways offer a much-needed solution to fostering the educational and workforce training needs of adult learners to meet national and regional workforce demands.

This report, Credentialing in the Early Care and Education Field, draws a national landscape of all of the 50 states’ requirements for ECE staff. The report documents many notable practices which comprise a strong set of recommendations for states and the field as they work to improve and design strong, comprehensive pathway systems intended to meet the skill, employment, and advancement needs of low-income, low-skilled adults who are in or entering the ECE field. In addition, the report offers 14 recommendations illuminated with state examples.

 Highlights of the Report Findings

  • All 50 states, the District of Columbia (DC), and Puerto Rico have early learning standards and guidelines in place for at least some part of the birth through age five continuum.
  • The Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) provides a common lens for comparing early learning programs within a state. Of the 50 states, including DC, and Puerto Rico, 98 percent have a QRIS in some stage of development.
  • The vast majority of states have implemented registries of child care providers
  • Nearly half of the states offer T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood programs, an initiative that provides assistance and support services to individuals in the ECE workforce who are completing coursework leading to credentials, degrees, and teacher licensure.
  • 94 percent of states have ECE workforce core knowledge and competencies in place.
  • 39 percent of the 50 states exceed the minimum requirements of a high school diploma or equivalent credential and a specific infant/toddler credential or certificate for staff working with infants and toddlers in publicly-funded programs.

A Snapshot of Five States

The report details the work of five states – California, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Carolina, and West Virginia – to show how their existing credentialing systems could be used to support career pathways efforts. This involved a close look at target populations and their points of entry; systems and services offered; the review or development of competency models; the development of career ladders; and whether or not programs lead to industry recognized and/or post-secondary credentials. These states offer a variety of examples of infrastructure at varying stages of development, and much can be learned from their work.

 The report includes appendices with extensive resources. The full report can be read http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-earlylearningchallenge/index.html

A second report, to be released in summer 2016, will focus on issues of access to jobs and advancement in the ECE field.

Voices from the Field: Stacie G. Goffin

”The role of higher education is crucial to early childhood education
becoming a recognized professional field of practice.”

Interview with
Stacie Goffin, Ed.D.
Principal
Goffin Strategy Group

Stacie Goffin

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

A recognized leader and author in early childhood education, Stacie Goffin serves as Principal of the Goffin Strategy Group and has led significant change initiatives spanning higher education, local, state, and national organizations; organizational development; and advocacy, resulting in change for systems, policy, and practice.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Stacie:  I began my career as an early childhood special educator. After practicing as a classroom teacher for a number of years and earning my doctorate, I became an early childhood teacher educator, teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I then went to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and had the privilege of being its first program officer for early care and education. From there I went to NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and directed the Accreditation Reinvention Project, which involved both the redesign of the association’s early childhood program accreditation system and developing the criteria to accompany the program standards that came out of the first national commission. These experiences gave me the opportunity to expand my understanding of early childhood education in terms of how it was viewed in different contexts and how differing responsibilities offer new levers for advancing the field. When I left NAEYC, I wasn’t sure what next I wanted to do. I became a consultant, presumably only for a short time, so I could reengage with the field in a broader way. Now, 12 years later, I am principal of the Goffin Strategy Group, which is dedicated to strengthening early childhood education’s ability to provide effective programs and services for children and families through leadership, capacity, and systems development.

Steven: What do you see as the role of advocates and others in improving the quality of early learning?

Stacie: As advocates, we tend to spend most of our time helping others to understand the importance of children’s earliest learning years, convincing them of the importance of the work we do, and developing supportive public policies on behalf of that work. I think we need to attend more to what I call “internal advocacy.” Children and their families deserve access to competent practitioners regardless of the program setting, and I believe we need to advance ECE as a recognized professional field of practice. This transformation would allow us to define ECE as a field of practice and assume responsibility for ensuring its practitioners have the knowledge, skills, and disposition necessary for effective practice, and to ensure systems are in place for verifying that our practices well serve serve children and their families.

Steven: How do you see the role of high education?

