Absolute Priorities

For FY 2012 and any subsequent year in which the Department makes awards from any list of unfunded applicants resulting from this competition, the Department will consider only applications that, consistent with 34 CFR 75.105(c)(3), meet Absolute Priority 1 and one of Absolute Priorities 2-5 described below. Each of the Absolute Priorities 2-5 constitutes its own funding category, and the Secretary intends to award grants under each category for which applications of sufficient quality are submitted. An applicant must address Absolute Priority 1 and identify which one of the Absolute Priorities 2 -5 contained in this document applies to the LEA or Consortium of LEAs. Full applications will be peer reviewed and scored; scores will be rank ordered within each category. These Absolute Priorities are:

Absolute Priority 1, Personalized Learning Environment(s): To meet this priority, the LEA or consortium's application must coherently and comprehensively address how it will build on the four core educational assurance areas (as defined in this document) in Race to the Top to create student centered learning environment(s) that are designed to: significantly improve teaching and learning through the personalization of strategies, tools, and supports for teachers and students that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards (as defined in this document); increase the effectiveness of educators, and expand student access to the most effective educators in order to raise student achievement; decrease the achievement gap across student groups; and increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.

Absolute Priority 2, LEAs in Race to the Top States: An LEA or a consortium of LEAs where more than 50 percent of participating students (as defined in this document) are in LEAs in States that received awards under the Race to the Top Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3 competitions.

Absolute Priority 3, Rural LEAs in Race to the Top States: An LEA or a consortium of LEAs where more than 50 percent of participating students are in rural LEAs (as defined in the document) in States that received awards under the Race to the Top Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3 competitions.

Absolute Priority 4, LEAs in non-Race to the Top States: An LEA or a consortium of LEAs where more than 50 percent of participating students are in LEAs in States that did not receive awards under the Race to the Top Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3 competitions.

Absolute Priority 5, Rural LEAs in non-Race to the Top States: An LEA or a consortium of LEAs where more than 50 percent of participating students are in rural LEAs (as defined in the document) in States that did not receive awards under the Race to the Top Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3 competitions.

Comments

Avant Assessment provides the following comments regarding Absolute Priority 1, Personalized Learning Environment(s):

Avant Assessment commends the DOE for making Personalized Learning Environments their Absolute Priority 1 for this funding. Practical tools aligned to standards that facilitate personalized learning and student-teacher interaction in and beyond the classroom are vital to realizing the goal of personalized learning for every student.

An example of a tool supporting personalized learning environments is language portfolios. A student’s personalized language portfolio when, aligned to standards, is useful as a document/location in which those who are learning one or more languages - whether at school or outside school - can record and reflect on their language learning and intercultural experiences.

Research has demonstrated that the use of a language portfolio in classes for the means of goal setting allows for higher language achievement than if a portfolio was not included in the educational setting. (Moeller 2011)

Additional research (Driessen 2007) has shown that web-based portfolios were found to enhance students' motivation, were more user-friendly for instructors, and delivered the same content quality compared with paper-based portfolios. This suggests that web-based presentation may promote acceptance of portfolios by students and teachers alike. Students in the study were found to spend more time online submitting evidence than with the paper-pencil portfolio.

Personalized learning environments like personalized language assessment portfolios engage students with continuous self-evaluation and facilitates instructor collaboration. Instructors provide tasks based on students’ learning goals and interests, and students generate digital real-world evidence to show “I can,” demonstrating with digital evidence their competency at every point along the learning continuum. It is important that there is a way for these districts to be aware of the personalized learning and self-evaluation tools that exist in the market place as part of this process.

Dr. Jim Snyder
Director of Market Research
Avant Assessment
971-200-7500

I was dismayed to learn that the current plan for the Race to the Top District funding does not include a mandatory early education component. The administration has made tremendous strides in the last four years in promoting the importance of early learning in any well rounded education reform and improvement. Indeed as a recipient of part of California’s Early Learning Challenge Grant – Race to the Top, we at First 5 Alameda County are very appreciative of the ongoing commitment to the early years. Also the decision to expand the Early Learning Challenge grant opportunity to five additional states is extremely appreciated.

However, all research shows that we will only be successful in education reform when we recognize that learning begins at birth and the best route to success in school starts with providing enriching quality early learning opportunities for every child. The Race to the Top District funding is another opportunity to demonstrate the importance integrating quality early learning into any plan for improved K-12 performance.

