Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Program

Public Comment Section for RTT-ELC Executive Summary Now Closed

Thank you to everyone who has submitted opinions, ideas, suggestions, and comments on this dedicated Web site pertaining to the draft executive summary of the draft requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions for the RTT-ELC competition.

We are no longer accepting input on our Web site. Later this summer, we will publish the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for the RTT-ELC Program in the Federal Register.

Please check our RTT-ELC Program page for updates.

Thank you.


Secretaries Duncan and Sebelius

On May 25, 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that the Administration plans to use approximately $500 million of the FY11 Race to the Top funding for a major competition in support of bold and comprehensive State plans for raising the quality of early learning programs. Watch the announcement or listen to a conference call with stakeholders.

This new competition, the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), will be jointly administered by the Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The competition will call for States to take a comprehensive approach to developing integrated, high-quality early learning systems, which in turn will help ensure that more children, especially high-need children, enter school ready and able to succeed.

Specific competition requirements, priorities, and selection criteria are still under development. However, consistent with the statute, applicant States will need to take actions to:

  • Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
  • Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
  • Ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.

In order to run a rigorous competition and obligate funds to grantees before December 31, 2011, the ED plans to waive rulemaking on this new program, pursuant to its authority in the General Education Provisions Act. However, ED and HHS are very interested in your input. We encourage all interested parties to submit opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments pertaining to the RTT-ELC competition below.

This is a moderated site. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. We intend to post all responsive submissions on a timely basis. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate. To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. For more information, please be sure to read the “comments policy” tab at the top of the Web page.

The fine print. Please understand that posts must be related to the RTT-ELC competition and program, and should be as specific as possible, and, as appropriate, supported by data and relevant research. Posts must be limited to 1,000 words. All opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments are considered informal input. ED and HHS will not respond to individual posts, and these posts may or may not be reflected in the policies and requirements of the program. If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked-to information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Additionally, please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements; we will delete all such links before your comment is posted.

Again, thank you for your interest in this historic opportunity to support early learning. We look forward to hearing from you.

199 Comments

  1. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Program. I believe that it is critical that the RFP be structured so that competing programs are required to integrate mental health and trauma screening and services into early learning systems. More and more data are emerging demonstrating that young children are disproportionately impacted by such interpersonal traumas as child maltreatment and exposure to intimate partner violence and that children’s capacities for attention and concentration and their capacity to form trusting relationships with others are impacted by by exposure to these traumatic events. All of these capacities underlie children’s ability to explore the environment effectively and learn, and early education systems that ignore children’s experiences of trauma and the resulting impact on their emotional and behavioral health do children a disservice. Early learning programs should be required to include quality mental health consultation as well as mental health and trauma screenings to insure that children who need intervention in order to facilitate their learning are linked to appropriate services. Whereever possible, programs should be required to demonstrate collaborative partnerships with providers of evidece-based early childhood mental health interventions so that we can be assured that children will be able to access the care that they need. Without such assessments and linkages to service providers, a great many children will be emotionally and behaviorally unable to take advantage of the opportunities provided by early learning programs. All of these elements: consultation, screening, linkage, and collaboration with providers of evidence-based interventions should be weighted in the RFP such that they will be present in all programs whose bids are successful.

    Patricia Van Horn, Ph.D.
    Director, Division of Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital
    Child Trauma Research Program, University of California, San Francisco

  2. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the design of the recently announced Early Learning Challenge Fund. Preschool California is an advocacy and policy organization supporting increased access to high-quality early education, including preschool and infant and toddler programs, for the children of California. Research consistently demonstrates the importance of investing in high-quality early education programs, particularly for low-income children. Given this, we were excited to see the Administration’s dedication to supporting high-quality early education systems and, in particular, this year’s allocation of $500 million from Race to the Top funds to support those efforts. We hope to see the Challenge Fund designed to support states at all stages of development in building a high-quality early education system, including states like California that have large populations of dual-language learners. We also hope to see the Challenge Fund emphasize innovation in connecting early education with K-12 to support alignment and articulation. Finally, we encourage you to allow localities, including districts and counties, to collaborate in their application for the funds, since quality systems building is most effective when informed by successful models and strategies.

    Multiple Tiers to Include States at Different Stages in the Development of Comprehensive High-Quality Early Learning Systems:

    We encourage you to design the Challenge Fund to include multiple tiers so that states at different stages in the development of comprehensive high quality early learning systems can continue to build their early education systems and move toward higher-quality programs for all children. California has made tremendous progress over the last several years in building a coherent, high-quality system. This includes laying the groundwork for developing a QRIS, the establishment of an Early Learning Advisory Council (ELAC) and the creation of curriculum standards for preschool aged children, infants and toddlers and dual language learners. Our progress is not as advanced as some states, and California faces a stark budget crisis which continues to pose challenges to moving our work forward. We hope you will recognize the progress that states like California have made and allow for the continued development of a high-quality early education system to serve our youngest learners.

    Inclusion of Dual-Language Learners:

    A variety of rigorous national research shows the dual language model in early learning environments benefits all children ages 0-5. There is scientific consensus that infants have the capacity to learn two languages from birth and that this early dual language exposure supports the development of greater tissue density in areas of the brain that control memory, language and attention. Young children who are taught in both their home language and English demonstrate the highest achievement in both languages by the end of third grade and beyond. In addition to supporting the acquisition of English, dual language learning also helps children build confidence. Multilingual children are shown to experience higher levels of self-esteem and are afforded greater professional opportunities.

    California has the largest population of dual language learners (DLLs) in the nation, representing over 400 different languages. A number of school districts across California are currently implementing innovative DLL models that support language development and long-term academic achievement. With more than a quarter of the nation’s dual language learners nationwide attending California’s public schools, our state’s work has the potential to have a broad national impact.

    We encourage you to include incentives in the Challenge Grant that will enable states with large concentrations of DLLs, such as California, to promote innovative language development models to serve this important group of children. Language development models should include content standards, age- and developmentally-appropriate assessments that measure both the child’s native language and English language skills, professional development opportunities for the workforce and activities that promote family inclusion.

    P-3 Frame

    Given the importance of the early elementary years in sustaining the gains made in early education, we encourage you to reward innovation in linking early education programs with K-12. California has followed local innovative models by establishing a statewide transitional kindergarten program for the youngest kindergarteners. This new program will bridge the developmentally appropriate standards and curriculum of preschool and early learning with the structure and professional development of K-12 to best serve these young children. By combining the preschool standards with the common core standards of K-12, transitional kindergarten will provide an opportunity to build a better understanding between early childhood and early elementary. The planning process for the statewide implementation of transitional kindergarten has already enabled California to bring school districts and K-12 stakeholders to the table to discuss methods for continuing to build a high-quality early education system. We encourage the Challenge Fund to reward locally driven innovative models that effectively align and articulate programs and supports from early education programs into K-3.

    Local Flexibility

    We encourage the Challenge Fund to be designed in a way that supports the continued innovation and development of high-quality early learning systems and models at the local level that can then be scaled to a state level. Many of our counties and school districts developed their own QRIS’s, integrated professional development systems and effective P-3 structures many years ago that helped inform the state’s continued development of effective systems. We encourage you to continue to reward partnerships between localities that foster innovation, efficiency and alignment, and that states can scale up.

    We applaud the vision of the Administration in focusing resources on incentivizing high-quality early learning systems. We hope that the Challenge Fund is designed in such a way that will leverage progress for California to move toward providing our youngest learners with the high-quality early learning experiences they deserve.

    Sincerely,
    Catherine Atkin
    President
    Preschool California

  3. The National Head Start Association thanks you for creating this Early Challenge Fund (ECF) opportunity for States to improve the quality of their early learning systems for low-income and disadvantaged children. Head Start and Early Head Start serve more than 1.1 million low-income and disadvantaged children in every State throughout the country. We are committed to ensuring our nation’s most vulnerable children succeed in life and have several recommendations:

    • RECOMMENDATION: The ELC grant should be a three-year competitive grant.

    • RECOMMENDATION: To enable State system-building, the definitions of “low-income” and “disadvantaged” children must include Head Start and Early Head Start eligible children and Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) eligible children.