Stacie: The role of higher education is crucial to early childhood education becoming a recognized professional field of practice. One of the ways professions ensure their practitioners have the knowledge and skills necessary for effective practice is by focusing on the preparation that takes place in institutions of higher education. We need to attend in a deeper way to the role higher education plays in advancing early childhood education as a recognized profession. The issue is not only about what the field’s prospective professionals are learning in terms of their knowledge and skills; it’s also about the knowledge and skills of those preparing future early educators so, as a field of practice, we can be more confident that we are delivering on ECE’s promise.

Steven: Is there anything else you want to add?

Stacie: This is a defining moment for early childhood education. We increasingly are being made aware of the gap existing between our promises as a field of practice and our ability to fulfill those promises. In the absence of our assuming responsibility as a field of practice regarding this issue, individuals outside of ECE are defining our work. The time has come for us to develop consensus around the future we want for early childhood education and to begin working on bringing that aspiration to fruition.

Voices from the Field: Myra Jones-Taylor

“I think that is where we really need to take all this brain science that has allowed us to be in this position where we are now: talking about the importance of the earliest years and really infuse that in the daily practice of the providers who care for our children.”

Interview with Myra Jones-Taylor, PhD
Commissioner
Connecticut Office of Early Childhood

Myra Jones-Taylor

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Myra Jones-Taylor, PhD was appointed the first commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC), established in 2013 by Governor Dannel P. Malloy. The agency’s mission is to coordinate and improve Connecticut’s birth-to-five programs and create a cohesive, high-quality system that supports the state’s youngest children in their development. She also oversees Connecticut’s Preschool Development Grant.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Myra: It was a very circuitous route. I was getting my PhD in Anthropology and American Studies and I was planning on looking at welfare reform and I was thinking about issues of poverty. Everybody said you need to understand childcare. If you really want to understand the policy shifts that are happening, you should really pay attention to early childhood education and childcare. After I heard the 10th person telling me this, I thought maybe I should really pay attention to this. And I completely changed paths and focused on all these reforms that were happening around early childhood education and specifically how providers on the ground were reacting to them. So I ended up doing ethnography on early childhood education policy. And then that was it. I was going to go on and do my next project, which was also going to be about education and poverty. I was going work at the University of Pennsylvania, and then somebody called me and they said, remember that big mess that you were uncovering in early childhood education in New Haven? They want someone to come in and create a plan to fix it at the state level and I think you should give it a shot. I was really torn about going into academia anyway. I have this sense of urgency that I just wasn’t sure academia was going to be able to keep pace with. So when this opportunity presented itself, I really jumped at it. I thought, well, I can at least create this plan and come up with some way to have an impact. It was an incredible honor to be appointed to the lead agency that was the outgrowth of that plan.

Steven: What do you see as the role of state leaders, like yourself, in improving access to high-quality early learning programs?

Myra: There are two things that try to I focus on.. One is really figuring out this system of early childhood education. Twenty years from now, or ten years from now, I no longer want to be talking about blending and braiding funding. We really just need to figure out a better way to reflect the real need and get our federal partners and our state partners to rethink the way we currently fund early care and education. I think part of it is coming up with a new vision for the way that we serve young children in our early childhood education. That can start with three-year-olds and four-year-olds but it certainly needs to include birth to three-year-olds.

The other piece is: How does early care and education actually improve outcomes? Once you do all the tactical work of aligning policies to achieve quality and access – and not pitting one against the other – what does that quality piece look like? I think that is where we really need to take all of the brain science that has allowed us to be in this position where we are now – talking about the importance of the earliest years – and infuse that in the daily practice of the providers who care for our children. That comes through high-quality professional development. It comes through changing the conversation in communities around what is important for children and how we all need to rally around them to make sure they get that.

Steven: The President has proposed, for four years in a row now, high-quality, voluntary preschool for all four-year-olds. What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities, particularly as it relates to equity.