We thank the administration for ongoing leadership in promoting quality early learning and hope that making an early learning component mandatory in applications for Race to the Top District funding will demonstrate that commitment once again.

Sincerely,

Mark Friedman
CEO First 5 Alameda County, California

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.
Research has proven 90% of the brain is developed during the first three years of life. James Heckman, nobel peace prize winner, has a study the correlates quality child care and later school success and workforce. For every $1 dollar that is invested in early childhood it yields $17.00 in return. Why wouldn't we invest in our future! It starts at birth.

I find it difficult to understand, as a parent and the spouse of a teacher, that these specifications include no early learning component. Both of my children went through the co-op preschool system in Seattle, Washington. It seems to me that not only is early learning one of the best ways to ensure a successful school experience for many children, but that it is also a place where a very few dollars will have the greatest effect. It is imperative that the Department of Education reconfigure the criteria for the next Race to the Top District grant to include this component.

As a prospective applicant from a consortium of rural LEAs in a state with limited broadband access, I am concerned our grant application may need to earmark funds for infrastructure upgrades and hardware that might not be required in LEAs where robust internet access is readily available. This could limit the funds available for the technology-based tools and supports for teachers and students. LEAs who do not have wireless systems in their schools and lack access to broadband have not been able to integrate technology in their classes because it cannot be used to the same effect as it could be in LEAs with a sound infra-structure. Please indicate how LEAs should address this "digital divide" issue in the application process.

As a prospective applicant from a consortium of rural LEAs in a state with limited broadband access, I am concerned our grant application may need to earmark funds for infrastructure upgrades and hardware that might not be required in LEAs where robust internet access is readily available. This could limit the funds available for the technology-based tools and supports for teachers and students. LEAs who do not have wireless systems in their schools and lack access to broadband have not been able to integrate technology in their classes because it cannot be used to the same effect as it could be in LEAs with a sound infra-structure. Please indicate how LEAs should address this "digital divide" issue in the application process.

In regards to Absolute Priority 1, Personalized Learning Environments, Citizen Schools commends the Department’s focus on personalized learning environments. To help ensure personalized learning environments are effective, language under Absolute Priority 1 should be revised to include expanded learning opportunities (including before school, after-school, summer learning, and/or expanded learning time programs) as a way to significantly improve teaching and learning through the personalization of strategies, tools, and supports for teachers and students. Expanded learning opportunities ought to be aligned with college- and career-ready standards and integrate academics, enrichment, and skills development through experiences that make learning relevant and engaging and actively address the specific learning needs and interests of all types of students, especially those who may benefit from approaches and experiences not offered in the traditional classroom setting. Moreover, with regards to “increasing the effectiveness of educators, and expand student access to the most effective educators”, we suggest the Department encompass volunteerism by professionals as a means of expanding student access to effective educators. Professionals from various fields could offer a breadth and depth of experience to schools in order to raise student achievement. For example, volunteer professionals from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries have the expertise to teach students skills and information relevant to this field. Over the last several years, federal and state governments, educators at all levels, and the U.S. business community have directed the nation’s attention toward the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Moreover, the private and nonprofit sectors are in a position to engage STEM professionals to work directly with teachers in America’s classrooms to help bring STEM careers to life for students, assist teachers in conducting more relevant learning, and expose more STEM professionals to pathways to full-time teaching.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities provides the following comments regarding Absolute Priority 1, Personalized Learning Environment(s):

IDEA Compliance
While the requirement for LEAs to develop “personalized, student-focused approaches to teaching and learning” and a “personalized learning plan” are welcomed as part of a school improvement agenda, the Department should make clear that this approach in no ways relieves an LEA from the program requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including the development of Individualized Education Programs for all IDEA-eligible students in the LEA annually. Therefore, NCLD requests that the Secretary include in the final Race to the Top District Competition a specific reference to adherence to all program requirements of IDEA.

Response to Intervention or Multi-Tier System of Supports:
This priority should require the use of evidence-based practices in creating student centered learning environments. LEAs should be strongly encouraged to adopt proven practices such as Response to Intervention or Multi-Tier System of Supports as elements of a personalized learning environment.

Universal Design for Learning:
The description of the learning environment that the LEA is asked to create in Priority 1 is the type of learning environment that results from the implementation of universal design for learning (UDL) principles. NCLD recommends that this Priority include a reference to UDL to provide LEAs with a framework for creating these student centered environments.