    • RECOMMENDATION: As conditions of receiving an ELC grant, the Head Start community must be at the State early learning system table:
     States must demonstrate the joint planning and development of applications with State agencies corresponding to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department of Education, the agency that oversees CCDF, and the agency (if existing) that funds state-funded Head Start or Early Head Start.
     The state Head Start association, the American Indian/Alaskan Native Head Start and the Migrant/Seasonal Head Start communities, the Head Start-State Collaboration Director, and parents must participate in the ELC’s grant application’s planning, development, and implementation.
     The CCDF administrator and the state Head Start association must sign-off on a State’s ELC grant application.
     States with State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care must include parents, the state Head Start association, the American Indian/Alaskan Native Head Start and the Migrant/Seasonal Head Start communities, and the Head Start-State Collaboration Director.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Additional conditions for the ELC grant applications are:
     States must demonstrate that ELC grant funds may only supplement and must not supplant other Federal, State, local, or private funds that have historically been available for early childhood programs
     States should demonstrate how they intend to ensure the sustainability of ELC efforts beyond the grant period. 
     States shall contribute non-Federal matching funds that are at least 15 percent of the grant amount.
     States must assure that their uses of assessments are consistent with the recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences.
     States must use a percentage of their ELC funds to fund an independent evaluation of how the ELC grant funds were used.
     The state’s application must include a quality system containing five components:
    o Governance structure;
    o Program standards with the Head Start Program Performance Standards serving as the model for infant/toddler and preschool standards.
    o Financial incentives and non-monetary supports to programs and providers;
    o Quality assurance and monitoring including regular evaluation, transparency, public reporting, well-trained and knowledgeable independent evaluators, and access to technical assistance for program improvement; and
    o Family engagement, outreach, and consumer education for families and early childhood programs which are inclusive and culturally and linguistically accessible.

    • RECOMMENDATION: States should receive bonus points in their State ELC grant applications in several ways:
    o Maintenance of Effort: A State receiving an ELC grant has maintained or increased the expenditures of the State for early childhood programs during the preceding two years and/or the State must demonstrate that it has a historical record of making substantial investments in early childhood education during the past five years and that it has a plan to continue these investments.
    o Collaboration and Coordination: States must assure and certify that they will direct state educational, health, and welfare agencies to collaborate and coordinate with early childhood programs, including child care, Head Start, and Early Head Start programs with respect to memorandums of understandings and the referrals of special education and early intervention services as provided by the Head Start Act.
    o Family Engagement: The State will use a significant part of its ELC grant to promote parental and family engagement in early childhood programs.
    o Wrap-around Services: The State will use a significant part of its CCDF and/or state child care funds to enable service providers to collaborate and provide wrap around services.
    o Full Day/Full Year Services: The State will use a significant part of its CCDF and/or state child care funds to expand access to full day/full year services.
    o Title I: The State will use a significant portion of its Title I funds to support early childhood education placements.
    o Professional Development: The State will support the professional development of the early childhood education workforce by demonstrating how it’s two and four year state-funded Institutions of Higher Education will meet the needs of the early childhood education workforce.

    • RECOMMENDATION: States must be required to include a menu of choices in their ELC applications, including:
    o Fostering the development of seamless State systems and ensuring the continuity of high quality early learning by improving communications and transitions among Head Start and other high quality early childhood programs and elementary schools.
    o Extending the school-year or school-day to expand access to high quality early childhood education programs.
    o Supplementing existing high quality early learning program funding to serve additional children and families.
    o Strengthening the caliber of assessments that early childhood providers are using and providing training and technical assistance (T/TA) to help early childhood providers use them.
    o Developing the capacity of early childhood providers to evaluate child and family outcomes by providing T/TA, including information about evidence-based measurements and developmentally appropriate assessments.
    o Creating and/or enhancing state Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRISs) by providing financial incentives to encourage parents and all providers, including Head Start and Early Head Start, to fully participate in the design and/or implementation of QRISs.
    o Developing an aligned state-based training and technical assistance system (T/TA) that as appropriate utilizes the resources of the Head Start T/TA system, Child Care, and State Education Agency (SEA) training including Parts B and C to provide targeted professional development to the early childhood workforce independently or in conjunction with a QRIS.
    o Enhancing the professional development of the early childhood workforce such as by providing scholarships to practitioners to meet degree and credential requirements and fostering partnerships between programs and universities.
    o Promoting innovative ways for early learning programs to foster family and community engagement.
    o Developing electronic data systems to enable all early childhood programs including Head Start and state administrators to track the enrollment and educational progress of low-income and disadvantaged children.

    • RECOMMENDATION: States must annually report and certify that their CCDF administrator and the state Head Start association have signed-off on their ELC grant application’s and that State Advisory Council’s membership includes Head Start parents, the state Head Start association, an American Indian/Alaskan Native Head Start representative, and a Migrant/Seasonal Head Start representative, and the Head Start-State Collaboration Director.

    To read our complete recommendations submitted by Yasmina Vinci, our Executive Director, visit http://www.nhsa.org/news_and_advocacy/advocacy/race_to_the_top_competition.

  4. It is well established that investments in early care and learning are connected to quality of workforce and economic development. It is a matter of national security that we extend opportunities for excellent care to the most vulnerable populations among us. Please do establish a two-tier system for applications so that those states that are not on the cutting edge, but that are doing very good work on behalf of children, have an opportunity to apply. Please make moderate (if any) match requests for applications so that those who want to support the goals of RTT – ELC can mentor the application through successfully in economically challenged times and economically challenged places. Local input from all stakeholders including school districts, child care agencies at the local and state levels, licensing agencies, etc. – all must concur and be in agreement on how these funds will be used to best serve children.

    Thank you for the opportunity for input.

  5. Research shows that a child’s learning begins at birth and takes shape as children are nurtured, challenged and engaged in high-quality learning environments and in relationships with parents and other caregivers. Children whose parents are engaged in their education earn better grades, score higher on tests, and are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

    On behalf of Parents as Teachers, we recommend that the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge include opportunities for evidence-based home visiting services as an integral part of the continuum of early childhood services for families and children. Home visiting services, such as in the Parents as Teachers model are two generational and engage both parent and child in school readiness and transition activities that seek to ensure children are prepared to enter kindergarten.

    Investing in early childhood services is one of the best ways to ensure all children reach kindergarten healthy and eager to learn throughout their life. Parents as Teachers welcomes the opportunity to discuss these recommendations further and thanks the U.S. Department of Education for the opportunity to submit these comments.

    Hillary Elliott
    Public Policy Director
    Parents as Teachers

  6. RTT-EL is an amazing opportunity for our States to really focus on ensuring that young children are raised and educated in the caring and supportive environments they need to reach their full potential. We are excited about the investments the Federal Government is making in early childhood development and would like to offer comment on some areas we regard as important to the development of the RFP. We believe that the potential of the investment can be significantly increased if the following areas are attended:

    1. Focus on integrating systems – There are currently more than 60 federal programs that focus on early childhood in different capacities. My experience at the State level has been that as a result, there are a variety of ECD programs which are currently not speaking to one another and are therefore not achieving the desired results. For example, in my community, a young child can have as many as 5 social workers assigned to work with them (each social worker from a different State Agency – Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of Family, etc.), however each of these social workers currently has a caseload that is so large that none of them end up fulfilling the child’s needs. In many cases, children simply fall through the cracks. Improving the quality of early learning is not just about the improving the quality of teaching in classrooms, it is about creating home, community and center based environments that promote children’s wellbeing. While I am aware that the State ECACs are targeting this need, there is still significant variation as to the work that is being performed by each State ECAC. Further investments towards this end, for example through planning grants and information sharing amongst State Teams can significantly attend to this need.

    2. Foster the sharing of information on Best Practices across States – The best learning on how to successfully implement systems for ECD will come from what is being done in the field and by offering State Teams the opportunity to meet and work with one another to identify issues and solutions to problems. This is how innovation happens. In other fields, HRSA has been very successful in helping states develop plans to target specific issues. In 2001 I participated as part of a State Team that was brought together by HRSA to “Policy Academies” focused on helping States develop plans to end homelessness. I think this model could work well with ECD. The “Policy Academies” worked with States to develop well-structured leadership teams, visited State teams at home to facilitate and train the leadership in the planning process with their local constituencies, brought together the teams (10 at a time) to meet amongst themselves and with Policy Experts to discuss the plans and made progress reports on the plans public (and part of the funding process) to raise the bar. The results for our team were spectacular. Bringing the teams together with one another and policy experts really created the type of community necessary to advance the field.

    3. Work to raise the bar on quality in all States – While the significant investments need to be made to showcase the best practices that are currently taking place in States that have made significant advancements towards implementing systems of improving quality in early learning, we would also emphasize the importance of the Development Grants for States that have a promise of strengthening early learning systems but who need additional assistance. We think this part of the RTT-EL will be extremely important and commend the administration on similar efforts, like the CDC Community Transformation Grants, that have provisions for States who need additional assistance implementing change.

    4. Focus on results – One of the most significant barriers towards the development of informed public policy and planning in ECD is a general lack of up-to-date and trustworthy social service data. The need to gather, analyze and report data on the state of our children is paramount to inform planning and public policy. This strategy has significant potential in that it would focus all local efforts towards achieving certain agreed upon goals and would provide the mechanisms for keeping all parties accountable.

    We are looking forward to news about RTT-EL and thank you for the opportunity to provide comment on this important program.

