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. On behalf of the more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys general, other law enforcement leaders, and victims of violence who are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, thank you for your extraordinary leadership on expanding access to high- quality early learning programs. Our members know from the front lines in the fight against crime—and from the research—that these investments have a powerful impact on reducing later crime.

    We deeply appreciate your having invited our Board member Seth Williams, District Attorney of Philadelphia, to participate in the recent announcement of the Administration’s dedication of $500 million for an early learning competition through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, and we look forward to continuing to partner with you to improve the quality of early learning programs nationwide.

    As you work to design the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), we urge you to require states to incorporate several key reforms into their early learning systems in order to be eligible for funding—reforms which are consistent with principles outlined in the Early Learning Challenge Fund provisions contained in Title IV of, H.R. 3221, the “Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act” (SAFRA) passed by the House in 2009:

    (1) A primary focus of the program to increase access to high-quality early care and education programs for the most at-risk children

    (2) Early learning and development standards that promote school readiness and are integrated with programmatic and instructional practices;

    (3) A Quality Rating System that is evidence-based and structured with progressive levels of quality together with funding to achieve program improvement;

    (4) Program review and oversight that is applied across all programs and settings;

    (5) A comprehensive professional development system that can prepare and retain
    an effective and well-qualified workforce of early educators, including
    appropriate levels of training, education, credentials, and compensation;

    (6) An outreach strategy to promote understanding by parents and families of
    how to support their child’s early development and learning, the states early learning program rating system, and the rating of the early learning program in which the child is enrolled;

    (7) Coordinated systems to facilitate screening and referrals for health, mental health, disability, and family support;

    (8) A coordinated data infrastructure to collect essential information on where young children spend their time and the quality of the programs that serve them; and

    (9) An age- and developmentally-appropriate curriculum and assessment system for early learning programs that is used to support best practices and improve school readiness.

    We also encourage the RTT-ELC grant program contain a separate funding stream available to states which may not be able to meet all the requirements of the new grant program but which would like to start to increase the quality of their early care and education systems so as to compete for additional resources in the future. This approach was also contained in SAFRA through the inclusion of Development Grants (Sec. 404).

    As you know, in addition to educational outcomes, high-quality early education programs also have a profound impact on reducing later crime and violence. At-risk kids who were left out of the high-quality High/Scope Perry preschool program were five times more likely to be chronic offenders (more than 4 arrests) by age 27 than those who participated. A study of Chicago’s government-funded Child Parent Centers showed that children who participated were 29 percent more likely to graduate from high school by age 20 and 47 percent more likely to have attended a 4-year college by age 28 than similar kids left out of the program. By age 26, those who did not attend the Child-Parent Centers were 27 percent more likely to have been arrested for a felony and 39 percent more likely to have spent time in jail and/or prison.

    Research has demonstrated that that the highest quality programs, such as the Perry preschool and Chicago’s Child Parent Centers, achieve the best crime-reduction results. A new Race to the Top competition dedicated to early learning that incorporates the crucial reforms from SAFRA will help states significantly improve the quality of their early learning systems, expanding access for the most at-risk kids to programs that will have the greatest educational and crime-reduction impact.

    On behalf of law enforcement leaders who have seen too many kids grow up to become criminals, thank you again for your excellent leadership on expanding access to high-quality early learning programs. We look forward to continuing to work with you to expand these proven investments in kids that help reduce crime and make our communities safer.

    Sincerely,

    Miriam Rollin, National Director
    Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

    Nick Alexander, Federal Policy Director
    Fight Crime: Invest in Kids

  2. Nemours thanks you for the opportunity to comment on the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Program. As one of the nation’s leading child health systems, Nemours is dedicated to achieving higher standards in children’s health by offering a spectrum of clinical treatment, research, advocacy, education, and community-based prevention initiatives extending to families in the communities it serves. Starting with Alfred I. duPont’s bequest over seventy years ago, Nemours has grown into a multi-dimensional organization offering personalized clinical and community-based preventive care focused on children. Nemours also operates Nemours BrightStart!, an early screening and differentiated instruction program that is targeted to four- and-five-year-olds who are at risk of reading failure.

    As a foundation, Nemours recognizes the importance of increasing access to quality early learning programs. As you develop guidance and eligibility requirements for Early Learning Challenge awards, we request that you take the following recommendations into consideration.

    Requirements

    1. Require states to include various early learning and child care settings in their plans to transform their early learning system. Early learning and development occurs in a multitude of settings – pre-schools, child care, Head Start, homes and other community-based settings. States should ensure that their plans incorporate strategies to reach children in all of these settings.

    2. Require states to incorporate evidence-based or data-informed, developmentally appropriate early learning approaches, programs or strategies in their plans, covering the full spectrum from birth to age 5. As best practices emerge, states should have opportunities to share information with other states.