An example of how UDL could be incorporated in the wording of the priority:
".....to create student centered learning environments(s) that are designed, consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, to:......."

All efforts appreciated! I am very happy this issue is being addressed. However, I firmly believe in an early learning proposal. Kids are not born at four and ready to begin school.

I highly applaud efforts by the Administration to improve our nation’s schools, and I am pleased that Secretary Duncan has characterized as “leading indicators of school success” conditions for learning for our young people such as levels of student safety, health, engagement and support.

After reviewing the Race to the Top (RTT-D) competition draft executive summary, however, I feel compelled to write and urge you to make ensuring a school climate that includes conditions for learning an absolute priority in these grants. The proposal as currently written misses a golden opportunity to emphasize that students simply can't learn unless they are safe, healthy, engaged and supported.

I work for Hazelden, a nonprofit addiction treatment provider and large publisher of evidence-based prevention materials. One of our programs, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, has 35 years of research behind it and has made a profound difference for over 6,000 schools in the U.S. We know from our wide experiences with schools across the country that robust bullying prevention initiatives and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs are literally at the core of school success.

One of the key ways to meet our shared goal of raising test scores and improving student outcomes is to make sure we foster an atmosphere for students in which they can learn. Therefore, we believe applicants for the RTT-D grants should be required to effectively assess and measure conditions for learning and implement evidence-based programs and strategies to continuously improve the teaching and learning environment. It is clear schools need to expand the use of proven programs that increase the number of students who are safe from bullying or other violence and who refrain from alcohol and other drug use.

Bullying has been specifically identified in many of the schools with which we work as a major impediment to creating a safe culture and supportive climate structure where children can learn and excel academically. In fact, in a recent study 17% of all students reported having been bullied “sometimes” or more often. This amounts to almost 1 in 5 students being bullied.

Crucial government programs to fund improved conditions for learning have seen their funding limited or even eliminated in recent years, and schools across the country do not feel supported in their efforts to create a safe and supported learning environment for children. As you know, the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities grant program, for example, was once funded at $530 million but has now been totally abolished. This program supported state infrastructure focused on school health and safety and allowed local educational agencies to implement programs to address critical conditions for learning.

We talk with school leaders across the U.S. every day who are struggling to find budget dollars to implement evidence-based solutions to the important issue of bullying prevention. We have seen approximately 5% of the schools in the United States implement evidence-based programs to prevent bullying and improve school climate, but many more are trying to work on this important issue with inadequate funding sources. We believe the RTT-D competition presents a wonderful chance to begin to correct these trends.

The Department has an excellent opportunity to support Secretary Duncan’s statements by modifying the RTT-D summary to make conditions for learning a key priority. Thank you for your consideration of this input and your leadership on these critical issues, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Carol Nagele-Vitalis
Hazelden Publishing
651.213.4645

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance

I'm glad the Dept of Education is going to allocate $400 million for school reform, but the plan misses a critical opportunity to improve school achievement by not including a mandate for early learning and child care programs within each district. Too many children are entering school not ready to learn and many are never able to close that gap.

We can't afford to continue silo programs like child care and education that reinforce socio-economic barriers for low income families. It costs more to remediate students than it does to do it right the first time. This country needs to ensure a seamless learning system from birth so that all children will have the opportunity to succeed.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

I am the owner/director of Creative Kids of Clinton. We care for infants to school age children, and while safety is a major priority for us, educating our children is also of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, financial restraints prohibit us from providing needed materials and essential learning opportunities. Statistics prove that children between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age make huge strides in their physical, social and language development. While it's great that that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. There should also be a priority to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

I strongly urge the Department of Education to consider the needs of Mississippi's child care programs when allocating the $400 million dollar Race to the Top district grant.

In reading the definitions under Priority 1, I am concerned to see that there is no required support for early childhood. Coming from the only state that does not require students attend kindergarten, I know that there is a vast difference in the achievement of most students who have not had a quality learning experience in the early years. If we are ever to remove all the barriers for our children we can not afford to overlook the research on poverty's impact on achievement. And we know that quality early experiences are able to level the academic playing field. The field of education is notorious for doing things "the way we always have." It worries me that our department of education may encourage states and districts to continue that practice...we have the futures of our children hanging in the balance!

I am writing to express strong support for the Race to the Top District competition. However, we believe that any application, in addition to addressing Priority 1, should also include an early learning component. Alternatively, an early learning component should yield priority points if included in a District’s application.