  7. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (ELC); this is a tremendous opportunity for states to improve the quality and continuity of education for young children. While the funds have been designated to focus on children before they reach kindergarten, we believe the ELC also provides a unique opportunity to establish early learning as the foundation for a fully aligned continuum of education from birth through post-secondary.

    To do this, we wholeheartedly agree that states’ birth-to-five systems must become better organized and of higher quality. However, it is also crucial for states to be intentional and strategic about linking and aligning their birth-to-five systems and programs with Kindergarten through 3rd grade (K-3) education. Doing so ensures that the gains made in early learning settings can be better sustained and achievement gaps can be closed early.

    We are excited about the potential of HHS and ED working together to promote alignment of early learning and K-3 as you create guidelines, review proposals, and manage the ELC initiative. We urge you to consider the following ideas to encourage states to develop their birth-to-five systems in a manner that clearly supports alignment with K-3:

    Governance, Funding, and Data Efforts
    • Regardless of which agency a governor designates to manage a state’s ELC effort, require involvement of the state’s early childhood advisory council and department of education in planning and support of the planned activities, to encourage appropriate connections with state efforts to improve K-3 education.
    • Reward states that include school district superintendents, school board members, elementary school principals, K-3 teachers, or other leadership from K-12 education as key partners in their ELC planning.
    • Reward states whose plans involve school districts that currently invest (or have plans to invest) Title I dollars in early learning programs.
    • If states plan to use ELC resources to improve the quality and use of data, require states to link early childhood data (e.g., data on young children; early learning programs and program quality; and the early childhood workforce) with longitudinal state education data systems.

    Standards, Assessments, and Program Improvement
    • Reward states for aligning their early learning and K-3 standards; encourage states to set research-based expectations for children of all ages in all key areas of child development including cognitive (literacy/communications, mathematics, science, and social studies), social, emotional, and physical development.
    • As states improve the use of child assessments to improve teaching and learning and report on the overall status of young children, birth to age 5, encourage collaboration with related state efforts to assess children in K-3 classrooms.
    • Reward states that build partnerships between early learning and K-3 teachers and administrators to review and make joint plans to act on the implications of data.
    • As states develop tools and systems for assessing and improving program quality, reward states that share information from quality rating and improvement systems with elementary schools and school districts, and that extend the use of research-based tools for assessing the quality of instruction, teacher-child interactions, and learning environments into K-3 classrooms.

    Professional Development
    • Require states to provide an assurance that teachers and principals in the early grades (K-3) will not be barred from participating in professional development programs to improve early learning systems if they can pay their own way using funds outside of the ELC grant.
    • Reward states that create systems of professional development that include and engage administrators and teachers from both the early learning system (e.g., program directors, childcare and home visiting staff, pre-k teachers, community providers) and K-12 systems (e.g., elementary school principals, K-3 teachers).
    • Reward states that show a commitment to improving their teacher preparation programs and licensure structures to ensure that teachers not only in pre-k but also in kindergarten and the early grades are well prepared to teach young children.

    Transitions
    • Require states to commit to engaging families in the life of schools including the use of transition and ongoing programs that help families be active partners with their local elementary schools.
    • Reward states that recognize the importance of full-day kindergarten and create plans for ensuring that children have access to fully funded full-day kindergarten.

    We fully support and applaud your tireless efforts to continue to strengthen systems that support young children’s learning and development. We see the Early Learning Challenge as an historic opportunity to bolster the birth-to-five system while simultaneously positioning that system to be strategically aligned with the elementary grades. We would be more than happy to provide additional detail on any of these suggestions.

    Again, thank you for all that you do on behalf of children.

    Sincerely,

    Lisa Guernsey
    Director, Early Education Initiative
    New America Foundation

    Bridget Hamre, Ph.D.
    Senior Scientist
    Curry School of Education
    University of Virginia

    Kristie Kauerz, Ed.D.
    Program Director, PreK-3rd Education
    Harvard Graduate School of Education

    Chris Maxwell, Ph.D.
    Director, New Schools Project
    Erikson Institute

    Sharon Ritchie, Ed.D.
    Director, FirstSchool
    Senior Scientist
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Tonja Rucker, Ph.D.
    Principal Associate
    Institute for Youth and Families
    National League of Cities

    Thomas Schultz, Ph.D.
    Program Director
    Next Generation Learners
    Council of Chief State School Officers

  8. The state plans MUST include a strategy for using existing infrastructure for the delivery of preschool. To that end, a mixed delivery system, which integrates community child care programs as partners with public schools, must be apparent in the plan. In addition, states must indicate how they plan to provide financial and time supports to child care providers to assist teachers to access higher education. Using the NJ model, proven successful, will assist states in creating such a plan and inform the US DOE in framing the requirements for states to develop their proposals.

    • I fully support your recommendation for a mixed elviery system which integrates community child care programs (public and private which serve at-risk and high poverty communties), public schools, along with Head Start Programs. Also, it needs to be a requirement for funding to provide tuition support for children to attend community child care programs because these programs are iin many instances struggling to provide quality, affordable care because they are constrained with limited funding resources for the children that need services. Funding must be budgeted to provide adequate program support and implementation!

  9. The Race to the Top funds are a wonderful opportunity for State’s to explore ways to improve upon how we support ALL young children in their critical years of learning. I stronly advocate for Children’s Musuems to be included in the partnerships. Too often we are regarded as icing on the cake rather than an essential part of the overall learning program for young chlidren. Koh Chlidren’s Museum provides many hands on interactive learning environments that support the exploration and accomodation of math concepts, languange skills, the scientific process as well as social emotional learning – all in an environement that is safe and not threatening. For the past 10 years we have been delivering our Early Childhood Connections program that establishes a year long partnership with teachers, preK to third grade, helping them learn about and implement the Project Based approach in their classrooms. 8 years of formal evaluation by national Louis University has demonstrated the efficacy of the program and we are now developing a level two program. Museum’s by their nature have a hard time formally measuring their impact, but this does not lessen the magnitude of the influence we collectively have on the lives of young children and their families. I hope that this time, we can be included and be part of the solution to improving the delivery of education to young children as well as to their teachers and families. Children’s Museums can and should be a respected partner in early learning efforts.

  10. There is a well-recognized and documented readiness gap at the time of kindergarten entry by socio-economic status, race, language, and culture that contributes significantly to subsequent gaps in grade-level reading and math proficiency, involvement in compensatory and special education programs, chronic absence and suspension and expulsion, and ultimately school dropout. The Build Initiative’s Diversity and Equity’s Working Group has identified four other key “gaps” in the early years that ultimately produce this “readiness gap”:
    · a participation gap in formal services (particularly health services and preschool and other formal care arrangements);
    · a cultural awareness and recognition gap (particularly for providers serving children with different cultural and language backgrounds than their own);
    · a workforce diversity gap (particularly among credentialed providers and within professional institutions training and accrediting the workforce); and
    · a stakeholder planning and decision—making gap (particularly in developing public policies and recognizing the expertise of those from other backgrounds and experiences).[1]

    The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants not only should highlight the importance of addressing the readiness gap by race, culture, language, and socio-economic status but also should require grant applicants to provide information on how they will address the participation, cultural awareness and diversity, workforce diversity, and stakeholder planning and decision-making gaps, starting with obtaining good information on the prevalence and location of those gaps within districts and, where possible, elementary school attendance areas.

    Research has shown that, while 2% of white, non-Hispanic children live in census tracts characterized as being of “high child raising vulnerability” based upon income, education, social structure, and wealth indicators, 20% of African-American and 25% of Hispanic children live in these census tracts. Developing strong early learning environments in these neighborhoods require more than individually-focused early learning activities and involve community building work in order to address all gaps. Again, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants provide the opportunity to develop comprehensive approaches in those census tracts and elementary school attendance areas – ones which engage parents and residents in those neighborhoods to address all five gaps. [2] In School Power, published in 1961 but still relevant today, James Comer indicated that one of the greatest challenges to achieving success in poor school districts was “reducing the distance between the culture of the school and the culture of the community.” The Early Learning Challenge grants provide an opportunity to address that challenge.

    Appreciate the opportunity to comment.

    Michelle Stover-Wright, Child and Family Policy Center, staff to the BUILD Initiative Equity and Diversity Working Group

    [1] Building Early Childhood Systems in a Multi-Ethnic Society: An Overview of BUILD’s Briefs on Diversity and Equity. Retrievable at: http://www.buildinitiative.org.
    [2] Village Building and School Readiness: Closing Opportunity Gaps in a Diverse Society. State Early Childhood Policy Technical Assistance Network. Retrievable at: http://www.finebynine.org.

  11. I am so excited by the introduction of this program, our children are the worlds future and lifting those in the poorest areas of the country, can only lift the whole country.