Myra: I really hope that we get it this year. I hope that we could go further. The PDG, this has been huge for our state. It is allowing us to provide things in our state-funded preschool programs that we have always wanted to have but have not had the resources to include, such as delivering comprehensive services directly to children in the classroom; higher salaries; and more intensive coaching, mentoring and consultation for our providers. We can all point to what I was alluding to earlier, which is, there have been so many studies now, talking about the importance of the earliest years of a child’s life. We have all that research from neuroscience and we have all the studies that make a connection to the importance of high-quality early experiences for children, but more often than we had hoped our field falls short of providing early experiences that deliver on the promise of those studies. And every once in a while there will be some new study that may throw everything into question. But if you really peel it back, you will find that children may have had a high-quality early learning experience, and then they go into a K-3 experience that has not kept pace with the amazing experience that they had in their early learning setting. Or, you will find that a state put money into an early learning program where quality was absent. We will not see the outcomes studies tell us we should be seeing with access alone. Quality and access must go together. We know that together they make a difference. And no one should be asking these questions anymore about whether it is really worth the investment.

We need to be defining what quality looks like and how you support providers to make that happen. I think those are the biggest challenges right there. Quality costs money and providers need a lot of training. And this is a field that has been undervalued and underpaid for a very long time. And if we really want to get the good outcomes that we’re talking about, we have to have providers who can afford to take the classes that we’re saying they need to take, and who aren’t coming to work frazzled and stressed, and bearing the signs of poverty that they are just barely getting out of themselves. At the end of the day we need to ask ourselves: how do we really make this a system, regardless of the setting, that’s a high-quality setting with a workforce that is up for the task?

Open Discussion on the Role of Education Technologies in Early Childhood STEM Education

On April 21st, the U.S. Department of Education came together with the White House and numerous public and private partners to announce our shared commitment to improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in early learning (Preschool – 3rd Grade).  Early engagement in STEM is critical for our youngest learners because opportunity gaps in STEM can begin prior to preschool—and they can continue grow as students progress through school.  There are a host of ways that the public and private sectors can partner to better address this STEM opportunity gap in early learning, such as integrating STEM with the arts and literacy, and using education technologies including screen media (e.g., television, computers, videogames, tablets).  We believe that the use of technology can be an important tool for closing these gaps when used intentionally and appropriately in conjunction with other forms of pedagogy.

The U.S. Department of Education would like to initiate a discussion with the early learning and STEM communities on how best to engage and support parents, caregivers, educators, researchers and developers on how to eliminate opportunity gaps in early childhood STEM education, especially by leveraging education technologies. This conversation will inform federal policy decisions in the coming months.

Call to Action:

We ask early childhood educators and researchers, in particular, to help address these fundamental questions:

  1. Recommendations for screen media use in early childhood vary. It is difficult for educators, parents and caregivers to make informed decisions about which content is effective and how and when to use it. For example, how can educators, parents and caregivers best determine what content is age-appropriate?
  2. How can we make it easier for educators, parents and caregivers to select applications that are high quality and proven effective? What research gaps do we need to address to inform these types of decisions?
  3. How do we effectively support professional development (PD) for educators to facilitate the effective use of education technologies to close STEM opportunity gaps in early learning settings? How can education technologies help provide effective PD?
  4. How can we help media developers address the needs of diverse students and those with special needs to increase student engagement, and to promote social emotional learning?
  5. How can we bridge the opportunity gaps between STEM education, literacy, and the arts? What, if any, is the role of technology and screen media in these efforts?

Please submit your comments and questions in this open forum by 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, May 13, 2016.  We seek open and robust discussion of these issues so that we can improve education outcomes for all young children and provide effective guidance for parents, caregivers, and educators.

Recommended Reading (in chronological order):

Media Use By Children Younger Than 2 Years
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011)

Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8
Fred Rogers Center and NAEYC (2012)

Envisioning a Digital Age Architecture for Early Education
New America Foundation (2014)

Tech in the Early Years: What Do We Know and Why Does It Matter?
Fred Rogers Center (2014)

Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight
Zero to Three (2014)

Getting a Read on the App Stores : A Market Scan and Analysis of Children’s Literacy Apps
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2015)

Beyond Turn it off: How to Advise Families on Media Use
American Academy of Pediatrics (2015)

Apps en familia: Guía para usar apps con tus hijos
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2015)

Use of Technology to Support Early Childhood Practice: Full Report
Health and Human Services Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (2015)

Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families
Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2016)

Note: These resource materials are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.