Vision: Any vision to reduce the achievement gap, improve student performance and increase high school graduation rates, must also integrate a strong community-wide early learning component to ensure that children are on the right path before school entry.

Rhea Williams-Bishop
Executive Director
Center for Education Innovation

Thank you for recommending partnerships with early learning programs in the Race to the Top District competition and program. When aiming to strengthen student performance, it is essential to start early to ensure success. I would like to encourage the Department to strengthen the emphasis on the importance of early learning.

The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education indicates that studies have found significant long-term benefits associated with children’s participation in high-quality ECE, including improved educational achievement, higher earnings and savings, fewer arrests and incarceration, and other reductions in public spending. Several cost-benefit analyses have been conducted that found substantial “returns on investment” for public spending on ECE.

Early learning should not be ignored or left to chance that Districts will include this component. I urge you to require dedicated funding towards early learning in the application and to provide priority points to Districts who include an early learning component. Let’s be sure to get the biggest “bang” for the buck. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

The Children's Defense Fund appreciates this opportunity to offer language changes in the guidance for school districts seeking RTT funding.A full-day experience in kindergarten is one of the most critical components of the research-based Pre-K-3rd grade early childhood learning continuum; it is central to eliminating the third grade achievement gap that leaves so many children, particularly Black and Latino children, behind and likely to fail in later grades. The lack of Full-Day K in many states puts states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards for grades K-12 in English, Language Arts and Math on unequal footing as they assess the progress students are making from grade to grade. In schools and districts with half-day kindergarten programs where learning time is limited to 2.5 hours instead of the 5.0+ hours provided in full-day programs, quality early childhood instructional practice and curriculum offerings are compromised.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten (ECLS-K) Class of 1989-99 has provided a wealth of data which has been studied over the years. This rich data source in addition to school-district-based studies has shown that children who participated in full-day programs when compared to their peers in half-day programs made statistically significant gains in early reading skills. With the adoption of the Common State Core Standards by forty-five states and DC, significantly more robust student outcomes will be required of kindergarten students successfully exiting kindergarten.

To give all children the full step they need between Pre-K and first grade and to increase access to free and publicly funded full-day kindergarten for all students, the Children’s Defense Fund strongly recommends the addition of a new section to Policy and Infrastructure to read as follows: “(3)(c) The extent to which the LEA and schools provide all eligible children with equal access to free and publicly-supported full-day kindergarten that is the same length of instructional time as first grade at no cost to the parent(s)/family, or has designed and is committed to implement a plan to provide full-day kindergarten that is the same length of instructional time as first grade at no cost to the parent(s)/family no later than the 2014-15 school year.”
CDF also recommends that the underlined language be added to part (3)(b)(i): ”Ensuring that all participating students, parents, educators and other stakeholders (as appropriate and relevant to students’ teaching and learning) have equitable and sustainable access, regardless of income, to content, tools, length of instructional day, and other learning resources both in-school and out-of-school;”

The Children’s Defense Fund appreciates the opportunity to offer language that will help increase the likelihood that school districts seeking competitive grant funds will address inequities in access to Full-Day K and help close the achievement gap. Thirteen states currently allow local school districts to charge tuition to parents who are seeking a full day of learning for their kindergarten age child. CDF believes that in order for local districts to strengthen the personalized learning environment for a child, they must provide full-day kindergarten at no charge to the parent(s)/family.
CDF recommends that the underlined language below be added to Absolute Priority 1: Personalized Learning Environment(s): To meet this priority, the LEA or consortium's application must coherently and comprehensively address how it will build on the four core educational assurance areas (as defined in this document) in Race to the Top to create student centered learning environment(s) that are designed to: significantly improve teaching and learning through the personalization of strategies, tools, and supports for teachers and students that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards (as defined in this document); increase the effectiveness of educators, and expand student access to the most effective educators in order to raise student achievement; start students off with a full-day kindergarten learning environment that is the same length of day as first grade at no cost to the parent(s)/family; decrease the achievement gap across student groups; and increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.

In order to strengthen RTT to be more inclusive especially those students that are over-age and undercredited, in foster care, juvenile justice or other marginalized students:

Insert language after college- and career-ready standards “address gaps in skills for students that have been retained or are over-age and undercredit”

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. Early learning experiences establish the foundation for all future learning. The research is clear on the role high quality early learning has on the drop out rate, high school graduation rates, teen pregnancy rates, higher education attainment, and future learnings.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

As a parent of a three year old, a past early educator, a Resource and Referral employee and member of CAEYC, I encourage you to reconsider the intention of this funding. Shouldn't it include children who are in Family Child Care and Infant Toddler Centers slots--the settings where the foundations of success are built? Please give this thought and do the right thing.