  12. I am thrilled that President Obama and his administration are providing additional funding resources for low income, at risk children and their families. As a Head Start Director in Georgia, it has become increasinlg difficult to meet Head Start Performance Standards and the mandated Head Start Act of 2007 due to a lack of sufficient funding. Additional funding will provide adeuate pay for teachers, safe transportation, and facilities whch meet state and federal requirements for childcare licensing. I’ve just mentioned meeting the minimum requirements; it is our duty and responsibility, as early childhood care and education providers to exceed the minimum requirements.
    We owe such to our children who are this country’s future.
    There are early care and learning programs curently in existence, Head Start and
    universal Pre-K, to name two of which I operate directly. I recommend these funds are awarded to the two entities mentioned. An application process, by way of competion should be developed and made available to quality providers within the state, based on certain criteria; the State Department of Early Care and Learning and Head Start will be the funding entities.
    Why reinvent the wheel? Provisions should be made to enhance what is currently in existence and which has demostrated its worthiness and success over 45 years for Head Start and 19 years for GA Pre-K.

  13. As we advocate for the needs of improving the Early learning program. Please remember the staff that provide care to millions of children each day. We need to have pay that reflects the many hats that we wear for the sake of our employers and the parents we send off to work each day trusting that thier child/children are in loving hands. While many like myself struggle to raise a family, provide a living and go to school in order to become a teacher we need pay that reflects the work that we do everyday to influence the lives of the young ones we care for. The early learning years are critical and we deserve a little share in having substantial pay that will motivate those who stay in the early learning field. Many of us struggle with no health insurance, improper nutrition, inadequate child care for our own children and high gas prices while trying to survive off of the low incomes we bring home in order to provide for our families while we service other families with the best of our abilities.

  14. As a children’s librarian in a suburban public library, may I advocate for the consideration of library programs for preschoolers to be considered as part of the “high-quality early learning programs and services”? At my own library, we offer storytimes for infants through 5 and 6 year olds, all focused on early literacy skills. We offer workshops for parents, caregivers and teachers and have areas in our libraries dedicated to early literacy learning through play.

    Many parents, especially those of children who are considered at risk, are not able to afford placement in programs and centers. In addition, with our situation, early literacy skills can be learned at any time in the library, just through interactions with parents and caregivers.

    Please include libraries in this program! We are able to start children on path of learning from the moment they come in our doors.

  15. I want to thank the Obama Administration for creating this opportunity for states to improve the quality of their early learning systems. I would like to recommend a few things to start:

    1. In Washington State we are very proud of our Prenatal to Grade 3 approach. We have won numerous awards and recognition. I believe any proposal needs to demonstrate how this approach is being utilized and considered.

    2. Head Start and other low income parents need to be at the table for the planning, development, and final submission of any application. This grant is specifically meant to improve the quality of child care for low income children and their families. It only makes sense to include them in the process.

    3. Any proposal should build on the work Head Start is doing to engage parents. Not only our parents engaged in key decision making and leadership roles but they are taught how to improve their interactions and skills.

    4. Head Start does a considerable amount of work ensuring that children are ready for school. Not just from an academic sense but also by conducting health screenings, dental check ups, immunizations, and through social emotional skills building. Any proposal should include these important pieces.

    5. Again don’t forget the parents. A good proposal not only finds way to track and improve the quality of the experience for young children, but also provides the necessary tools and data to increase the skills of parents. Head Start for example helps parents find employment, go back to school, start a business, and get off of public assistance. Any good proposal should include some requirement for family outcomes similar to what the state of Washington is doing with our pre-k program–ECEAP.

    • I completely agree with everything that you have said. I work in an ECEAP program in Washington State. I would echo other sentiments listed here in adding that employees must be given a living wage and hours. Our district cut our full-time pre-k assistants last year to 80% hours, which also made them inadvertently ineligible for medical/dental/vision, unless the employee was willing to pay out of pocket. Translated that means that the employee either goes without those insurances or has even greater reduced income to somewhere around 65-70% of former income by paying for those insurances individually. Our district is looking at another budget cut again for academic year 2011-2012. I have been hearing several support staff speaking of leaving their school district jobs, because they cannot financially support their own families. Our talented experienced educators are the ones who are able to most influence the shape of our country’s future by teaching our children today. If we lose the experienced educators, the fewer new educators will be reduced to repeating classroom educational mistakes of the past as there will be no voice of wisdom and experience to listen to.

  16. I respectfully ask that Part B 619 (special ed preschool) and Part C be “required” partners for applying for the Early Learning Challenge Fund. Though we’ve made strides in providing inclusive opportunities in early childhood environments, young children with disabilities are still often left out of the loop. If made a “required” part of the application, states could initate or increase QUALITY inclusive opportunities in Head Start, Universal PreK, and Child Care environments. Additionally, professional development could be delivered across varying early childhood settings instead of silos.

    Thanks for the consideration.

  17. To build a durable “integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services”, the ELC grant competition must require a joint application, involving at a minimum the state agency that administers child care (federal CCDF, etc.), the state education agency, the state agency(ies) that oversee early intervention and early childhood special education and the state EC Advisory Council. Each of these bodies must participate in the development of the application and agree to its submission by signing the application.

    The goal of the ELC competition is to support states in developing ONE program improvement and accountability system, supported by ONE professional development system and ONE data system. This integrated system must encompasses the full range of formal settings that provide early care and education, the entire paid early childhood workforce and the full range of funding sources including all public funds and the significant funding provided by families themselves. The system must be provider-centric and family-friendly.

    Therefore, development of an effective, cross-sector integrated statewide quality improvement and rating system (QIRS) must be an absolute priority in the competition. QIRS can be, and are in a few states, the principal improvement and accountability system for programs in all setting (i.e., center-based programs, family child care programs, and school-based programs) and supported by all public funding streams (e.g., state funds for prekindergarten, federal and state funds for child care, federal funds for Head Start and Early Head Start, and federal state/local funds for early intervention and special education). The ELC competition must require that QIRS include all settings supported by all funding sources. The QIRS must be aligned with the state’s early learning guidelines for children birth through age five and with its cross-sector integrated system of preparation and continuing development for all early childhood professionals.

    It is essential that the grant competition focus on both states with mature QIRS that can be improved, as well as states that are developing QIRS. States in the development and early stages of implementation have generally benefited from both the experience of their predecessors and the advances in knowledge about the content and process of early learning of the past decade. Many of these newer systems are highly innovative and efficient in how they support and incentivize best practices in programs in all settings.

    Anne Mitchell
    Alliance for Early Childhood Finance
    http://www.earlychildhoodfinance.org

  18. Demonstration of strong state-local structure is encouraged when considering grant awards. When there is a strong partnership between the local and state structures higher accountability occurs, and greater rewards are realized by our families and children. Additionally these partnerships naturally create a common ground through the already existing lines of communication with stakeholders at both the state and local levels, thus ensuring that planning, development and implementation takes into account the needs of the children at the community level. The Florida legislators created such a system several years ago through the creation of Early Learning Coalitions that allow the Boards of these Coalitions to meet the early learning needs in their community through these local-state partnerships.
    Roseann Fricks
    Association of Early Learning Coalitions Chair
    Executive Director Early learning Coalition of Marion County, Florida

  19. As a parent actively involved in my children’s education, I am not hopeful about the results of such a program. First, each child is different. I have raised special-needs children, gifted children, and academically average children. All of these young people, some of them now adults, felt thwarted by the attempts to categorize and define the degree of their success. All but one of them had varying degrees of educational care during their pre-school years including Head Start, university child development programs, and at home teaching. We have found that each child has had a different best way of learning. This difference is not recognized in schools who are required to create rubrics and define success based upon data. Every child is reduced to a set of statistics. My husband and I have had to take on the enormous task of restoring our children’s self-esteem so that they learn to value their independent ways of thinking and learning. We have done this without the support of most of the schools they have attended. It seems that the focus of your program is to obtain the grant and prove success in terms that do not relate to students as individuals. I hope there are some professionals out there in the decision-making world that agree and are willing to change the way we educate our children in this country.

    • I agree fully with you and I see how poorly the education system teaches in the ways you mentioned where individuals different ways of learning is not accounted for. Everything seems to be graded on the same scales and if you don’t learn like most of the kids you are considered average or below average. There are lots of theories on how to work on these issues and we should focus on finding new ways to encourage and not discourage “kids at an early age.”

  20. Please focus on the whole child concept and what is truly needed to support school readiness including: health, mental health (social emotional support), family support and leadership, and high quality early care and education. If we focus only on academic or cognitive approaches, we will be remiss on actually closing achievement gaps in later years. If basic needs aren’t met and supported in a systemic fashion, children will still struggle to achieve scholastic outcomes.

    • I agree. We have the Whole Child Florida Initiative in our state that looks at the holistic approach to serving families with young children. In focusing on school readiness we need to include the social emotional dimension as well as the academics.