Thank you for your comments. The comment period is now closed.  Please join our list serv at www.ed.gov/early-learning for updates and progress on the joint statement.

Voices from the Field: Tammy Mann

“We talk about equity, but how do we break down this idea that children are being educated in environments that are segregated by virtue of the funding streams that support them?”

 Interview with Tammy Mann
President and CEO
The Campagna Center

Tammy Mann

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

For over 20 years, Dr. Mann has worked in the nonprofit sector in agencies devoted to improving outcomes for young children and their families. At the outset of her career, she worked on the frontlines as a psychologist, providing home visiting services to low-income pregnant women and families with very young children, holding senior executive positions at the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at UNCF and ZERO TO THREE. In 2012, she was appointed Commissioner of the Children, Youth, and Families Collaborative Commission in Alexandria where she serves as the first elected chair. 

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Tammy: I went straight into graduate school right after I finished my undergraduate degree in psychology. I was really focused on working with adults, honestly, and my first practicum sort of introduced me to people who were surprisingly all very fascinated with their early experiences and how they sort of thought about those and the young people that they had become. So it was simply being curious about what kind of power that represents for people. I was living in a city at a time where there was a lot being written about young children being exposed to crack cocaine. I was in Detroit in the 80s. And I was surprised to hear the doomsday kind of statements that were being made about young children. That sort of interchange along with people also talking about the early years just kind of made me fascinated. And fortunately I was in a program after I finished my masters, where I got to work with a guy in developmental psychology who was very much committed to mentoring and supporting me. I got involved in developmental health and became a clinician in Detroit, working as a home visitor with moms with young children under three dealing with depression and a whole lot of other issues. So it was really about the desire to want to see how we could intervene and support families, when their children were the youngest and vulnerable, to avoid years of having to fix things down the line. I kind of came in to this from a curiosity perspective and fell in love with the work, the people that were doing the work, and the power that the work represented — and just never looked back.

Steven: What do you see as the role of community-based providers like The Campagna Center in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Tammy: From Campagna’s angle, we are serving a little over 500 children under the age of 5 as the thrust of our work, and we are committed to doing our best to make sure that the children and the families we serve are gaining access to what they need and that the children are benefiting socially and emotionally and intellectually in all the areas of development that set them up to be on track for being able to do well when they transition in the school. That’s our commitment and what we try to live up to, and I think because we are part of the community that operates from a non-profit perspective, clearly our ability to partner and work with others, whether they are other non-profit providers and or with our schools, represents a very important opportunity to ensure that not just what we are doing under our umbrella is the best it can be, but we are working together with others in the community who are committed to that same goal and making sure we are sharing resources and supporting each other and the work. So we have a terrific collaborative here going on in our community that’s really fashioned around building a broad tent for people that have their hands on working with children during this age. We are a very important part of the tapestry of the early education community that is so vital to providing access, not just four years of age but really looking at children from birth forward.

Steven: Why would you say the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning and development programs for our children is important to our country, and what do you see as some of the challenges and the opportunities, particularly as it relates to equity?