I am the Director of Community Services at Child Action, Inc., the Child Care Resource and Referral Agency serving Sacramento County, California. We are fortunate to be part of the RTT-ELC Consortium developing a quality improvement plan for Sacramento County. I feel strongly that all district applications should include an early learning component. We have worked consistently for the past ten years with local and state funding to integrate early learning and child care programs into the educational system to insure that children get a strong foundation for success in school. At the very least I feel that priority points should be awarded for an early learning component that promotes successful transition to kindergarten and improves the quality of child care in our community. Training of the workforce and authentic parent engagement are critcal components of an education system and should be awarded priority points in applications.

Please consider making an early learning component mandatory or at the very least a priority in this funding.

We are happy to see that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. But the best way to reduce the achievement gap is to address it where it begins -- in the first five years of children's lives. Each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

It is wonderful to see that closing the achievement gap is a priority however, if early learning (0-5) is not included in the systemic approach the change will not come. We know that the achievement gap begins in the first 1000 days of a child's life. If these days are overlooked in this proposal we will be in the same situation we are in today. Please reconsider including early childhood development and learning as a priority in this funding opportunity.

I am thankful that the Department of Education is allocating $400 million to school districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate.

My concern, however, lies in the fact that the request for proposals does not include an early learning component, therefore, excluding child care programs. Early learning opportunities also are critical factors in the school readiness success equation, and subsequent school performance.

Please consider inserting a early learning component in the Race to the Top District grant call.

Thank you.

Education reform is a must to help our children succeed in these global market but any reform must include a strong early childhood system. With 90% of a child's brain developed by 5, reforming education starting at k already puts kids behind. We need strong early childhood system that is aligned with the k-12 system. One that educates parents on how to support their child's education. Please do not leave programs of children under five out of the equation.

The momentum surrounding quality education is exciting, especially through programs like the new Race to the Top District grant opportunities. However, we are learning more and more the benefits of creating a continuum of education, from early learning including child care through pre-k and in schools and through after school programs. As long as early learning and child care remain in a separate silo, we can't make real progress on school readiness or success in life for our children. Please include an early learning component to the new Race to the Top District grant.

Dept. of Education needs to include all aspects of the educational process which should include child care programs when allocating the $400 million for the Race to the Top Fund. Early Childhood Programs are a valid part of the reform to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase graduation rates. The educational process begins at age 0 to 5 years of age as well as Kindergarten to 12th
grade. We all need to work together to achieve these necessary changes.

As CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County FL, I strongly urge US DOE to include early learning as a requirement under the RTTT funding.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

One of the most important things we can do to help our children achieve in school is to invest in their early learning years. Please include money for birth to 5 programs so that children will be ready for school. Prevention/early intervention has been a proven cost effective method. Investing in early childhood will pay off economically and more importantly, for our kids.

Thank you for your dedication to education funding. I encourage you to include early childhood components in your requirements especially child care. A high percentage of our nation's children spend many hours each week in child care. The best way to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student achievement, and increase high school graduation rates is to invest early! 90% of brain development has occured before children enter school

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

I appreciate the Department of Education's committment to reducing the achievement gap; however, applications for Race to the Top should always include an early learning component. Research has indicated for decades the integral role early childhood plays in reducing the achievement gap. I work in the prevention field, and I can't tell you how many different areas we touch that would have been a different story had prevention efforts been in place. Too often, we are looking for the quick fix or we are waiting for disaster before addressing an issue. We know the benefit of quality early childhood programming.

In our state, we have just lost a battle to hold the line on early childhood funding. We will pay the price for yeras to come. I hope the Department of Education doesn't make the same mistake. Investment in the early years pays!

This is a good start, but not good enough. If we want to change the education system, we must start at the beginning - early childhood education. Education reform policies and priorities must include early education from birth to age 5. The positive and long-term effects of quality early childhood care and education is supported by research. It is simply good science, good civic and social responsibility, and good economics.

When disadvantaged children start Kindergarten academically behind their middle class peers, they rarely catch up in school. How do we prevent having children in our communities that starting behind the curve?

Start early. Make it affordable to families. Involve parents. Focus on healthy development and education.

