The research is clear: Children who are not able to read by third grade and who are not prepared with foundational math skills are at a significant risk to fall behind and not graduate from high school. Recognizing the importance of early learning, the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund made it a competitive priority in its first round of 49 grants in 2010. As the Department’s “Education and the Economy” Back-to-School Bus Tour stopped in Wisconsin, i3 grantee the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee reported on the first-year progress of the Milwaukee Community Literacy Project, a three-prong – school, community, and family – effort to ensure that students are reading by grade three. An “innovation roundtable” was held at the Brown Street Academy Elementary School, one of seven Milwaukee elementary schools participating in the early literacy project.
The early learning arena stands to benefit from a number of current i3 grantees that are developing or validating programs, practices, or policies focused on the achievement of children from birth to grade three.
Several projects focus on the preparation and professional development of early childhood educators. The Children’s Literacy Initiative, based in Philadelphia, uses grade-level teacher teams and collaborative professional learning communities to provide teachers with the tools, training, and support needed to effectively teach young children from low-income neighborhoods to read and write. Schools in not only Philadelphia, but also Newark and Camden in New Jersey, and Chicago are involved. The Florida Master Teacher Initiative is developing an early childhood specialization as part of a job-embedded graduate degree program for pre-K-3 teachers. Key to the project are shared inquiry and professional learning communities for the 100 teachers who are developing a Web-based, open platform to share best practices and teaching resources. In Chicago, pre-K-3 teachers are also the focus of the Erikson Institute’s Early Mathematics Education Innovations Program, which is using a combination of professional-development services, both in and outside of schools, to improve teachers’ understanding of how early mathematics concepts develop in children’s thinking. Measures of success will include early readiness assessments in math and literacy as well as the performance of high-needs students on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
In Washington, D.C., a group of charter schools implementing Every Child Ready is testing an early childhood response-to-intervention approach that aims to have kindergarten children prepared for success with necessary language, early literacy, early math, and social/emotional skills. The project will document a system of tools and practices that will enable effective and scalable implementation of Every Child Ready.
Improving the performance of American Indian children in reading and mathematics through third grade is the focus of a cohort of Bureau of Indian Education schools in six states participating in the BabyFACE (Family and Child Education) project. BabyFACE, which combines a number of home-based services for parents and children, is being replicated with the help of an i3 validation grant. The goal is to narrow the achievement gap between American Indian and non-American Indian children at kindergarten entry to improve student achievement in reading and math through third grade.
A final i3 effort in early childhood takes on an innovation policy question: Does a longer school calendar for grades K-3 benefit students? A new policy in New Mexico, K-3 Plus, has extended the school calendar by 25 days prior to kindergarten as well as for grades K to three. It also is reducing class sizes and making several other improvements. Researchers from the University of Utah are studying the implementation of the new policy in four New Mexico districts and will disseminate their findings on questions of both cost-effectiveness and the potential for replication and scale-up nationally.
Read more about the innovation roundtable at the Brown Street Academy Elementary School.