  21. We are gratified and excited to learn about this new funding partnership. The competitive funding allocation for states that did not receive Race to the Top funding last year is a particularly welcome opportunity for New Jersey. We strongly recommend that when the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Partnership RFP is released this summer, it should include a stipulation that some proportion of funding granted to each state must be dedicated to Early Head Start (EHS) home-based, home-visiting instruction models that produce critical outcomes of learning readiness, with pre-literacy attained goals of child well being, language stimulation, adequate nutrition, and pediatric and well-child care and immunization.

    Although the EHS home-based model is proven through evaluation research funded by DHHS and published by Mathematica, in states such as New Jersey where this model is newer, and in such an intensely-competitive funding environment, there may be less impetus at the state level to ensure that some of this new funding is allocated towards this vital program option.

    Last year, New Jersey declined to allocate any funding from the Affordable Care Act Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program grant to any Early Head Start home-based home visiting programs, although this was, and still remains, one of seven possible research-proven models that were eligible for funding under that federal program. We would hate to see that outcome repeated this year with this new Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge program funding, especially given that there are so few opportunities for federal funding to the states that can expand access to, and document the effectiveness of, the early learning programs that urban children desperately need if they are to begin school on an even basis, healthy, ready to learn and to thrive in school.

    Our program is in an urban setting with 75% of students not graduating high school, and 18% (of all families) to 59% (of single-parent) families with children under the age of five living below the federal poverty level. Our EHS home-based model has a constant waiting list of 25 families; we keep recruitment low only because we do not want to disappoint more families wishing to enroll in the program and receive instructional services and support.

    We want to add the following observations to our comments:

    Pure EHS home visiting may have an escalating new constituency in need of its home based services due to the economic recession. This severe recession disproportionately impacts working poor who are losing their subsidized childcare as they can no longer afford to pay for it. They have few skills to easily find another job, yet they are in prime child-bearing and child-rearing years, caring for babies and toddlers on increasingly inadequate incomes. This is highly stressing their parenting abilities, and creating even larger numbers of more traumatized young children who are poorly prepared as infants and toddlers for starting kindergarten with the ability to regulate their feelings and behaviors, prerequisites for being ready to learn.

    We recognize that there are many competing interests for this funding, and block grant programs are specifically designed to give states maximum flexibility, but our understanding is that a specific goal of the Obama Administration was to steer resources toward evidence-based, cost-effective home visiting programs. If a goal of the Challenge is to encourage states to make the best possible use of federal investments in early learning, please consider shaping the RFP to assure that successfully-operating Early Head Start home visiting program model in every state have minimally 5% of each state’s total Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Partnership funding being awarded.

    Donna C. Pressma, LCSW
    President and CEO
    The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey

  22. In order to improve and maintain high quality early education experiences for all children, the early learning grant guidelines should require a focus on building systems that link community providers with k-12 schools and align standards, curriculum, instruction, assessments, interventions, and resources. A strong professional development plan that includes leadership development for early childhood program leaders and elementary principals to ensure a systems approach to quality instructional practices that are age appropriate should be another requirement.

  23. Thank you for your commitment to improving access to affordable, high quality early care and learning services for children and their families. As you craft The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, we urge the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to design this initiative to prioritize the following recommendations.

    Improving Quality in Existing Early Childhood Programs in All Settings

    • The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge should strengthen and improve existing services for all age groups in all types of programs (including licensed family child care providers and kith-and-kin care.)

    • We believe that these grants should be designed to promote quality improvement for existing programs in low-income communities, tied to credentialing and improved compensation, rather than primarily shifting children from their current settings into programs that have already achieved high quality.

    • Specific language should be included incenting states to focus on quality improvement and increased funding for existing programs serving disadvantaged children which provide care for under-served populations, such as infants and toddlers, English-language learners, children with special needs, and families needing care during non-traditional hours.

    • States should be required to apply to the Secretary in order to use a maximum of 25% of grant funds to expand access to the highest quality programs after demonstrating sufficient progress in implementing the other requirements of the grant, as described in H.R. 3221 which passed the House of Representatives on September 17, 2009.

    Linking Professional Development to Compensation and Supports

    • In order to recruit and retain a well-qualified workforce, the Race to Top Early Learning Challenge must encourage states to invest in quality improvement and workforce development for this mostly low-income workforce, by supporting and rewarding providers for education, training, and quality improvement through incentives such as stipends, tiered reimbursement, access to health insurance and other programs to improve compensation.

    • States should be required to include tiered reimbursement and/or other financial supports in their Quality Rating Improvement Systems.

    • States should be required to use at least a certain percent of their grant funding for direct support to the workforce for compensation, benefits, and/or professional development supports.

    • Grant applications should require States to lay out a plan to address compensation and turnover issues in their state.

    Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Competition

    • The Early Learning Challenge should be designed to allow a range of states (not just the top-performing states) to access funds to support and improve their systems. States should be allowed to compete wherever they are in the development of their system, as long as they meet some basic requirements and are committed to move forward in making substantial improvements.

    • States that have made such commitments to the care and education of their young children should not be removed from consideration if they have been forced to make tough choices to balance their budgets, in this time of massive state budget shortfalls.

    • I would say to the secretary, be reminded that what works for one community might not work for the other. One must not be confused between giving a job to the refugee mothers and expecting bright future for the children.
      Refugee children need what any child needs. Example: to have a Ph.D Doctors to teach them at their early learning education days or someone who has Masters degree, or P.Sc or associate degree, and given their economic situation some one who has GED will be OK, In the state of Washington we have almost close to 300 licenced home daycare businesses. Many of them do not contribute to their school readiness. If we support and build the base, we would’nt need afterschool programs. If we stop this fulish idea of opening cans of home daycare businesses our children will be bright, and there will be many gifted children in our schools.

    • additionally, please take into consideration the unique needs of very rural/frontier states. It’s possible a more equitable approach for competition of funding is to categorize awards by regions, to allow for fair competition among like states and for fair distribution to benefit children across the country.

  24. The greatest problem in providing quality education and care to children ages birth-to-five is the lack of quality slots. Existing quality early childhood care centers are at capacity and additional funds for programming will do nothing to add capacity to this sector. Please make provision for these funds to be used for capital projects.

    Most centers are in older buildings that have been retrofit to accommodate children. New buildings can incorporate programmatic priorities (e.g., movement studios, full-length windows; child-height cabinetry) into designs that are also environmentally sensitive, safe for children and healthy. Buildings that emphasize the needs of a child will help to support programming that is child-centered. In addition, new construction in a community sends the message that early childhood matters to the community’s leadership. And, shovel-ready projects will help the economy.

    In addition, these funds should address the crisis in quality care surrounding transition from a quality center to existing schools. Investments in a sound foundation can be squandered when a child is forced into a poor school system. There are at least 2 areas of investment that could make a big difference: (1) parent engagement/empowerment in their child’s educational future; and (2) programs/structures to facilitate communication between early childhood settings and schools. Please invest in programs that are effective in teaching parents to navigate educational opportunities, advocate for their child, and know their child’s educational needs. Please also invest in programs that provide incentives for child care centers and schools to have sustained communication about the transition process and what is best for children.

    • Early learning is not just about center based care. Learning starts in the home, dare I say prenatally. What a missed opportunity this would be if it is focused entirely on the preK system of care and lacks a component to support parenting education. A child that has a secure and nurturing attachment with their parent or primary caregiver as well as a parent who is willing to take on the responsbility of adequately preparing their child to enter school prepared to succeed is paramount to that child’s future success. You can have high quality early learning centers in at risk communities but if the parent in need does not know why their child should attend (or counld attend) then the issue of investing in center based care is somewhat of a moot point. Do not put the cart before the horse. Education begins in the home.

  25. Madison Children’s Museum applauds the focus on kindergarten readiness as part of the Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge. I join my colleagues in expressing the desire to include children’s museums as essential collaborators in this important national initiative. Since adults and preschoolers visit children’s museums together, our institutions are particularly well positioned to advance education of parents as well as their children. Research shows again and again that parental involvement is key to a child’s academic success. Through our professional staff and early learning programs, children’s museums support and encourage parents as their child’s first and best teacher. If begun early, this learning partnership between parent and child will continue for a lifetime, ensuring that programs like RTT-ELC will succeed because parents are behind it.

    Ruth G. Shelly
    Executive Director
    Madison Children’s Museum

  26. It is imperative that early learning include teaching/modelling for parents from birth (or pregnancy) through home visiting programs.

  27. The Children’s Defense Fund so appreciates the focus of the latest Race to the Top on crucial early childhood education to ensure children strong foundations and later school success. This partnership between the Deaprtments of Education and HHS emphasizes the need for comprehensive services for all children in the early years. This post details four specific recommendations to help ensure the new funds reach the most vulnerable young children so often denied the extra help they need.