According to Dr. Bruce Perry, a recognized expert on early brain development, the human brain develops to 90% of adult size in the first three years of life, developing the major biological systems that affect all future functioning in life, and positive bonding interactions between the child and caregiver in the first year of life are critical to positive development.

The Chicago Child-Parent Center Education Program found that early education programs had a positive impact on students through age 28. “School-Based Early Childhood Education and Age-28 Well-Being: Effects by Timing, Dosage, and Subgroups.” Science, 9 June 2011, doi: 10.1126/science.1203618. The program results showed that in the third decade of life, individuals who had participated in the early education program experienced higher rates of high school completion, health insurance coverage as an employment benefit, and moderate or higher socioeconomic status as well as fewer incidents of alcohol and drug abuse, felony arrest, and incarceration.

Two studies – “School Readiness and Later Achievement,” a 2007 study led by University of California, Irvine education professor Greg Duncan, and a large-scale 2010 Canadian study expanding upon Duncan’s findings – reveal that "early math concepts, such as knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning" (Duncan). Other research by Dale Farren, professor of education at Vanderbilt University, shows that even small increases in the amount of time teachers spend teaching math to preschoolers each day can significantly impact their achievement later in school.

Providing affordable access to early childhood care and education provides a healthy and strong start for children in school and life. It also allows parents to seek education, job training, or employment while their children are being educated in care centers. Intervening early in a child's life can help break the cycle of poverty for families. And it can mean long-term cost savings for society and a significant impact on the quality of life of individuals, families, communities, and our nation.

I am writing to express strong support for the Race to the Top District competition. However, in addition to addressing Priority 1, an early learning component needs to be include. Alternatively, an early learning component should yield priority points if included in a District’s application.

Vision: Any vision to reduce the achievement gap, improve student performance and increase high school graduation rates, must also integrate a strong community-wide early learning component to ensure that children are on the right path before school entry.

Priority Points:

Priority points should be awarded for an early learning component to any RTT district application that includes a community partnership plan to:

• Strengthen Early Learning Settings and Transition to Kindergarten. Any Race to the Top proposal should include investments to strengthen early learning in the community. In some districts, this may involve pre-kindergarten programs. However, children are not born at 4 years old and much of the gap in knowledge and school readiness begins much earlier. District applications should show partnerships with early learning providers in the community to strengthen the settings children are in before school entry and to transition to kindergarten in a seamless and productive manner. Head Start and school pre-k programs need to coordinate wrap-around child care so that more working parents are able to enroll their children.

• Strengthen the District’s Commitment to Quality Child Care: Child care plays a critical role in the health, safety, and development of children but in too many districts, child care runs parallel (as if in a separate silo) to district early learning initiatives (primarily part-day preschool). Families with young children struggle with part-day pre-kindergarten programs. Some make it work. Some cannot make part-day preschool programs work and select full-day child care centers or family child care homes. Districts should partner with the early childhood community to show a commitment to strengthening child care programs whose children feed into their schools so that the children of working parents are not left behind in a community’s school readiness strategy.

• Strengthen Training of the Child Care Workforce: Training of child care providers in both centers and in family child care homes is critical to strengthening early learning for children and to provide a quality setting. Not just training, but technical assistance must be provided to promote quality settings -- particularly for infants and toddlers and preschool-age children whose working parents can’t swing the part-day hours of many pre-kindergarten programs.

• Strengthen Parent Engagement Efforts: Any early learning component must focus on engaging and supporting families. Studies have shown that parent involvement is crucial in the development of children and that parent-provider communication is linked to the quality of care provided. Nothing is more important to a child’s progress than parents who are engaged and knowledgeable about their child’s needs in order to support their early learning and development. Parents, as consumers, need information and support so that they are partners in any district school readiness initiative. Parents cannot make informed decisions if they do not have access to information and if they lack an understanding about how to assess the information that they obtain.

• Strengthen Health and Safety Child Care Linkages: Any early learning component of a district reform plan should focus on identifying and addressing the health, behavioral, and developmental needs of high-need children to support school readiness. Children cannot grow and learn if they are not in healthy and safe environments. Health and behavioral screenings are important factors in a child’s school readiness and future school success. Early intervention can prevent school failure, reduce the need for special education services, and boost a child’s confidence (that in itself is a marker for future achievement). The promotion of children’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development is crucial to a child’s future success and early childhood educators must be trained to support and help meet these needs.

