Priority 4: Invitational Priority - Sustaining Program Effects in the Early Elementary Grades

The Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Health and Human Services are particularly interested in applications that describe the State's plans to sustain and build upon improved early learning outcomes throughout the early elementary school years, including by--

  1. Enhancing the State's current kindergarten through grade 3 standards in order to align them with the Early Learning and Development Standards across all Essential Domains of School Readiness;
  2. Ensuring transition planning between Early Learning and Development Programs and elementary schools, and promoting family engagement, including in the early grades; and
  3. Increasing the percentage of children who are able to read and do mathematics at grade level by the end of the third grade.

Comments

Success of students in early grades depends on their ability to read, comprehend what they have read, answer questions, draw pictures, and write a couple of sentences to express their thoughts. Private schools and some school districts offer full day kindergarten programs. These programs can afford the time needed to sustain a solid reading readiness, reading, and a math program. They also engage their students to explore science concepts, computer skills, and social studies topics via hands on activities, research, and projects. A Developmental Kindergarten Program could provide all students, who attend a full day kindergarten, a viable chance to learn to read, as this critical skill will help them succeed in first grade and onwards. All subjects in first grade require students to be able to read. If a student does not know how to read then he or she is at a disadvantage.
Parental involvement is vital for their child or children’s success in all years of school. Teachers and school districts can take innovative initiatives to involve all parents using varies strategies such as recruiting volunteers on a rotational basis (working parents will not be able to be in their child’s school twenty-four seven) in various capacities. Parents will have an opportunity to participate if these programs are held during different hours. They will also become better parents if and when they are able to interact with other parents, find support from school personnel, enroll in school sponsored programs like GED, parenting classes and other programs.

The priority is currently written to solicit information about a few narrowly crafted potential areas of alignment. We recommend broadening it to solicit information about alignment with all relevant child and youth services. In particular, it should also allow alignment with non-academic services, and organizations other than schools – such as afterschool programs and health care providers.

  • Add “(d) Ensuring interagency alignment of early childhood governance bodies, strategic plans, goals, performance measures, data, evaluation and accountability systems, and technical assistance capacity with those of existing State child and youth services.”

This could also be an opportunity to solicit information from States on what administrative barriers they are facing, which could help inform the U.S. Department of Education's response to the President’s Memorandum on Administrative Flexibility.

  • Add “(e) Identifying any Federal and State barriers to aligning this funding stream with other existing Federal and State child and youth funding streams, specifying what steps will be taken to mitigate State barriers, and providing information on what steps the Federal government could take to remove Federal barriers.”

The Campaign for Grade Level Reading recommends that Priority 4, Sustaining Program Effects in the Early Elementary Grades be elevated to be a Competitive Preference Priority rather than an Invitational Priority. We believe this priority is essential for promoting a seamless, integrated early learning and development system from birth to the end of third grade. We also suggest that you consider adding the language describing Priority 4 that is currently on page 8 to also be a new section of the Selection Criteria on page 9 under Organizing and aligning the early learning and development system to achieve success.

Success of students in early grades depends on their ability to read, comprehend what they have read, answer questions, draw pictures, and write a couple of sentences to express their thoughts. Private schools and some school districts offer full day kindergarten programs. These programs can afford the time needed to sustain a solid reading readiness, reading, and a math program. They also engage their students to explore science concepts, computer skills, and social studies topics via hands on activities, research, and projects. A Developmental Kindergarten Program could provide all students, who attend a full day kindergarten, a viable chance to learn to read, as this critical skill will help them succeed in first grade and onwards. All subjects in first grade require students to be able to read. If a student does not know how to read then he or she is at a disadvantage.
Parental involvement is vital for their child or children’s success in all years of school. Teachers and school districts can take innovative initiatives to involve all parents using varies strategies such as recruiting volunteers on a rotational basis (working parents will not be able to be in their child’s school twenty-four seven) in various capacities. Parents will have an opportunity to participate if these programs are held during different hours. They will also become better parents if and when they are able to interact with other parents, find support from school personnel, enroll in school sponsored programs like GED, parenting classes and other programs.

We support the secretaries’ invitation to States to include sustaining program effects in the early elementary grades as a priority. We offer the Strengthening Families approach as a powerful tool to support positive transitions and sustain the gains and strong parent-teacher relationships from high quality Early Learning and Development Programs.

School entry marks the start of a significant new influence on a child’s development and a subtle shift in leadership from family to school in the child’s education and socialization. This change can be a challenge for children, their families, and schools alike. There is a growing understanding that a high degree of continuity between a child’s early environment (including the home and other care settings) and the new school environment creates the best opportunity for a child’s success in school. For teachers, principals and administrators, and policymakers, understanding the family point of view is critical to designing and implementing effective transition strategies.