    Recommendation #1: To help ensure quality child care programs are a part of the continuum of educational opportunity, require that states have in place the following in order to submit a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge application:

    • A statewide Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) that includes proof of an existing partnership with (at a minimum) school districts, health agencies, community college/university faculty and social service agencies as well as other related criteria described by the National Child Care Information Network.
    • A P-20 data system framework that includes data on children birth through 4 year old.
    • A registry for family home providers (those caring for non-relative children in their home).
    • Pilot T.E.A.C.H. and WAGES-type programs to address the continued education and related compensation needs of the early childhood teacher workforce.
    • Curriculum guidelines and instructional strategies for infants through Pre-K.
    • A state-wide system for training early care and education providers and providing information to parents about high quality early care and education programs.
    • Comprehensive planning through the Head Start Collaboration office among Head Start programs, public schools, licensed centers and family home providers.

    Recommendation #2: Recognize the importance of states addressing the early learning needs of children who are homeless, victims of abuse and neglect, in foster care, or have developmental challenges or other disabilities by awarding extra points in the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge competition to states that:

    • Specifically include in their comprehensive plans for service those agencies and organizations with relevant expertise in addressing the development of children who are homeless, victims of abuse and neglect, in foster care, or have developmental challenges or other disabilities.
    • Provide family support services to assist parents, especially those of children with special needs, in meeting developmental milestones in these early years.
    • Engage the state’s Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities (Part C) and the Part B Program of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in developing a comprehensive early learning system that includes a program for services for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with developmental delays and special attention for children who have been abused and neglected or are otherwise involved in the child welfare system and are struggling to overcome the effects of trauma, unmet mental health needs and needs related to parental drug and alcohol use.
    • Provide training for early learning staff related to the special health, mental health and developmental needs of young children who have disabilities, live in chronic poverty, are homeless, have been abused and neglected or are in foster care.

    Recommendation #3: Ensure all children a fair and equal educational start and a smooth transition from pre-kindergarten to grade school by awarding additional points in the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge competition to states that address the need for full-day kindergarten by:

    • Requiring by statute that school districts offer full–day kindergarten to all eligible children that is the same length of time as the first grade day and funded through provisions that are weighted at least the same as first grade under the state education funding formula for grades 1-12; and/or (if full-day kindergarten is not required by statute)
    • Making a written commitment to establish and implement a plan to create an early childhood education learning continuum that includes full-day kindergarten that is the same length of time as the first grade day and a plan to align the curricula for pre-school programs, full-day kindergarten and grades first through third; and
    • Collecting statewide data on enrollment of children in kindergarten by race and gender, type of program (half day/full day), whether attendance is mandatory and funding source.

    Recommendation #4: Strengthen the early learning continuum in states and assure quality care for young children in a variety of settings by requiring states to commit in their Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge applications to:

    • Dedicate at least 15 percent of their grant funds to strengthen family home providers (child care provided in a home setting to children not related to the provider) by offering research-based professional development opportunities; establishing state registration requirements that include, at a minimum, a criminal background check for the care provider; and requiring programs that receive Child Care Development Funds to adhere to program quality standards set by the state child care administrator.
    • Develop summer enrichment programs for young children prior to school entry that can help compensate for the lack of access to high quality early care and education during summer months.

    The Children’s Defense Fund welcomes the opportunity to discuss any of our recommendations with you or your staff. We believe all of them will strengthen the opportunities for young children that the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants will provide. They represent some of the extra steps we think are required to reach the children truly most in need. We know your commitment to these children and urge you to reflect that commitment in the guidance. Thank you for this historic initiative. We are eager to support it in every possible way.

  28. It is critical that the Early Learning Challenge RTT Competition by designed to maximize the impact of limited funds in improving learning outcomes for young children. To that end, please consider the following:

    Criteria must clearly define what “high-quality early learning programs” means. That definition should emphasize instructional quality for pre-k programs, including use of effective instructional practices and strategies; clearly articulated and content-rich curricula; and use of data to monitor children’s learning progress.

    Second, criteria should require states to demonstrate that they have strategies to increase the supply of high-quality providers serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and should specifically award states “points” for: 1) allowing high-performing traditional and chartered public schools to receive per-pupil funding through the state funding formula to serve infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; 2) having solid plans to identify and support the expansion of high-quality early learning providers (including community-based, Head Start, for-profit, and public school providers); and 3) giving identified high-quality providers greater flexibility to braid child care, Head Start, pre-k and elementary and secondary funds to better serve more youngsters, and eliminating barriers to doing so (such as state policies that reassess eligibility for childcare subsidies on a monthly basis).

    Third, ensuring high-quality research and evaluation of state policies and activities undertaken as part of this program is critical. Early childhood systems-building and coordination efforts are in their infancy, and we know very little about which systems design choices truly “work” better than others in a practical sense, or are more likely to lead to better results for kids. By instigating changes in state policies in these areas, the Early Learning Challenge can create real opportunities for high-quality research into the impact of different system building approaches and policy design choices on achieving our longer-term goals for the system and the kids and families it serves. Evaluation should utilize a mixture of rigorous qualitative and quantitative designs appropriate to the types of policy and design questions to which we seek answers.

  29. Two great things about children’s museums: one is that we serve one mission “nurturing the educational development of children” and two: you can find them just about anywhere. Including a small rural community like Malden, Missouri (pop. 4413). Not only do children’s museums provide wonderful hands on interactive exhibits and displays but we provide incredible workshops and programs to diverse audiences. The Bootheel Youth Museum like our sister museum hosts hands on educational workshops for children in Pre-K to 6th grade. The Bootheel Youth Museum is located in Southeast Missouri where 75% of our children qualify for free or reduced cost lunches. Like other children’s museum we provide low or no cost educational workshop and programs in a variety of settings. Children’s museums have the infrastructure in place to hit the floor running and the ability to significantly impact this national strategy effectively.

  30. As a nonprofit organization that provides home visits and parent group education opportunities, via the Parents As Teachers model, to families with children ages 0-6 in a three county region in Western WI, I would support investing this funding at a local level. In partnership with United Way, our organization and other partners in our 3-county area are working together to provide “Success By 6″ services through private foundation grants and donations. The need for services is increasing and funding is lacking. This is a great opportunity to invest in our children at that critical early age so they indeed will be “successful by 6″ and do well in school.

  31. Here in New Mexico we are very excited about this great opportunity to further the work we have been doing over the last several years in developing a system of early learning and care.
    We have two areas of concern that we would like to weigh in on.
    First, we hope that the grant will allow the state – through the Governor – to determine which department would be administering the grant. We would probably have the funds flow through our Children, Youth and Families Department rather than through our Public Education Department since that would be consistent with the way New Mexico implements early education.
    Secondly, we hope that there will not be a match that will require states to allocate new funds to match the grant. With our current economic situation there is no possibility of getting substantial new funds from the legislature next year and if we need to come up with a substantial match we would probably not be able to apply for the grant.

    • I would agree with not requiring a state match. My state has turned down federal funding including small grants that require any state contribution at all for implementation. A match requirement would doom the RTT ELC here.

      • I second what Brian and Terri are saying. A large match requirement will prevent many states currently struggling financially to apply for these funds, including our own.

  32. I appreciate the Obama administration’s recognition of the importance of early care and learning. Research over the past two decades on early brain development has underscored the need for quality early care and learning programs.

    Even though federal child care subsidies help low income working parents pay for child care, they do not cover the cost of quality child care, at least not in our state. Funding is needed to bridge the gap between what it costs to operate a quality program with its lower child-staff ratios and more highly educated teachers and the amount of the subsidy plus parent co-pay. The additional funding could be in the form of a stipend or scholarship for every child who is eligible for the federal subsidy (or some other income-to-needs ratio) served by a quality-certified child care center or family child care home.

    To be quality-certified, the center or home should be nationally accredited or otherwise meet similar quality criteria (e.g., child-staff ratio, teacher training), have a parents-as-partners component, and follow standards aligned with k-12 standards that are implemented in developmentally appropriate ways (very important!). I agree with the previous comment on the need for a strong emphasis on socio-emotional development.

    Supporting parents in accessing private early care and learning centers and homes provides them with the option of placing their children in programs that are integrated along socio-economic lines and operate full time for the full year.

    I also agree with previous comments that emphasized the need for a well-coordinated system of care including libraries and museums as well as health care, developmental screening, services for children with special needs, evidence-based home visiting programs, and other resources for parents to help them handle the challenges of providing for their families (e.g., GED classes) as well as gaining and sharing parenting information.

    Often unrecognized in community early care and learning initiatives is the need for special services for young children exposed to trauma. Research on brain development indicates the long-lasting effects of chronic and/or severe stress (“toxic stress”) on the developing brain, and a recent study found a link between childhood trauma and high school dropout (Porche, Fortuna, Lin, & Alegria (2011). Child Development, 82(3), 982-998.