    3. Require states to include a training/professional development system for the full range of early learning and child care providers and administrators, including specific training on meeting the needs of diverse learners. Training of teachers or child care/early learning providers will be critical to the overall success of a quality early learning system. This includes providing targeted professional development related to the characteristics and needs of diverse, at-risk learners. Teachers sometimes make erroneous assumptions that students with diverse learning needs cannot learn in the mainstream classroom, and do not see themselves as capable of effectively teaching them. When these needs are specifically addressed through training, teachers can change their belief systems about diverse learners and themselves, which is critical to effective instruction for all children.

    Incentives

    1. Reward states that explicitly address early literacy in their plans. Reading ability is the strongest individual predictor of adult health status. Reading failure affects 30 percent or more of our nation’s children, making it a major child health issue. If states are to increase access to quality early learning programs for low income and disadvantaged children, then improving reading readiness skills for those children who are at risk of reading failure should be part of the overall state plan. This should include enabling states to use funds to support developmentally appropriate programs that provide differentiated instruction for diverse learners.

    2. Reward states that develop partnerships with a variety of non-governmental stakeholders in order to increase access to quality early learning programs. These stakeholders should include but not be limited to early care and education and early learning providers, health providers that serve children, foundations and other local nonprofits. Parental engagement strategies should also be a prominent component in state plans.

    3. Reward states that incorporate into their plans requirements for collaboration between early childhood and elementary educators, as well as child care providers. This collaboration would help develop mutual understanding of critical instructional priorities and challenges at each age and grade, and foster a broader sense of shared responsibility and accountability for long-term child development outcomes.

    Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments. Please feel to contact me directly with any questions.

    Sincerely,

    Laura Bailet
    Executive Director
    Nemours BrightStart!

  3. On behalf of vulnerable young children and their families, the Irving Harris Foundation would like to thank the Obama Administration for its leadership and investments in early childhood development and learning. We are grateful for the opportunity to submit comments on how best to implement the Early Learning Challenge Fund (ELCF) to support the development of high quality early learning systems that promote children’s healthy development pre-natal through age five. Your vision of creating the ELCF as a jointly administered program of the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services demonstrates your recognition that children and families need comprehensive supports to be successful. The fact that ELCF is being funded through Race to the Top recognizes that children are born learning and that we need to invest from birth if we want our children to enter school ready to succeed.

    Research and best practices have unequivocally shown that very young at-risk children and their families need a range of comprehensive services including health, mental health and family support in order to promote whole child development including social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and physical development. The Administration is aware that, while there are many outstanding efforts in states to develop early learning systems and to replicate model early learning programs across the country, too few resources have been focused on integrating comprehensive services into early learning systems and developing the policies and systems needed to support the social, emotional and mental health needs of vulnerable children, birth to age five, and their families. Because non-cognitive skills, including social and emotional skills, are critical to children’s ability to succeed in school and in life, this lack of investment in family support and mental health services for young children is a major barrier to closing the achievement gap.

    Recommendation: The Early Learning Challenge Fund must place a value on supporting the integration of comprehensive services and in particular mental health and child trauma services within a comprehensive early learning system. By incenting states to support the development of a comprehensive system, the ELCF will support the creation of a system that results in stronger families, more efficient resource allocation, and better outcomes for children.

    It is critical that the ELCF help states align and integrate critical early learning programs and services such as Child Care, Head Start/Early Head Start and Preschool and develop the infrastructure to support a high quality system that is held accountable for helping children develop the skills necessary to succeed. A high quality early learning system must also include, however, a range of other comprehensive services children and families need to thrive. A high quality system should include developmentally appropriate mental health screening, intervention, and treatment services along the promotion, prevention and treatment continuum. It must link to health systems and leverage other federal programs that strengthen parents’ ability to support their children’s healthy development such as homevisiting, nutrition services and maternal child health initiatives in a meaningful way.

    The ELCF is in a position to help states better leverage and integrate existing funding streams and programs to create a more seamless, high quality system of services that optimizes outcomes for young children and families but it will require that the Administration place a value in the RFP to support the true integration of comprehensive services.

    We would like to encourage you to award points to states that incorporate the development of an integrated system that supports the health and mental health needs of very young children and their families, and includes the provision of high quality mental health intervention and child trauma treatment services that promote early learning and child development. These services might include mental health consultation to early learning programs and the delivery of evidenced-based treatment services for children exposed to violence. The ELCF RFP should require that these services be delivered by well-trained and supported providers; and that these services should be fully integrated into a comprehensive early learning system.

    Research demonstrates that, no matter how good the early learning program, children who are stressed, traumatized, or unable to regulate their emotions and behaviors will be unable to succeed in school. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman and others point to the importance of executive function (including emotional regulation, motivation, perseverance, and ability to work with others) to human capital development. Their research shows that it is these social and emotional skills that translate into the greatest benefits for the individual and to society. Any effort to redress the huge achievement gap in this country must begin with smart and effective investments in very young children’s social and emotional development through strengthening and providing appropriate prevention and intervention services into early learning systems.

    We want to thank you for considering these comments and would look forward to discussing them with you further. Thank you for the Administration’s leadership on early childhood development and learning and we look forward to working with you to make this a success.