Emerging evidence associates the Strengthening Families approach with improvements in the skills, relationships and confidence parents need to be effective advocates for their children during and after their children’s transition to kindergarten (Rost, et al., 2011). Among the five Protective Factors that are the foundation of the CSSP’s Strengthening Families approach, research suggests that the three most particularly related to school transition are the family’s social connections, the family’s knowledge of parenting and child development (Weiss et al., 2006), and the child’s social and emotional competence (Pawl et al., 2000). Researchers have identified four processes that promote family involvement and smooth transitions to school (Krieder, 2002). These include: information and guidance, leadership and learning opportunities, strong patterns of involvement and trusting relationships. These processes are mirrored in many of the Strengthening Families low-cost program strategies, including those that:

• Facilitate friendships and mutual support
• Strengthen parenting
• Link families to services and opportunities
• Facilitate children’s social and emotional
• development
• Value and support parents

The Strengthening Families approach is based on changing the attitudes and perceptions of both parents and teachers and creating new ways of linking families to other resources they can use to help their children. The emphasis is on small but significant changes in daily practices that are often low- or no-cost to programs or schools. It therefore can be incorporated and used effectively by any school district without a large expenditure of funds.

States and programs that are implementing the Strengthening Families approach at the program and system level offer examples and lessons to offer in this important policy area. Several tools already exist that can be easily adapted to the school environment to support successful implementation. These include the Strengthening Families Program Self-Assessment (described in comments elsewhere), which could be adapted for schools and classrooms; the Protective Factor Survey developed by the FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, a valid and reliable assessment tool for understanding where parents are and later where they are growing in relation to the Protective Factors; and the use of the Community Café technology to create conversations between and among parents, teachers, and school administrators that build on the Protective Factors, engage parents, and create positive relationships between school and parents. (Community Cafés are a series of guided conversations based on the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework. For more information, visit http://www.ctfalliance.org/initiative_parents-2.htm.)

Signed,
Frank Farrow, Director, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Judy Langford, Senior Fellow and Director, Strengthening Families Initiative, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Teresa Rafael, Executive Director, National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds

Source citations:
Kreider, H., 2002. Getting Parents “Ready” for Kindergarten: The Role of Early Childhood Education,” Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE), Harvard Family Research Project.

Rost, K. et al., Strengthening Families and Parental Resiliency: Impact on School Readiness (National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, 2011). Available at http://www.ctfalliance.org/images/pdfs/OH_ParentalResilience.pdf

Weiss, H., Caspe, M., & Lopez, M.E. (2006, Spring). Family involvement makes a difference: Evidence that family involvement promotes school success for every child of every age. Boston: Harvard Family Research Project.

On behalf of the Office of the Governor of the State of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Human Services: We agree that the competition should focus on the alignment of Early Learning and Development Programs and kindergarten through grade 3. However, we recommend a stronger focus on this transition than an invitational priority, and that this transition should be embedded across the selection criteria. In particular, we recommend that the selection criteria for a great early childhood education workforce promote professional development efforts that include administrators and teachers from early learning programs with elementary school principals, and K-3 teachers. Our State's experience has been that the establishment of professional learning communities spanning prekindergarten through third grade raise the level of children’s learning in literacy and mathematics in the context of caring and engaging classroom environments.

On behalf of the Office of the Governor of the State of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Human Services: We agree that the competition should focus on the alignment of Early Learning and Development Programs and kindergarten through grade 3. However, we recommend a stronger focus on this transition than an invitational priority, and that this transition should be embedded across the selection criteria. In particular, we recommend that the selection criteria for a great early childhood education workforce promote professional development efforts that include administrators and teachers from early learning programs with elementary school principals, and K-3 teachers. Our State's experience has been that the establishment of professional learning communities spanning prekindergarten through third grade raise the level of children’s learning in literacy and mathematics in the context of caring and engaging classroom environments.

This should remain an invitational priority as it does require the early learning system to address issues within the K-12 system. Early learning lacks the authority to address many of these issues and the federal requirements for K-12 are complex and daunting. Alignment between the Early Learning and Development Standards and the Common Core is not a major undertaking however implementing changes within the timeline would be complex given the other priorities described and may dilute a states efforts and resources.
This section does not promote developmentally appropriate practice in kindergarten through third grade.
(c) Priority 1 indicates the State will develop a plan to administer kindergarten assessment by the start of 2014-2015. If Priority 4 is linked to Priority 1 this section should be deleted. States could potentially develop interim markers of success in each grade.

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is appreciative of the hard work reflected in the development of the criteria for this competitive grant process. Given the opportunity to review the document, CDF is submitting the following comments and recommendations with respect to Priority 4.