  33. The goals of the Early Learning Challenge Grant Program are to increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs; and to design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services. We hope that through this grant program states will be encouraged to consider the critical role of the physical environment in supporting the supply and quality of early learning experiences. When establishing a system of quality, state leaders should identify the availability and quality of early learning facilities and develop strategies to inadequacies and shortages.

    Chair,
    National Children’s Facilities Network

  34. Despite general agreement regarding the need and importance of early interventions for at risk young children, there is no consensus regarding criteria for quality early intervention programs. There is a crying need for an approach that will provide a clear framework for identifying and quantifying the “Mental Diet” young children receive from their human environment vis-o-vie what they need for optimal development in a rapidly changing world. The latter could serve as a basis for planning interventions that will relate to the specific needs of very young children and to the cultural and personal childrearing objectives of their parents and caregivers.
    The MISC approach (More Intelligent and Socially Competent child) is evidence based theoretically sound framework for cross cultural early interventions with high risk infants, toddlers, and young children. It combines expertise in Developmental Psychology, Education, Communication sciences and Neurocognitive sciences. It integrates a focus on social-emotional and cognitive aspects of early adult-child interaction, has a high potential for transferability across populations (high risk children, as well as normally developing and gifted children), situations and life contexts. It combines a deep concern for infant mental health with the objective of raising children’s future social-emotional skills, cognitive abilities and learning potential.
    There is longitudinal research evidence supporting the assumption of causal relationships between certain types of behavior or characteristics of adult-child interaction that affect children’s social-emotional and cognitive behavior and create learning experiences that are potentially contributive to children’s flexibility of mind. The role of these factors has been studied in various cultures and with different populations of children and families with special needs. In these studies, basic mediational behaviors of parents (teachers or other adults) were defined, and their frequency and manner or style of appearance was identified. The identified mediational behaviors were found to be significantly related to children’s learning processes and consequently to their cognitive and social-emotional behavior and their dispositions for learning.
    An intervention based on the MISC approach is clear, comprehensive and short term. It empowers and sensitizes adults caring for and teaching young children. It enables parents, caregivers and teachers to be more efficient, sensitive and responsive, and to provide children with an appropriate “Mental Diet” that creates dispositions for future learning.
    The MISC approach has been applied in work with infants and toddlers at risk for environmental causes (i.e., poverty, neglect or trauma), as well as for genetic or other physiological risk factors (i.e., Autism, DS, VLBW). It has been implemented internationally and supported by NORAD, WHO, UNICEF, NIH, with promising results. We have applied this approach cross culturally, for example, in Israel, Norway, Sweden, England, Belgium, Holland, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Recently, it has also been applied successfully in work with HIV+ infected infants and toddlers in Africa (Uganda) and supported by the NIMH.

  35. All these initiatives, now RTT, exclude the majority’s need by creating competition and only serving a minimal number of young children and families. The strategy is flawed and reeks political. We will all scramble, another group, another generation victorious at having been awarded a grant. “Children are the living message we send to a time we will not see”. John W. Whitehead

  36. Wow, Family Child Care Providers seem to be struggling financially to keep their business afloat and money like this could help with the educational material needed to help some have a fully rounded program. Most parents would like to have their child embraced at a in home setting at 6 weeks and up, 5 children to one provider. Less sickness, more on hands love and attention. Whoever this needs to be addressed to, please include FAMILY CHILD CARE PROVIDERS, so that we too can reap the rewards of professional development activities and assessment. We account for millions of childrens infancy and toddler life experiences and care!

  37. The Early Learning Challenge Grants should emphasize:
    – The continuation of extensive parent involvement and home visiting from birth through 3rd grade
    – The continuum established from early childhood education through K-12
    – For Race to the Top states, the connections between the philosophical underpinnings of the Early Learning Challenge Grant and the Race to the Top Grant
    – The inclusion of healthcare access and health screenings, including physical, oral, mental and behavioural health in evaluation measures.

  38. I think it is critical that children’s museums are included as partners in this educational endeavor (the RTT-ELC grant). Our Bronzeville Children’s Museum, the first and only African American children’s museum in the country, has dedicated our mission and goals to help in the development of young children. Our concern has always been African American and other children of color, who have traditionally been underserved and ignored especially when it comes to learning about their culture, history and contributions of their people.

    Our museum is celebrating 13 years of bringing the message of identity, value of getting an education and working hard to achieve goals that will make our society great.

    Children’s museums prepare the younger child for school and provide hands-on exploratory learning. We reach out to children of varying backgrounds and abilities and connect with low-income and underserved families (partnership with the Macy’s) to encourage parent involvement in their children’s education, essential for success in school. We suceeding in providing enrichment for not only our child visitors, but also the parents/guardians who accompany them to our museum.

    We currently partner with schools in exposing and educating all children on the untold story of African Americans in the history of these United States. It is our hope that, with the RTT-ELC grant, we will be able to target the young parents and older grandparents who are responsible for rearing this new generation. We envision a program to help these “out of the loop” caregivers to play the important role of being their children’s “first” teacher.

    Peggy A. Montes
    President
    Bronzeville Children’s Museum, Chicago, IL

  39. It is wonderful that the government is promoting high-quality early learning programs and giving incentives to states to do so. Libraries are also an integral part of the early childhood system. As an Early Childhood Specialist at the West Bloomfield Township Public Library in Michigan, we develop our birth through age 5 programs and storytimes to help parents understand that they are their child’s first teacher and show them that learning can be a fun and positive experience through stories, songs, fine/ gross motor skills and even math and science concepts. Children learn best by doing. All the activities we accomplish at the Library, they can do at home with their children as well. We travel to all our area preschools and infant/toddler programs bringing storytime programs and promoting early literacy to parents and teachers. Working with local early childhood agencies, we provide staff training and development to our local preschool teachers. Through our Grow Up Reading initiative print materials and website we provide parents and educators with information on early childhood development as well as activities to do at home. If we are to take a holistic view of early childhood education, as this program would like to do, we should look at including all the community programs and agencies that help support and prepare our youngest children for their educational career.

  40. The public library is a natural partner in any effort to support early learning. Literacy is the key to success in school. Exposure to books and stories in the home are essential. The public library is the only FREE access that many families have to a rich variety books and early learning resources. Public libraries are in every community, and reading readiness and a love for learning are the core of the public libraries’ early childhood programs. Professional library staff are trained and dedicated to providing books, early childhood and parenting resources as well as programs and services designed to promote reading readiness. Public library staff are committed to introducing children, parents and caregivers to reading and books and learning through the joy of literature and language. Public Libraries provide NO-COST parent education, learning environments and early literacy opportunities children and families. The Early Learning Challenge Initiative programs will be effective if public libraries are included as community partners and eligible entities in the implementation of the Initiative.

  41. I think these funds should require that public libraries who do a great deal of early literacy work are included. At my library each program/story time event is based on building literacy and pre-literacy skills. We provide a baby friendly environment and lots of information for parents. We also work with many day care centers and pre schools to provide support for what they do. Public libraries’ staff have the skills and the experience in helping young children get ready to learn. Be sure they are included in the planning and the implementation of these programs.

  42. I too am concerned about the amount of money that is often filtered off at the state level, preventing full use of resources at the local level for the children who most need it. I am the director of an organization that provides year round parenting classes to give parents the tools to help their children become ready for school and life. Even at the local level, our state invests a great deal of money in Early Childhood Councils that provide no direct services to children or parents. It seems that this money could be redirected to programming that leads to safe, nurturing and enriching environments. Child care providers are so poorly paid and working parents are so stressed. Child care providers often have to take unpaid leave to attend trainings and work second jobs to pay their bills. It would seem that money spent on quality child care environments, training for staff and adequate compensation of staff would be money well spent. If we, as a society, feel that our children are our future and most important assets we must elevate the status of the people who teach and nurture them. A step in that direction would be adequate compensation and training. The next step in caring for children is providing nurturing, affirming training for their parents. Child care and a meal are essential components of a quality parent training program. So often funders see these supports as frivolous and not worth funding. I would like to see a shift in thinking about this. It is desirable for adult learners to develop a love of learning that translates to a life long pursuit of education. We are finding that parents continue to enroll in classes that have the above supports and that provide a nurturing and safe environment. They learn to be kinder, gentler parents who are demonstrating to their children that learning is desirable and they are striving to become more effective parents.