Tammy: In terms of what it represents for our country — and I won’t go through the research case with you, I know you get that case very well — I will say one of the things that I was most excited about in terms of the plan was that it focused on appreciating the 0-5 perspective, on what it means for our country to invest in the education and well-being of young children. And I think that’s a really important message so I was pretty excited to see that. And the thrust is making sure what we are doing is aligned, which is a buzz word I really hate using, but I will use it for the sake of brevity, and recognize that the connection that it offers into our K-12 system and for the benefit of children and families that there is truly coherence to what is happening outside of their homes when children are in our care and the care of other early learning organizations and schools that we are truly working together to make sure kids have what they need. These invests early on can make big dividends down the line. I was really excited about the 0-5 vocal point and the opportunity to partner with child care where significant numbers of children are having early learning experiences every day across the country. This whole sense of we can’t get too myopic where we’re focusing because we miss hundreds of thousands of children who are absolutely being impacted by the quality of the experiences that they are having. So the opportunity to partner and bring to life the resources in learning — the two way street of learning from what they are experiencing and what we bring — is beautiful. I will just say I had a pretty long taxing day yesterday and I came to my office before I was leaving here at 7:30 pm or so, and someone had placed on my desk a copy of the before and after picture of learning environments. We did elect to compete in the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, and our community of infant toddler care is really by and large delivered through a network of family childcare providers that are regulated. Even though it is one of the hardest places to get to the high mark that we want to see happen in terms of all the credentialing and everything, we elected to go there because that’s where children in our community at that age are being served. I took a look at a picture that our staff had taken of what the home environment looked like before we were able to deploy resources and supports with the 16 providers that we’re connected to and then what the environments looked like afterwards. It just made my heart sing because it’s not just the children that we are serving that qualify for Early Head Start that benefit, but it is also the other children who are in those environments that are having the residual opportunities to benefit. We talk about equity, but how do we break down this idea that children are being educated in environments that are segregated by virtue of the funding streams that support them? I believe we have an opportunity to be a little bit more creative. It’s not easy work to do — and that’s not because these are people who don’t care and aren’t committed to wanting to do the best they can do but you know — but being able to pay for quality matters. I think that often gets the short shrift in the equity conversation because we can aspire to wanting to see the highest of high credentials that represent one dimension of what it means to create equitable learning environments, but we can’t afford to finance that solely on the backs of parents.  How do we get there without unintentionally decimating or demoralizing or making access much more challenging for families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work if you’re talking about using a childcare partner angle to diversify the income of children you’re serving? And the schools certainly — we are working with our schools as we’re trying to push at this issue of making the most reasonable funding stream to achieve some of the things we desire on the equity side. It is important work and we feel fortunate to be a part of pushing at this in our own situation.

 

Voices from the Field: Danielle Ewen

“We did succeed in the weave-in strategy [in ESSA] that NAEYC and others have been promulgating for years, and that gives us a huge opportunity to really grow understanding about what young children need in classrooms…”

Interview with
Danielle Ewen
Senior Policy Advisor
Education Counsel

Danielle Ewen

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Danielle Ewen served in numerous leadership positions in child care and early education policy before coming to Education Counsel as a senior policy advisor. She previously served as the Director of the Office of Early Childhood Education in the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she oversaw the operations of programs serving three- and four-year old children in high quality, comprehensive classrooms. Early in her career, she worked as a Policy Analyst at the US Department of Education in the Office of Migrant Education.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Danielle: Well, I’m hind of a policy wonk to my very heart, and my senior honors thesis in college was about child care policy, and I actually did lots of phone interviews from California to people in Washington, including Helen Blank, when she was still at CDF (Children’s Defense Fund). So I sort of was born into it in a way. That’s how I started. Then I went to policy school and was a Presidential Management intern at the Department of Education. And from there I went on to a number of policy organizations including CDF and CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy) and always did policy about young kids.

Steven: What do you see as the role of policy makers and advocates, with whom you work now in your position, in improving access to quality early learning programs?

Danielle: That’s a big question. I think there are probably three things. I think we have an obligation to always talk, whether we are in the policy realm or advocates or both, about what’s best for kids and their families. So keeping that at the forefront of the conversations is our first obligation. Our second obligation is to really think about how the early childhood system and the K-12 system can come together to provide access to quality education for kids that need it and have never had that, or who are in communities that are underserved. The third thing is to really make sure that young kids are part of the conversation that we are having.  With the big changes that are going on with ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), it’s very easy, especially in the K-12 world, for early childhood programs – and even K-1-2-3 – to get left out of the big conversations about education reform. Our kids are in those systems, our kinds need access to the highest quality we can provide and good teachers and great programs. If we are not part of those conversations wherever policy conversations are happening, then we won’t get the best outcomes for our kids.

Steven: What opportunities for early learning do you see in the new education law and what do you see as some of the challenges?