CDF welcome’s the RTT-ELC’s focus on the early pre-k – 3rd grade early learning continuum and on “increasing the percentage of children who are able to read and do mathematics at grade level by the end of the third grade.” Currently in the majority of states, one of the essential elements in the pre-k -3rd grade early learning continuum – full-day kindergarten – is not in state statute as part of K-12 funding. A growing number of states view full-day kindergarten as a half-day state funded program with attendance for full-day based on tuition or eligibility requirements children must meet as a requirement for them to participate. For example, during the 2011-2012 school year, school districts in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Connecticut (to name a few) are charging tuition to families for children to attend full-day kindergarten with an average cost to parents of $3,200. And half-day programs offer as little as 2.5 hours of instruction per day, while full-day kindergarten offers 6 hours of instruction per day.
CDF strongly recommends the Department utilize the RTT-ELC to help address these inequities by:

(1) Amending the language of Priority 4(a) as follows:
Enhancing the State’s current kindergarten through grade three learning continuum by providing incentives to school districts to fund full-day kindergarten and enhancing the current kindergarten through grade 3 standards to align them with the Early Learning and Development Standards across all Essential Domains of School Readiness and through early elementary grades.

(2) Re-categorizing this Invitational Priority as a Competitive Preference Priority.

Without these changes, states will have little incentive to achieve the important goals of this priority and the potential power of the RTT-ELC to be a “game changer” in closing achievement gaps by 3rd grade will be greatly diminished.

We are concerned that not emphasizing this invitational priority may suppress innovation – would we support making this a competitive priority.

We suggest incremental objectives for a strong submission should include realizable plans for the following:
o Explicit alignment between the 0-5 early learning standards and the “common core” standards for K-3.
o Developmental standards for K-3
o Extension of full-day K
o Expanding the school day and school year for Prekindergarten through grade 3
o Training staff and teachers on diagnostic assessment/formative assessment
o Developmental standards for K-3
o Developmentally appropriate K practice
o Building a professional development system that incorporates the K-3 stakeholders
o Development of 0-8 system growth models for the 0-8 system that results in reading and math achievement in 3rd grade

In addition to elevating Priority 4 to a Competitive Preference Priority, we recommend that the guidelines ask states to submit plans for workforce development that recognize the importance of including K-3 teachers and leaders in professional development programs. These programs could include workshops on cognitive and social development; content areas such as language arts, science and math; coaching initiatives; leadership institutes ; and any other professional development (PD) programs that inform educators about how to effectively engage young children in learning. The inclusion of these stakeholders in new PD programs could be paid for using non-ELC funds, such as Title I dollars. The priority could be written to include this bullet:
o Ensuring that statewide professional development efforts allow for the inclusion of K-3 teachers, leaders, curricula and assessment directors, family liaisons, and other positions.

A letter with fuller recommendations and comments from the Early Education Initiative can be downloaded at http://earlyed.newamerica.net/publications/resources/2011/comments_on_dr...

With many thanks,
Lisa Guernsey
Director, Early Education Initiative
New America Foundation

This priority should be elevated to a Competitive Preference Priority. Efforts to sustain learning gains should be rewarded – they are a critical piece of ensuring that states make the most of their early learning investments and that children continue to receive high-quality instruction in elementary school. An “invitational” priority is not enough to push states to create the kinds of collaborative environments that are necessary for shared professional development, shared data systems and shared development of standards and assessments. This kind of sharing and coordination would help to ensure that children experience a ladder of learning from their earliest years onto kindergarten and through the early grades.

This comment is part of a broader array of comments and recommendations submitted by the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation. The full 1300-word letter can be downloaded here: http://earlyed.newamerica.net/publications/resources/2011/comments_on_dr...

Thank you,
Lisa Guernsey
Early Education Initiative
New America Foundation

The National Down Syndrome Society recommends adding the words "including High-Need Children" in part c. of Priority 4 as follows:

c. Increasing the percentage of children, including the percentage of High-Need Children, who are able to read and do mathematics at grade level by the end of the third grade.

There is nothing magic about grade 3.

The recent "double jeopardy" study (Donald Hernandez) only examined the relationship between reading ability in grade 3 and eventual high school graduation. There is every reason to expect that the same relationship would hold for reading ability at every other grade.

Also, there is no reason to expect that poor reading ability at any age inevitably leads to poor reading forever and school failure. A great deal of research confirms that students can improve in reading at any age, given the right conditions (Krashen and McQuillan, 2007; Ed Leadership).