  43. In Secretary Duncan’s remarks at the 2010 Foreign Language Summit, he talked about the fact that the US “obviously need[s] to get better…in teaching languages. The United States is a long way from being the multi-lingual society that so many of our economic competitors are.” He also talked about how ”Low-income students and those who live in rural areas are a lot less likely to attend a school with language instruction. We have to level the playing field for them and offer better opportunities.”
    Research indisputably shows that the best time to learn a language is under age 5 and points to the many benefits to learning a second language; English Language Learners also learn better when given support in their native language.
    My hope is that priority consideration to accredited institutions that are truly innovative in approach, and that private for-profit institutions are not excluded. As a private early learning program that would love to offer scholarships to low income students, unfortunately as a small business we are not in a financial position to do so. As such, our tuition is out of reach for many families who could most benefit.
    I also hope that other factors that influence quality early learning programs, such as teacher training and qualifications, quality food, and outdoor classrooms, are able to be taken into account. Many programs are unable to pay and keep highly qualified teachers. What would our preschools look like if our teachers could be paid at public school rates? What about Farm to Preschool initiatives that encourage fresh and local food? Outdoor equipment? Field Trips? “For Profit” is a term to be used very loosely for child care. To have a profit generally you’ll need to stretch ratios, pay minimum wage, and serve sub-par food. Quality is expensive.

  44. My perspective is as the President and CEO of Youth In Need, a non-profit agency that provides Head Start, Early Head Start, and many other services to vulnerable children of all ages and their families in St. Louis and Eastern Missouri. I believe it is imperative that the best available evidence be considered in determining how the RTT-ELC Program can leverage the greatest positive societal impact. Nobel Prize winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman has assimilated a massive body of research in developing evidence that suggests which populations should be prioritized, and what types of early education programming should be provided. Detailed information on his work can be found at: http://www.heckmanequation.org. I urge that Dr. Heckman’s work be strongly considered as the Administration finalizes requirements and guidelines for the program. I offer the following brief summary of my understanding of the key elements of Dr. Heckman’s findings.

    Early education programs should target families that are disadvantaged in terms of the quality of their parenting. Heckman cites much evidence that the quality of parenting is the key to sustaining early learning and is the scarce resource among families facing challenges. Quality of parenting is often, but not always, linked to family income or educational level. The RTT-ELC Program should challenge states to design early education systems that reach and supportively engage parents who are most disadvantaged as defined by their parenting quality and abilities. Programs should therefore include strong parent engagement components that have high impact on parents, such as effective home visiting components. Heckman’s findings also point to the fact that while cognitive skill development in early education is critical, social/emotional development is the most important factor that is predictive of future success. Evidence also points to the importance of programs that respect the diversity and cultural context of families. Heckman also cites the importance of programs being highly engaged with community partners, businesses, and cultural institutions that are active in programs and the lives of vulnerable families.

    My hope is that the RTT-ELC Program will incorporate Dr. Heckman’s work and key findings, so that early education policy and programs will be significantly enhanced to improve both cognitive and social/emotional ability, and also support parents to be their child’s most important teachers and guides in achieving success in school and life.

  45. 1) The use of a blog format for comments seems entirely inadequate for a $1/2 billion new early childhood program. The format provides for only first name identification of the commenter with no context regarding the entity, organization, or his/her experience in delivering education and related development services to young children. Therefore, we urge the Departments of Education and HHS to develop a more effective means of receiving comments on the Application, Requirements, Priorities, and Selection Criteria package for these new funds. Even the one-week timeline the Education Department’s used to receive formal comments on its July 2009 waiver package would be preferable to this blog format.
    2) We recommend that the Department require at least 50 percent of funds under this new initiative be passed through to local level programs. We recommend that expanding and providing services to disadvantaged children be a primary emphasis of this new initiative. We are concerned that without clear Department directives and requirements that state agencies will use the lack of statutory specificity to expend these $1/2 billion in new funds to build “systems,” criteria, assessments, monitoring and compliance processes, and associated procedures without actually serving any more children than under current law. Finally, each application should document how it will ensure low-income, minority, language minority, and children with disabilities will receive priority consideration or, at minimum, equitable consideration in the provision of statewide early childhood services.

  46. I would like to advocate in support of encouraging states and communities eligible for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Program to form partnerships with children’s museums. As the largest children’s museum in the country, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is located in a large urban area surrounded by low-income neighborhoods. Serving more than one million visitors per year, the Children’s Museum has taken on an important leadership role in providing opportunities for hands-on exploratory learning that can help prepare children for school. Thus, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is an integral part of its community, offering a number of educational programs ranging from professional development for educators to encouraging parents’ involvement in their children’s education. All of these educational programs are paving the way for our children’s future success in school. One example is a newly launched preschool that incorporates the latest development in early learning instruction into its curriculum. At the same time, the Museum is planning a new early childhood gallery whose content will be developed based on cutting edge research on early learning. As children’s museums face increasing demands to provide meaningful learning opportunities for young children it is critical that the guidelines for the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Program encourage states and communities to partner with children’s museums.

    Jeffrey Patchen
    President and CEO
    The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

  47. Firstly, I would hope that the funding mechanisms put in place funnel most of the funds directly to local programs instead of being reduced by state-level administrative costs. I’ve seen federal grant program funding to local programs reduced by up to 50% for state administrative overhead!

    Also, the parent training piece has become ever so critical. Most of our issues that we deal with at school stem from poor parenting skills. We have had great luck offering parent training programs.

    As a public preschool in a small MA township, we never see competitive grant funding come our way – we’re too small, and don’t have the population density of poor and disadvantaged that large cities have. But the reality is that our budgets have been strafed recently with deep cuts, compromising the integrity of our excellent early childhood program.

  48. The RTT-ELC grant is focused around early learning through establishing and maintaining high quality early learning programs within a comprehensive statewide early learning system.The following criteria may be useful in ensuring that programs provide experiences that promote learning and development for all children and strengthen readiness to learn in school, especially for those who are at-risk.

    1. Require state level leadership to ensure comprehensive statewide implementation of a comprehensive plan

    2. Designate the State Department of Education as lead or co-lead with State HHS department. This is critical due to the focus on early learning, an aspect of early childhood for which Education provides leadership and expertise.

    3. Require a multi-level system with state and local participation, including both traditional and non-traditional partners.

    4. Require collaboration across state agencies that have early childhood as part of their mission, including higher education.

    5. Require linkages with LEA’s to best ensure readiness to learn in the school environment–including early learning programs that exist within school districts: parent education programs such as Parents as Teachers, early childhood special education and early intervention, and pre-k programs.

    • Criteria for recieving these funds should include collaboration among early care and education providers – schools, child care programs both public and private and Head Start with bonus points for including other community entities – postsecondary education, libraries, museums, YMCAs and other after school programs.

      This collaboration should be evidenced at the state and local/regional level.

      Strategies for developing strong partnerships with parents/families should be required including two-way communiciation and meaningful engagement.

    • The purpose is collaboration across agencies. The application should require documentation that multiple agencies had input into the application development process and signed agreements within the application that indicate the roles and responsibilities across agencies. Early childhood is much more that Departments of Education.

  49. Incredible diversity and yet consistent thread in all the comments. I read every single one of the comments above. Special training in teaching, educating and working with 3-6 year old children is so vital. The development of children in this age bracket is so enormous. For example: At this stage 2-3 year old children need to be given more independence as they grow up. This happens in their classroom & home environment. How one arranges it such that the child can independently accomplish things for themselves. This then gives him/her the sense of accomplishment and in turn develops a high self esteem. Control of error is built into Montessori works. (The Montessori Method is over 100 years old and has successfully been tested and shown to be effective for many children. It was initially developed with a populations of children who were cast offs at the time) They succeeded. The methodology works in today’s environment too. It fosters love of environment, positive self-esteem, positive role modeling, and success. Patience, for the child’s appropriate developmental milestones are built into the learning process.

    For young child things may have to be set up step by step, which may be slow and tedious for adults but is indispensable for a child who is learning. Have you ever thought of the very basic process of tonging work and cutting work. It is so easy for adults and yet complex for 2-3 and sometimes 4 year old children. These simple lessons prepares a child for larger developmental milestones such as writing and reading and tracking. (This is just a few examples). There is a fact that a child in this stage is called the “Absorbent Mind” because during this “challenging stage which many call the terrible 2′s and 3′s, the child’s light bulb flickers and then stays on when they “get it” through successful trial and error of repetition. Which we adults find “boring.” It is not boring to them. It is practice. Just as a baby learns to walk. They keep trying to get up even when they fall no matter how many times they keep falling, they keep getting up until they get it right and start walking.
    We need to give our children the safe, nurturing, and enriching environments to be able to find success and love learning so we don’t have to keep prodding them when they reach elementary, middle and high school. They will develop that inner drive which happens in these early years.

  50. As a lifelong educator, and currently Executive Director at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, I strongly encourage the inclusion of children’s museums into Race to the Top. Almost all of the administration’s education-support is focused on K-12. But volumes of solid research indicate that the early years are crucial. The U.S. is blessed with hundred’s of museums that serve children as young as six months, in all fifty states. We are committed to early childhood education, and to nurturing children’s creativity (today’s creative kids are tomorrow’s thought leaders and innovators). We are ready to contribute significantly to your national strategy–please give us the opportunity!

    Richard Winefield, Ed.D.
    Executive Director
    Bay Area Discovery Museum
    Sausalito, CA

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