    Phyllis Glink
    Executive Director
    The Irving Harris Foundation

  4. The Institute for Child Success, located in Greenville, South Carolina, is grateful to the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services for the opportunity given to organizations and individuals across the United States to make comments on the recently announced Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grant Competition. We believe that the Federal government’s particular focus in this program on our youngest children is a sign of new hope for our country, a reason for optimism for our future, and an indication that the Obama Administration’s priorities are properly aligned to achieve the biggest bang for our taxpayer bucks in a period of deficits and fiscal austerity.

    Despite these great hopes and our significant interest in the success of this program, we are saddened by the recent decision of our state’s Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais, to not seek these Federal dollars on behalf of South Carolina’s children. We hope that the legislation might be amended or regulations in future phases of Race to the Top might be rewritten to allow statewide non-profit organizations or collaboratives of local or regional governments to make applications when state authorities choose not to do so for purely political reasons. We believe that South Carolina’s children and South Carolina’s taxpayers deserve the opportunity to access Federal dollars that could significantly improve our early learning system.

    We wish also to associate ourselves with the comments of Lisa Guernsey, Bridget Hamre, et al. in their letter of June 17, 2011 to Drs. Jones and Lombardi.

    Colleen Bridger, Ph.D., MPH, Executive Director
    Joe Waters, Associate Director
    Institute for Child Success
    Greenville, South Carolina

  5. The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) applauds the Obama Administration for its commitment to early learning. As the secretaries know, parents are a child’s first teacher. As such, we recommend that the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) include a strategic priority to support parents in their primary role and engage them as decision-makers and leaders. Based on a decade of state experiences, CSSP offers the Strengthening Families™ approach as a framework and resource for states to achieve this goal through RTT-ELC.

    Five Protective Factors are the foundation of the Strengthening Families Approach:
    • Parental resilience
    • Social connections
    • Concrete support in times of need
    • Knowledge of parenting and child development
    • Social and emotional competence of children

    Research supports the common-sense notion that these five Protective Factors reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect and promote optimal child development. (Horton, 2003) More than 30 states are incorporating the Strengthening Families approach to engage parents as leaders and decision-makers, strengthen program quality by forging stronger relationships with parents, and create common language and promote collaboration across early childhood programs and agencies. Emerging evidence suggests that the Strengthening Families approach is contributing to higher quality and positive outcomes. (For example, Douglass, 2009; Rost, et al, 2011)

    Given Strengthening Families’ widespread reach and the emerging evidence of its impact, we respectfully recommend that the RTT-ELC reward and encourage states to incorporate the Strengthening Families approach into their vision and goals for a high quality, comprehensive early learning system.

    • Strengthening Families supports quality and offers low- and no-cost innovations for all early learning settings. Field research has identified small but significant changes in everyday practice that make a difference for families. These program strategies are also hallmarks of quality – for example, they align to the accreditation criteria established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. States like Alaska, Kansas and others are using available resources such as child care quality dollars and child abuse prevention funds, coupled with existing administrative levers like subsidy contracts, reporting requirements, and technical assistance, to infuse the Protective Factors Framework at little or no additional cost to programs.

    • Strengthening Families promotes school readiness by supporting parents’ readiness. Emerging evidence associates Strengthening Families with improvements in the skills, relationships and confidence parents need to be effective advocates for their children. (Rost et al, 2011) As states like Illinois and Washington demonstrate, Strengthening Families offers a model for partnering with parents at the program and system level to create a consumer-driven initiative in which families help design strategies that work for them.

    • The Protective Factors can Inform Quality Ratings and Professional Development Systems. Like Idaho, more than a dozen states are incorporating the Strengthening Families Protective Factors into their QRIS quality indicators. IdahoSTARS includes Strengthening Families as a Quality Standard, requires training on the Protective Factors at each quality level, and awards a Strengthening Families Specialization to individuals who complete specific requirements. Tennessee has cross-walked the Protective Factors to the Early Childhood and Infant/Toddler Environmental Ratings Scales (ECERS and ITERS). Providers are trained on the Strengthening Families program strategies and are evaluated on family outcomes related to the Protective Factors.

    • Strengthening Families offers tools to support program quality and accountability. The Strengthening Families Self-Assessment tool is designed for any program and can be incorporated into a broader quality assurance system. The self-assessment measures implementation of Strengthening Families program practices based on input from parents, staff and program directors. The results inform programs’ continuous improvement plans. Massachusetts aggregates the center-level data to track implementation, identify trends and inform state policy. Florida has adapted the self-assessment tool for use by home visiting programs to inform service delivery plans and evaluate impact.

    • Strengthening Families provides a platform for collaboration and system-building. State interdisciplinary leadership teams have found that Strengthening Families offers a conceptual framework, common language and clear goals for linking diverse programs and services into a seamless, comprehensive system. Seventeen states report that they have incorporated the Protective Factors into their Early Childhood Comprehensive Services Plans (supported by the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau). Florida’s statewide home visiting coalition adopted the Protective Factors framework as a foundation for its state plan to coordinate community programs under the federal home visitation grant opportunity.