Danielle: That’s a great question. I’m going to start with the challenges because I think there are two big challenges. The first challenge is that it is not an early childhood law and that we are at best a tertiary concern for many folks and folks that haven’t already been thinking about early childhood as part of their effort to implement it, won’t have this at the forefront of their mind. So I think the nature of the law is one big challenge for the early childhood world. The second challenge is big. There are these large buckets of reform built into the law — creating new accountability systems, reviewing assessments across states, thinking about school improvement, thinking about teacher effectiveness and evaluation systems, and continuous improvement of stakeholder engagement. And in none of those places in the law, is early childhood even mentioned. And yet, we need to be at the table. We need to be part of the conversation in every one of those areas so that whatever states come up with is appropriate for young kids from birth through third grade, depending on which part of the curriculum folks are willing to talk about in the K-12 frame. And there’s a real danger that folks representing early childhood and early elementary won’t be listened to in a real way, and we will either get policies that aren’t good for kids — push down, bad assessment, indicators that don’t really apply to our kids. Or we will miss opportunities to really think about how to include indicators of quality early childhood, like CLASS new disparity data into the kind of systems we want to build to make sure there are high-quality pathways to all kids and families. So those are the challenges.

And I think the opportunities are all the places where it’s an allowable use. I’m really excited where the definition of “professional development” in the bill includes early childhood providers, includes helping school leaders understand child development. I’m excited that we are not just an allowable use, but the language around understanding what the Head Start standards are, understanding what it means to provide a quality environment, is now embedded in state responsibilities. If LEAs are going to use the money that way, states have to explain and help them implement in a high quality way. I’m really excited that early childhood is included explicitly as an intervention for targeted populations, homeless children, and language minority kids. We did succeed in the weave-in strategy that NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and others have been promulgating for years. And that gives us a huge opportunity to really grow understanding about what young children need in classrooms, what good teaching and learning looks like for young children and how to grow access to high-quality programs.

 

Voices from the Field: Albert Wat

“More so than ever before, early childhood educators, program directors, and policy leaders should be able to see themselves in our nation’s most significant public education law, moving us closer to a P-12 system.”

Interview with
Albert Wat
Senior Policy Director
Alliance for Early Success

 Albert Wat

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Albert Wat is a part of the Leadership Team at Alliance for Early Success, leading a portfolio of state and national partnerships and investments focused on pre-K and the education continuum birth through grade three. Previously, he served as a Senior Policy Analyst in the Education Division of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Research Manager at Pre-K Now. In 2014, Albert served on the committee of the Institute of Medicine’s study, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation.

Steven: How did you begin your career in early learning?

Albert: I have been working in education generally for a little bit more than twenty years actually. And in about only half of those years have I been in early learning. I did not intentionally seek out a career in early learning. I was interested in policy and research. So I was doing a master’s degree in education policy at George Washington University. At the end of the program, I was looking for opportunities where I could use that degree, and it was one of those, you know, being at the right time and the right place. I applied for a job at Pre-K Now. They liked me and I liked them, and you know, it worked out from there. So that’s how I got in there. I mean, I like to think that there were some foundational pieces laid. Before that I was doing more community-based work in schools and in the community. And I did a good amount of work around early literacy and family literacy. So those concepts are very familiar to me. I was also a psychology major. It helped me a lot in terms of understanding the science behind what a policy is trying to do.

Steven: How is the work that happens in the states and the efforts that the Alliance does, important to the national movements in early learning?

Albert: I think even though it is not the explicit mission of the Alliance, one of the things that the alliance does is to build capacity in the field to maintain, sustain and grow the movement in early learning. So let me give an overview of how the Alliance does this. You know, the Alliance raises funds from different foundations across the country. And we grant the money out to a variety of national, policy, advocacy, and research organizations that focus on early childhood issues. By doing so I think what we are trying to do is to increase the coherence with which foundations on what does and does not work, and create more coherence around the advocacy effort at the state and national levels. In additional to providing the grant money, we also cultivate a network of state and national organizations, so they can leverage each other’s efforts. We can help them connect to organizations and provide some clear, user friendly information to help their legislative officials. Also in the process, what we are doing in terms of supporting this network is also increasing everybody’s understanding of the research, practices, policies and advocacy of early childhood. We focus on three areas: early learning, health issues and family supports as they relate to young children from 0-8. All those activities I think help build and create the momentum in national level.