SUGGESTIONS FOR “PRIORITY 4: INVITATIONAL-- SUSTAINING PROGRAM EFFECTS IN THE EARLY ELEMENTARY GRADES”

SUGGESTIONS ABOUT CURRENT CRITERIA UNDER “PRIORITY 4”

P. 8 = Letter (a): I encourage you to specifically mention physical and mental health as well as social-emotional development as essential parts of the domains of school readiness because we know during the K-3rd grades states tend to focus more heavily on the academic domains of school readiness.
P. 8 = Letter (b): I encourage you to include some additional language that highlights the need for teachers/administrators/parents to plan and support transitions throughout each of the early elementary grades. For example, planning for such transitions might be especially important in terms of language/literacy between 2nd and 3rd grade when students are moving from the act of “learning the mechanics of reading” onward toward the act of “reading for comprehension.” This is a critical difference in reading skill and reading instruction that children, teachers, and parents need to be prepared for.
P.8 = Letter (c): It is not clear whether you mean “increasing the percentage of HIGH-NEED children who are able to read and do mathematics.” Since the ultimate goal is to shrink the achievement gap, I think the goal should be to increase the percentage of high-need children who are proficient. Perhaps another way is to say “increase the percentage of children in high poverty districts/schools who are grade-level proficient in reading and math.”
P. 13 = Under “(B)(5) Engaging and Supporting Families,” I encourage the addition of an option (d) that includes language asking states to plan for the continuation of this type of family support throughout the K-3rd grade years. Such a recommendation is important because we know that high-need children and families continue to need support even beyond preschool.
P. 15 = Under “(D)(2) Supporting Early Childhood Educators in improving their knowledge, skills, and abilities” letter (b), could you add language that says “ . . . that promote professional development and career advancement along an articulated career pathway that extends from early learning to 3rd grade.” [This suggestion is explained more under “Building the Professional Development of the K-3rd Workforce”

ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS THAT CAN BE EMBEDDED THROUGHOUT ALL CRITERIA

SPECIFY FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN. There is no mention of full-day kindergarten as a vehicle for boosting or sustaining academic achievement and learning, and we know that this has been an effective tool in some states (http://fcd-us.org/sites/default/files/FINAL%20Kindergarten%20Brief.pdf). Encouraging states to reflect upon or plan for the need for full-day kindergarten, might be a mechanism to push more states to require children to attend kindergarten and push them to fund it on par with grade 1 and beyond. In addition, it is critical that language be included to indicate that states must not supplant funds currently be used to support full-day kindergarten.

BUILD THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE K-3 WORKFORCE. Another important issue to consider in terms of the kindergarten year is the workforce for that particular grade. The National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators recommends that kindergarten teachers have early childhood education certifications, but only 14 states currently require this. There is no mention of building the professional development in terms of the credentials of the K-3rd grade teachers.

The NM Public Education Department (NM PED) is excited by the priorities set forth in the RTT-ELC draft guidelines. Since 2005, New Mexico has been offering pre-kindergarten to children across our state and sees RTT-ELC as an opportunity to extend and expand those offerings. However, NM PED would like to see the Priority 4: Invitational Priority – Sustaining Program Effects in the Early Elementary Grades – become a competitive priority.

Creating a seamless connection between pre-kindergarten through grade three standards and curriculum is critical to ensuring that early childhood providers (both public and private) align their priorities with those of expected outcomes at the end of third grade –proficiency in both reading and math. Further, the sooner schools intervene with struggling learners, the better the outcome in terms of exiting third grade.

As state budgets have tightened, it has become difficult to maintain robust early literacy and math programs. The April 2011 Annie E. Casey Foundation report “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation” found that students who don’t read proficiently at the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than those that are proficient readers. Moving Priority 4: Invitation Priority – Sustaining Program Effects in the Early Elementary Grades to a Competitive Priority will underscore the commitments USED has outlined in the RTT-ELC draft guidelines that the foundation set forth in pre-kindergarten must be sustained through high school graduation.

This component is simply imperative. There is no excuse for the disconnect between early elementary schools and preschool education. There is also great foundation and higher education leadership for those who wish to understand and work in this arena. It is a complex issue but guidance, content and support is available including access to some exciting new assessment tools, like Pianta's CLASS.

JM Gruendel, CT

I think that we need to be aware of oral language and vocabulary development as it relates to social language development and ACADEMIC language development. There is research that shows a "fading effect" of early childhood programs by third grade. There has been a suggestion that some of that "fading effect" can be accounted for because we haven't developed children's academic language as it relates to math, science, social studies and technology. (BICS and CALP, Jim Cummins, The University of Toronto) In early learning the languages of the various content areas (vocabulary of the discipline) need to be developed alongside social language.

Family engagement must mean more than parents volunteering in classrooms. Family engagement means that parents are aware of expectations and are able to support their child's development in all areas: social/emotional, health/physical development, language/literacy, and cognitive development.