    • The Strengthening Families National Network supports state implementation and innovation. Launched through CSSP, the network includes the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, which supports a National Parent Partnership Council and a learning community of more than 30 state Children’s Trust Funds and their partners. With support from the federal Children’s Bureau, the Quality Improvement Center for Early Childhood is generating new knowledge and disseminating research on effective strategies for preventing child maltreatment, promoting optimal child development and increasing family strengths. Other partners include United Way Worldwide, ZERO TO THREE, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention and Parents as Teachers.

    We thank the administration for the RTT-ELC opportunity and for considering the inclusion of a strategic priority to support parents in their critical role as children’s first teachers. We stand ready to assist with information and expertise to support the incorporation of the Strengthening Families approach into this unprecedented investment in young children.

    Sincerely,
    Frank Farrow, Director, Center for the Study of Social Policy
    Judy Langford, Senior Fellow and Director, Strengthening Families Initiative

    Related Links:
    http://www.cssp.org
    http://www.strengtheningfamilies.net

    Citations:
    Douglass, Anne, Early Care & Education Partnerships that Keep Children Safe: How Strengthening Families Illinois Influenced Change in Child Care Programs (Chicago: Strengthening Families Illinois, 2009). Available at http://www.strengtheningfamiliesillinois.org/html/Dec%2009%20Eupdate/Douglass_Office%20Printing.pdf

    Horton, Carol, Protective Factors Literature Review: early care and education programs and the prevention of child abuse and neglect (Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy, September 2003). Available at http://www.cssp.org/reform/new-strengthening-families/resources/body/LiteratureReview.pdf

    Rost, Kristen 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

  6. The National Indian Child Care Association (NICCA) appreciates the efforts of the current administration 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 through the Early Learning Challenge fund. It must be noted however, that the final legislation did not include a Tribal set aside of these funds. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, American Indian children are the only group that collectively lost ground since 2000 on several well-being indicators. Child poverty continues to rise for American Indian children at a faster rate than for any other ethnic group in the United States.

    The National Indian Child Care Association (NICCA) makes the following recomendations concerning the Early Learning Challenge Funds:

    1. Selection Criteria include a Tribal Early Learning Challenge Fund award.

    2. Tribal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) programs are required partners in state applications for funding.

  7. Your point is well taken, Anne.
    As part of the Birth – Grade 3 continuum or continuity of care and services, I saw no specific mention of Afterschool/Out-of-School Time in the preliminary RttT-ELC information.

  8. I am writing to express support for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant that your Departments will be jointly administering. I applaud your leadership and efforts. For too long, care and early learning have been treated as separate programs ignoring the research and creating a silo approach that allows too many children to fall through the cracks and arrive at school unprepared. It is critical that when we talk about early learning that both federal Departments lead the way.

    I believe that when you look at 4th grade test scores and see the great majority of children scoring below grade level, it is not a failure alone of the elementary grades but an indication of the readiness of children from low-income families to start school on par with their more economically advantaged peers. That’s why it is important to ensure that ALL children have access to quality early learning settings, especially those from low-income families.

    While learning begins at home, it is also true that women are in the workforce in greater numbers than ever before. More than 11 million children spend an average of 35 hours per week in some type of child care setting. Head Start, Early Head Start, State Pre-K, and early intervention programs like IDEA Part C or IDEA Section 619 are critically important, but we cannot ignore the millions of children in child care. They spend too much time in these settings to deny that they are the primary early learning environment for them.

    The Administration’s goal of increasing 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 cannot be achieved unless child care is part of the solution. Not some child care, but all licensed child care. How states will improve the quality of child care should be part of the new grants.
    I have several recommendations related to improving the quality of child care that I hope you will consider in drafting a comprehensive approach to developing integrated, high quality early learning systems in the states. These are:
    1. Require states to include parents and parent involvement in the requirements. Require states to have comprehensive consumer education programs such as statewide child care resource and referral systems.

    2. Only include states that license and inspect all child care settings.
    3. Only include states that ensure child care teachers have some training to do their jobs.
    4. Only include states that conduct comprehensive background clearances on child care program personnel.
    5. Only include states that have comprehensive birth to five strategies that include comprehensive early learning guidelines for all age groups. Ensure that these guidelines apply to all settings and ages.
    6. Only include states with comprehensive Quality Rating Improvement Systems that address all of the early care and learning settings in the state including Family Child Care Homes and Infant-Toddler Programs.

    1. Include parents and parent involvement as a cornerstone of the planning. Research has shown that parental involvement and parent-provider communication is linked to the quality of care provided. Communication between mother and caregivers is associated with more sensitive interactions between the caregiver and child. Other studies have found links between frequency or degree of parent-caregiver communication and the observed quality of the caregiving environment as measured by observational tools such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale and others.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Require states to include parents and parent involvement in the requirements. At a minimum, states should have policies that require parent involvement in the programs, to ensure that parents are provided with notices of licensing violations, require violations and complaints to be posted online, and that programs regularly communicate with parents.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) Networks should be a part of any Race to the Top grant. They are the link between parents and the community. They interact annually with millions of parents and providers of all types. They not only help parents find child care, but they also provide information to parents so that parents can make more informed choices among child care settings.