Steven: Can you talk a little bit about the opportunities and challenges you see in the new ESSA?

Albert: As I’ve said, I think the best thing about ESSA in terms of early learning is that, more than ever, early learning is reflected in our country’s primary education law. That’s a good thing because I think that reflects a lot of our understanding in the past 10 to 20 years of how kids learn, when the achievement gap appears, and what we need to do before kindergarten to move in onto achievement. There’s more explicit language in the law about the extent to which early childhood programs, educators and the kids in those programs can benefit from those various funding and titles within ESSA. Obviously, Title I is serving the low-income population. But also, the titles around teacher quality, professional development, English language learners, even charter schools, and of course through the literacy from birth to Grade 12 program, early childhood has a part of that. In the literacy program 15% of funds need to be spent on kids from 0-5. Other than that, it’s really up to the discretion of local and state leaders to take advantage of all those funds that can be used for young children. And I will come back to that in a little bit.

The other part of the law obviously is the Preschool Development Grants. I do think that’s important that it is in the law. It is a good foundation to build on. It focuses more on strategic planning, collaboration, coordination for 0-5 within the state, and maybe not as focused on expanding programs or even approving policies that states are working on. All I have to say is that both in terms of the preschool development grant portion of the law and the other titles I mentioned earlier, there’s a really big role for state level leadership, whether it’s inside or outside government to maximize the potential of the law to afford high-quality early learning opportunity. I think chiefs and governors are going to be the stakeholders to work with. And advocates, at the state and local level, are also very important –it is really up to those folks to bring up the profile of early learning as they are developing plans for ESSA at the local level. At the Alliance, we will be working with our state partners to do some of that work. We have a network of state advocacy organizations that we support and a lot of them I know are very interested in what the opportunities behind this law and what it can do for early childhood education.

If I can talk a little bit more broadly, beyond ESSA, at the federal level—I think a lot of the people in the field would agree that the Office of Early Learning has been a great asset to the field at the national level and has really raised the profile of early childhood education. And beyond that, really integrated that issue into different policies and grant opportunities. However the election turns out, our hope is that there would still be a robust role in the Department of Education for early learning. Even if the Department is not going to be as prescriptive, as specific in how it supports early childhood, there’s still a lot the federal government could do to support early childhood. There’s a lot they can do to build on what they are already working on – maybe give more discretion about funding opportunities that can be used for early childhood education. I also think we can still do a lot to encourage and intensify action where more action needs to be taken. A good example of this is the infant toddler issue. I think a lot of state policy makers still struggle to figure out what the role of government is when it comes infant toddler care. I think the federal government can raise the need to invest in that age group and provide services to give all children a good foundation before kindergarten. Early childhood partnerships has been doing that and I think there’s more to be done around how to leverage health care law, resources and infant toddler issues.

Voices from the Field: Laura Bornfreund

“Children are learning from birth. And to make sure all kids have the opportunities they need and deserve when they enter kindergarten and later in life, there needs to be a greater investment in access to high-quality early education.”

Interview with
Director of Early & Elementary Education Policy
New America

Laura Bornfreund

by Senior Policy Advisor Steven Hicks

Laura Bornfreund is Director of Early & Elementary Education Policy at New America. She examines state and federal policies related to learning and teaching birth through grade 3. She writes on a variety of topics including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal education grant programs, teacher preparation, retention, evaluation and support, kindergarten, and early childhood assessment.

Steven: How did you both begin your work in Early Learning?