• Strengthen Efforts to Address Children with Special Needs: There needs to be greater coordination with IDEA part C, and earlier recognition of developmental delays and disabilities. Child Find is a stealth program. It shouldn’t be. More outreach among parents needs to be done so that children are screened and more child care providers need to be trained to work with parents so that children are identified early – not in pre-k or in kindergarten.

• Strengthen Data Integration Efforts: Children receiving subsidies need to be tracked; the professional development of providers needs to be tracked. Metrics are important for accountability and with any significant award of new dollars, accountability should be built in. Districts should know the quality of settings children are in, not just how many children in the district receive a subsidy to pay for their child care.
Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies are embedded in communities promoting quality child care. With so many connections between parents, providers, community and state leaders, CCR&Rs should be a partner in any district award to promote early learning.
I urge that you give every consideration possible to either requiring an early learning component with the above criteria in RTT district applications or award priority points for applications including the above criteria.

As an educator, I am elated that our government is focused on education reform. Millions are being allocated to school districts. However, I have not seen an early learning component. Quality early childhood experiences are critical to school preparedness and success. Please consider adding early childhood as a component to the Race to the Top initiative.

Thank you.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. I believe placing the burden and expectations on school districts alone will set them up for failure thus the achievement gap will continue to be an issue.We all have seen the research that proves school readiness is the key to school performance; let's be agressive and attck the problem on all sides instead of just throwing money at single entities to tap around the edges.

Thanks to the Department of Education for allocating funding to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate.

What is missing is a plan for early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – of the 20 million children under age 5 in America, nearly 11 million are in some form of child care setting. We need to call attention to the importance of improving the quality and availability of these services.

Our future depends on the quality of the early childhood experiences provided to young children today; where it has been shown that every dollar invested at the preschool level, provides a 16% return. High-quality early child care services represent a worthy commitment to our children's future.

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform –but please don't forget early learning in this funding! Children learn the most in the ages before 5 years. Therefore, I believe it's important for the Department of Education to give a powerful message about the importance of these early years by including funding for programs for children, birth to school age. Child Care especially is a major player in the education of young children. Please include funding to show the continuum of education.... don't keep Early Childhood in a separate silo..... help to continue the momentum to continue to improve child care and other programs where early learning is happening.

Given the goals of RTT, it is essential that there be funding for evidence-based early learning initiatives, so that children birth to 5 yrs. have the opportunity to begin kindergarten "ready to learn."

It’s great that the Department of Education is going to allocate $400 million to districts for school reform – to reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance, and increase the high school graduation rate. However, each district plan ought to include early learning – not just pre-kindergarten programs, but child care programs – where the majority of children with working parents spend their days. As long as child care remains in a separate silo, we can’t make real progress on school readiness. And, school readiness is the key to school performance.

While I highly support these funds to help reduce the achievement gap, strengthen student performance and increase the high school graduation rate, the priorities listed above should include a requirement to have early learning (birth through KG entry) to support children to be ready for school and academic success. Many studies have identified the importance of starting education early especially in the areas where children are at the highest risk. Pleae consider adding to your criteria and require school districts to set aside a specific portion of the grant to include early childhood programs as part of a continuum of learning. It will only benefit the districts in the long run while achieving the outcomes for children/youth that we all want.

I am appalled! Early learning should not be ignored or left to chance, it needs to be a key component in Race to the Top! By time children enroll in Kindergarten, if we haven't prioritized early learning for children starting in infancy, they enter Kindergarten already lacking in social and cognitive skills! You must make Early Learning a priority in this funding!

If you want to make progress in the K - 12 system, then you need to put funds where the process starts. If it is to be, start with zero to three!!! Then move on to three to five year olds. Why pour all the precious and dwindling funds into repairing what was ignored in the infant and preschool years, when using part of the funds in the early years can make the K-12 funds go so much further? Please, consider the latest information in brain research that tells us it all starts 0-5 and include early care and education in your race to the top. You will surely reach the top faster! Spend smart!

The early years are proven to be the most
important in a child's development. Why
Would you omit those extremely important
years in your funding???

As a rural resident in northern California I appreciate that rurals are a priority. I have some concerns about closing the achievement gap without an early learning component. We know that early childhood education (ECE) sets the foundation for later success in school. I hope that you will find a way to incorporate early learning into Race to the Top and consider making ECE programming worth priority points.

Thanks for your time and consideration.