    2. All children whose child care is paid with public funds should be in licensed programs that offer at least a minimum level of quality learning opportunities. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the law that sets the parameters for states in setting their own state child care laws. However, the law currently allows federal funds to be spent on programs and providers that are not licensed, inspected, background checked or trained. As a result, child care laws vary greatly throughout the states. State standards are only as good as the enforcement of those standards. Yet, state inspection policies vary greatly. Half of the states or more conduct an inspection only once a year or less frequently. California inspects child care centers only once every five years. Montana inspects family child care homes only once every five years. Michigan inspects family child care homes only once every 10 years. CCDBG does not require inspections. Without regular unannounced inspections, compliance with even the highest state standards is unknown.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Race to the Top funds should be given only to states that ensure that ALL children whose child care is paid with public funds are in programs that meet minimum standards. These programs should be licensed and inspected by the state, and ALL programs, regardless of setting, are included in statewide efforts to provide comprehensive early learning programs for children ages birth to eight.

    3. Require Minimum Training for all Child Care Teachers: The child care workforce is largely untrained and many states do not require a high school diploma let alone a college degree. Few states require ANY training in early childhood development. Even basic health and safety training varies greatly among the states. CCDBG does not have a minimum training requirement.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Include a requirement in Race to the Top that states must address the training and preparation of all child care teachers and providers who care for children paid with federal or state funds.

    4. Comprehensive Background Clearances: Child care providers should have a comprehensive background check (including fingerprints) before getting a license or working in a licensed setting. It makes no sense that only half of the states conduct a fingerprint check against state and federal records. Only seventeen states check the sex offender registry; seven states do not check the child abuse registry.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Race to the Top State Applications should ensure that all adults caring for children have been properly screened. This must include a comprehensive background check based on fingerprints.

    5. Ensure that Quality Rating Improvement Systems (QRIS) are Comprehensive. While QRIS Systems offer an opportunity to improve the quality of care and help parents understand that not all child care is created equal, many QRIS systems are not comprehensive in their approach to child care. They apply to licensed care only, which ignores the many states with high licensing thresholds. One state, South Dakota, allows a family child care provider to care for thirteen children before licensing is required. Three states allow seven children (Idaho, Louisiana, and Ohio) and seven states allow six children (Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Virginia). Far too many children are in child care that is neither licensed nor inspected.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Give priority to states with Quality Rating Improvement Systems that are comprehensive and include all segments of the early care and learning community.

    6. Include Only States that have Comprehensive, Birth to Five Early Learning Strategies. States should have early learning guidelines for ages 0-5, which means separate early learning guidelines for infants and toddlers. The early learning guidelines, Pre-kindergarten standards and child care licensing standards should be comparable. Currently, child care, especially infant and toddler care, is exempt from state early learning guidelines. Child care should not be exempt because for millions of children it is their only early learning opportunity. Any Race to the Top system should integrate child care standards with state early learning guidelines which will help improve the quality of child care settings.

    • RECOMMENDATION: Give priority to states that have comprehensive, birth to five strategies for all early care and learning programs.

    In closing, let me thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Race to the Top program. Children are not born at age 4 when they attend state Pre-K or Head Start and their learning trajectory is already well established by this age. Race to the Top provides an opportunity to reward states for developing comprehensive birth to five systems that also meet the needs of working parents. It is time to stop separating child care and early education and the Race to the Top program provides an excellent opportunity to send this message. I am hopeful that strengthening the quality of all child care settings will be part of any Race to the Top grant proposal.

    Linda K. Smith
    Executive Director

  9. Recommendations for RTT – Early Learning Challenge

    Children’s Alliance in Washington State strongly supports and aligns with the ELC’s intent to give vulnerable children access to high-quality early learning and hope that this opportunity will serve as a lever to incentivize quality improvements in the system. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and offer the following recommendations:

    • Points should be awarded to states that have comprehensive plans for the development of a strong early learning system that provide linkages across health, mental health, nutrition, oral health and family supports. These plans should provide a framework and roadmap for the state and should have a plan for accountability, tracking, and adjustments as work progresses, with clear involvement of state early learning advisory councils
    • While we believe that Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) are integral to systemic quality improvement, we recognize that improving access to high-quality in states is more complex than a single system. We encourage the ELC to consider a range of states in development of their QRIS systems, and encourage states that choose to focus on quality improvements, particularly in the aptitude and skills of the early learning workforce. The ELC guidelines should reward points to states that are intentionally working on creating career pathways that lead to well-trained and adequately compensated professionals. States should also be incentivized to create QRIS systems that benefit all early learning caregivers, including Family Friend and Neighbor Care.
    • The ELC opportunity should provide clear prompting for states to ensure that, as an integral part of quality, all children are served in culturally responsive ways that recognize the full range of diversity in a state, including racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic strengths, inclusive of children with disabilities.
    • Points should be awarded to states that are coordinating state and federally funded home visiting programs as an integrated part of the early learning system, considering them as part of an identified birth to three strategy.
    • The ELC should reward states that are working on P-3 alignment, linking high-quality PreK with the K-12 system. As part of these efforts, states should have birth to age eight early learning guidelines that are aligned with QRIS and serve as a common framework and resource for parents and providers across the state
    • The ELC should incentivize family engagement by requiring states to spend a significant portion of the grant to promote family involvement in early learning programs.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this exciting new effort.