Laura: I actually started out as a traditionally-trained fourth grade teacher and became interested in the earlier grades because at that fourth grade level, I had so many non-readers or nearly non-readers in my class. So I became really curious about what was happening in the younger grades and what needs to be done in the earlier years to prevent that. But it wasn’t until I left teaching and went to work for the city of Orlando that I got more directly involved in the birth to five years. I helped to implement the city’s Parramore Kidz Zone project, which was modeled after the Harlem’s Children’s Zone. And with that effort, I primarily worked to develop the initiative in that birth to five space. Some of what we did included working with the Orange County Early Learning Coalition to improve the quality of child care providers that were serving some of the kids in the neighborhood and working with families to help identify high-quality child care providers. For families that wanted to keep their children at home, we worked with Healthy Families Orange to do playgroups, parenting-support groups in the neighborhood, and then we also infused some additional city funds into child care subsidies to help more families gain access to the subsidies so they could work more or go back and get some training or schooling. I did that for four years and then moved up to here in DC and, after bouncing around a little bit, I joined New America’s early education initiative in 2010 and as you’ve probably seen, we’ve gone through a transition here and Lisa [Guernsey] has moved on to solely direct the Learning Technologies initiative and become deputy director of the Education Policy Program overall and now I’m doing the early ed work and we’ve changed our name to more reflect what we’re doing which our team is the Early Education and Policy Team. We wanted to be clear to both the birth to five community and the K-3 or K-12 community that we’re working across the continuum and that both those areas are important and need attention and focus.

Steven: What do you see as the role of think tanks like New America in improving quality and access to high quality early learning programs?

Laura: I think New America and similar organizations is to amplify the research on children’s learning birth through third grade; elevate promising state polices and state and local approaches ensuring high-quality learning during that span and help to put that research and our findings in front of policy influencers and policy makers. Just as one example, in November, we released a scan of all 50 states and DC’s birth through third grade policies with an emphasis on literacy. The goal of that project, which was called From Crawling to Walking, was to elevate the policies we think matter most when it comes to make sure children are on track to becoming good readers by the end of third grade, and then also to spotlight those states that have good policies in place. New America is well positioned to do this kind of work because we’re not partisan. We’re not a membership organization. We’re not advocating for funding for a specific program or stream.   The early and elementary education policy team looks across the continuum covering a variety of topics. I like to say that New America is a cross between policy and journalism. Many of the individuals who work here started as reporters, including Lisa Guernsey. It brings a different perspective and a way to translate complex policy or research to a wider audience it helps to have that journalist perspective. And then also we have individuals here representing diverse viewpoints across the political spectrum which allows for interesting debates and general conversations on a variety of issues.

Steven: Why is the President’s proposal to provide high-quality early learning and development programs for our children important to our country and what do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities?

Laura: I think as I don’t have to tell a lot of readers of your newsletter – and this is becoming more increasingly known over the last decade: that children’s education does not begin when they enter kindergarten. Children are learning from birth. And to make sure all kids have the opportunities they need and deserve when they enter kindergarten and later in life, there needs to be a greater investment in access to high-quality early education. And to me it’s clear that the administration understands how important children’s earliest years are, and the President’s emphasis on high-quality early education has been really important to raising the profile of early learning across the country. That has led to increased federal efforts and encouraged states to be more active because of his use of the bully pulpit to talk about early learning. I think some of the real opportunities have been the collaborations between the departments that work on education. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education working together to help children and their families have high-quality birth to five and crossing that continuum into K-3 high-quality opportunities. It’s also great to see Congress reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant with more of a focus on increasing quality. It’s exciting to see the proposed Head Start regs, which I think will be a step in the right direction for the field, and of course, more recently, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which includes more emphasis on early education. I think the challenges are implementation. This is always a significant challenge –truly realizing policy and having it play out well on the ground. The work that the states and community have to do is really important and needs a lot of attention. I think another challenge is ensuring there’s a high-quality teacher and leader early ed workforce in place. The Transforming the Workforce report that was sponsored by HHS and ED and others is really important for giving some guidance to the field on what needs to happen. But there’re a lot of challenges to realizing the goals and recommendations the report lays out, and then just sustaining and continuing to expand the investment. It was good to see additional dollars in the latest budget, but you want to see growing investment for pre-K, home visiting and other birth to age 8 programs at the state and local level as well as the federal level. Finally I think a challenge is expanding the good work that is happening in birth to five – federal, state, and local levels—efforts that are is just beginning to expand into the overlooked K through third grade. It’s figuring out how to better connect those efforts to really allow for smooth and well-scaffolded transitions for families and their children between pre-k and the early grades.