  10. Comments Regarding Guideline Development on Evaluation

    The Early Learning Challenge program offers a great opportunity to learn and continuously improve state and community efforts to build strong early learning systems that can increase overall school readiness and success and reduce disparities in outcomes by income, race, language, and culture.

    This requires an approach to evaluation that continually keeps its eye on the ultimate goal of improving children’s readiness for and success in school and that recognizes the multiple conditions, supports, and quality services that need to be developed to achieve this end. Grantees will need continuous feedback and evaluation expertise to make mid-course corrections and continuously improve and expand upon their efforts.

    The BUILD Initiative has developed an evaluation framework for systems building work that is based upon a theory of change about systems building – one which has defined testable and measurable assumptions within that theory. In the case of evaluating specific programmatic efforts, program evaluation methodologies (including randomized controlled trials and other techniques to develop counterfactuals that enable attributions of causality) are well-developed and should be used, where possible and appropriate. Complex programmatic interventions that are interactive, operate at several levels, or have community-building emphases that extend beyond specific program participants, however, require different evaluation approaches. Different evaluation methodologies also are needed, in the case of developing strong planning and governance structures to ensure fidelity of implementation according to plan, building political will to move forward and secure needed resources and buy-in, creating connections and collaborations across different programs serving the same children and families to produce synergy in impact, and moving to a scale of activity to achieves results on a population level.

    Further, in order to enable continuous learning and adjustment, such evaluation processes need to be interactive and ideally be embedded into the design and operation of the overall initiative.

    BUILD’s framework for evaluation is based upon its theory of change and describes five focus areas for evaluation, each amenable to rigorous evaluation (although requiring different evaluation strategies):
    • Context: Improving the political environment (including the understanding of key stakeholders and the cultivating of leaders) so that it produces the policy changes and support to sustain system building work;
    • Components: Establishing high-performing programs and services within the system that achieve specific impacts upon children and families essential to achieving overall system goals;
    • Connections: Creating strong and effective linkages across system components (health, early learning, family support, and services to meet special conditions and needs) that increase the results from individual program component activities;
    • Infrastructure: Developing the ongoing support systems and management, accountability, and continuous learning systems to function effectively and with quality; and
    • Scale: Ensuring a comprehensive system is available to all children and their families, based upon specific need, to produce broad and inclusive results at the population (entire state or community) level. [1]

    The BUILD Initiative has found that the presence and participation of an evaluation partner within the planning and governance activities has been extremely useful to BUILD states. Having evaluation expertise which can provide technical assistance and advice as planning occurs results in clearer articulation of goals and expectations – and ways to measure progress in real-time and enable continuous adjustments and improvements, based upon experience. Such “interactive evaluation” not only enables process/formative evaluations to be truly helpful to grantees but also improves the quality of outcome/summative evaluations, as well.

    One of the goals of the Early Learning Challenge fund is to better chart pathways to success that other states and communities can follow. To do so requires continuous evaluation and the determination of what processes, as well as discrete programs, produce results. This requires an approach to and investment in evaluation that is different from traditional evaluation sections in federal grants.

    In short, we would strongly recommend that the guidelines provided for the Early Learning Challenge fund incorporate a section on evaluation that goes beyond traditional program/subject/outcome evaluations and:
    • Stresses the importance of adopting a comprehensive evaluation framework that covers context, components, connections, infrastructure, and scale;
    • Emphasizes interactive evaluation as a primary approach; and
    • Supports the presence of an evaluation partner or partners in the planning and design, as well as program implementation, aspects of the work.

    Charles Bruner, Ph.D., Research and Evaluation Director, the Build Initiative
    Ann Kubisch, Director, Roundtable on Community Change, Aspen Institute
    Lisbeth Schorr, Senior Fellow Center for the Study of Social Policy

    [1] Coffman, J. (2007) A Framework for Evaluating Systems Initiatives. Build Initiative. Retrievable at: http://www.buildinitiative.org/files/BuildInitiativefullreport.pdf.

  11. United Way Worldwide recommendations on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund

    As an organization that works to provide vulnerable children access to early learning opportunities, United Way is writing to express our support for the $500 million investment in grants to states to improve early childhood services and submit recommendations for the state applications for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTTT-ELC) grant competition.

    The RTTT-ELC provides a unique opportunity for selected states to develop innovative systems for delivering early childhood services and supports to at-risk infants, toddlers and preschoolers. United Way supports the Administration’s position that the application be rigorous and competitive. We also recommend that technical assistance meetings be held, with the support of national partners, to assist states in developing applications that clearly address the priorities outlined in the competition announcement.

    Like Race to the Top, we believe this competition should ensure state leadership receives input and support from local communities in the development of their applications; that states and local communities use data to guide decision-making and to engage the broader community; and that states identify community-based strategies to address the needs of children and families who are most vulnerable.

    Early childhood services and supports are delivered at the community level (county, city, school district, Head Start, non-profits etc) and local capacity for implementing the state reform system and policy is essential to long-term success. Additionally, communities need data about the developmental status of young children to inform the development of effective strategies and build public and political will for increased investments. To that end, we make the following recommendations for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge competition.

    Recommendations:
    1. Measures of School Readiness: The RTTT-ELC should provide incentives to encourage states to use a population-based measure of school readiness that includes physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and literacy and general knowledge and communication. A population-based measure of school readiness will provide critical data about the percentage of children who are vulnerable and thriving by community, facilitating deeper and broader public engagement on the importance of early childhood while informing planning and
    decision-making.

    2. State Level Stakeholder Leadership and Advisement: States with well established state Early Childhood Advisory Councils should be given priority in the RTTT-ELC competition and the State Advisory Council should be involved in the development of the application.

    3. Community Level Stakeholder Leadership and Advisement: States with established local Early Childhood Advisory Councils should be given priority for funding. The early childhood councils should provide input into the state plan and a letter of support would be included as part of the application. In states without local Early Childhood Advisory Councils, the newly designated home visitation communities and Head Start programs, through the Head Start State Collaboration Office should provide input and letters of support

    4. State Governance: States should be required to demonstrate that all state agencies with jurisdiction over early childhood, including the state Departments of Education, of Human Services, and of Health, have been involved in the development of the application and consent to it. All applicants should be required to show progress in achieving a unified governance approach for early learning systems and services as a result of this grant.

    5. Public-Private Partnerships: States should demonstrate strong public-private partnerships among child care and early education programs, medical providers, businesses, foundations, nonprofit organizations and other stakeholders involved in and supportive of early childhood services.

    6. Family Engagement: States should demonstrate a plan for engaging parents and families into early childhood services and informing them on the importance of proper care for infants and children under five years of age.

    7. Quality Early Learning: States should demonstrate they have a plan for using, implementing and linking early learning guidelines, program standards, and practitioner standards, connected to developmentally appropriate curriculum and assessment for their birth to five early learning system.

    8. Linkages from Birth to Five to K-12: States should demonstrate linkages of early education services with curriculum and assessment in schools and school districts to ensure that young children are able to seamlessly transition to the K-12 system. They should further demonstrate linkages of a data system supporting early learning with the K-12 longitudinal data system.

    United Ways across the country have invested significant resources, volunteer support and advocacy to advance early childhood efforts at the state and local level. We understand that transforming early childhood services and supports into high quality well-integrated systems that consistently prepares children for success will require a coordinated federal, state and a local approach. The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge provides the opportunity for states, together with local communities, to create
    more effective and innovative models that focus on positive outcomes for children ages birth to five and increase disadvantaged children’s access to higher-quality early learning programs.

    Aloha United Way (HI)
    Greater Gallatin United Way (MT)
    Middlesex United Way (CT)
    United Way of Chittenden County (VT)
    United Way of Dane County (WI)
    United Way of Greater Chattanooga (TN)
    United Way of Greater Toledo (OH)
    United Way of North Carolina (NC)
    United Way of Seneca County (NY)
    United Way of Windham County (VT)

  12. Early Learning Ventures (ELV), a Colorado nonprofit, is leading an effort to establish a statewide network of collective management organizations—ELV Alliances – to optimize the delivery of high-quality early childhood care and education. ELV Alliances are community-based partnerships that provide operational services and quality supports to a group of small centers and family child care home affiliates. Each Alliance has the capacity to serve approximately 100 Affiliates, impacting approximately 2,900 children. Colorado is the only state with this type of market-based, entrepreneurial, and collaborative approach working to strengthen the ECE delivery system and improve access to high-quality programs. The Affiliates share costs and receive a set of administrative and comprehensive program services from the Alliance, with one common purpose: to position their programs to sustain the delivery of high-quality services. The ELV Alliance network also increases the capacity to serve low income and disadvantaged children by collaborating with a multitude of public and private stakeholders; including the Department of Human Services, Local Education Agencies, Resource and Referral, ECE Councils, and philanthropic investors.

    Early Learning Ventures Alliances provide their Affiliates with tools, technology and assistance to optimize:

    • Implementing standards and assessment;
    • Program and professional development;
    • Comprehensive Service Delivery – including coordinated screenings and referrals;
    • Data Management- customized Alliance CORE web-based child management system;
    • Business planning with an emphasis on blended funding; and,
    • Compliance with the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Child Care Licensing.

    There is such a unique opportunity to scale systematic approaches with an investment of Race to the Top federal funds into innovative approaches. NOW is the time to work to bring innovations to the market to start to enable providers to achieve scale and begin to offer quality early childhood experiences to ALL children.

  13. BUILD Initiative Commentary on the Early Learning Challenge Grants

    For more information, visit http://www.buildinitiative.org

    For the last decade, the BUILD Initiative has worked with a number of select states to develop early learning systems that can achieve the first National Education Goal that “all children start school ready to learn.” Founded by the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative and supported by more than 20 foundations, BUILD has championed a systemic approach – creating early childhood policies that respond to child health, nutrition, mental health, family support, and early care and education needs across all services and supports for young children and their families. We believe that the administration’s Early Learning Challenge (ELC), with its emphasis on innovation and systemic approaches to policy change, represents a critical step toward realizing the dream of all children succeeding, and is a cost-effective use of public funds that will achieve positive outcomes for children.

    We offer the following comments based on our decade of experience with state early childhood pioneers and anchored in what we have learned working hand in hand with state policymakers in hopes that it might serve as a useful reference for this exciting federal effort.

    • We strongly support the ELC’s focus on giving vulnerable children access to high-quality early care and education. This emphasis is especially timely given the progress that states are making on Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), which BUILD is helping states use as a powerful lever for systems reform. ELC guidelines should promote states’ QRIS practice and policies that ensure the most vulnerable children have access to programs participating and progressing in the QRIS. While the ratings component of QRIS continues to be an important consumer education tool, we encourage the majority of focus and resources in states to be on quality improvement, providing states the opportunity to use biggest-bang-for-the-buck strategies for supporting the capacity and capabilities of the early childhood workforce.
    • Points should be awarded to states that have a clear plan to use QRIS as a framework to reward better quality teachers, classrooms and administrative practices; to complete birth-to-eight early learning standards and to align them with the program standards of QRIS; and to link training, credentialing and professional development resources to QRIS levels so that there is greater transparency and accountability for teacher quality. We offer as resources to the Administration the research papers, case studies and other materials on Quality Improvement that are available at our QRIS National Learning Network web site, at http://www.qrisnetwork.org, as well as those at http://www.buildinitiative.org .
    • Several BUILD states, including Minnesota, Michigan, Washington and Illinois are implementing strategies to help ALL types of ECE providers, including Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) care, to benefit from the supports and resources available under QRIS. FFN care serves huge number of disadvantaged children; we cannot leave them out of the picture. Points should be awarded to states that can demonstrate a commitment to utilizing the infrastructures and supports under QRIS to benefit ALL types of early care and education providers. Parents choose care settings based on a variety of criteria and circumstance; children in all types of settings should have access to high quality early learning experiences and providers/practitioners in all types of settings should be supported with quality improvement strategies and resources.
    • Systems-building includes getting different programs and services to work together better. BUILD also suggests giving weight to states committed to strengthening connections across all early childhood services and supports, including healthy child development, mental health, nutrition, medical home, and family supports such as home visiting. Points should be awarded to states that can show they are thinking comprehensively and that can demonstrate strong linkages across systems, such as effective referral mechanisms, aligned data systems, and shared goals and training requirements.
    • The ELC should incentivize states to place a greater focus on serving all of our children, including those from diverse cultural, linguistic, ethnic and racial backgrounds. States should have an explicit focus on serving dual language learners, and should have definitions of quality that include attention to racial, ethnic, cultural and language diversity, as well as to meeting the needs of children with disabilities.
    • Early childhood governance and coordination is crucial to an effective early childhood system. We believe that the ELC guidelines should emphasize the need for states to unify authority and decision-making for coordination of early childhood programs and policies, as well as to empower Early Childhood Advisory Councils to take a lead role in guiding and advising states’ systems development. ELC applications should require the endorsement of the states’ ECAC chairs, who should play an active role in planning the application proposal and implementation plan. Those states with strong Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems projects under the MCHB should also be given weight. States that demonstrate a clear commitment to building a robust early childhood leadership cadre at the local and/or regional level should be awarded additional points, as should states that leverage public-private partnerships for administration and provision of early childhood leadership, services and resources.

    The Early Learning Challenge provides states with a tremendous opportunity to build on the great work they have been doing with BUILD and other national support organizations – to both broaden and deepen their approach to creating “whole child” policies that help all children succeed. The ELCG funding will help states scale up and demonstrate impact from the exemplary systems work already underway. The states that have been part of BUILD (AZ, IL, MI, MN, NJ, NY, OH, PA, and WA) have truly been pioneers in creating a systemic approach to early childhood policy. We believe their experience underscores the promise and wisdom of the Administration’s decision to expand and promote early childhood systems building as a path for all children to start school ready to learn.

  14. We need head start to be supported . It is the foundation of the childrens start in learning, many parents can not know or start teaching thier children at home because they did not get the education they need to teach their own children. There are many good teachers in the program who puts their heart and soul into it and give all they have and more so these children that walks in these classroom doors to learn and be ready to set the world on fire through the knowledge of a good teacher. We need our children to get the best of the education possible to make better leaders for our future.

  15. The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTTT-ELC) is an exciting collaboration between the Department of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS). This competition can help bridge the gap of strengthening families to connecting to the K-12 education pipeline by supporting early learning programs that prepare young children to enter school ready to learn.

    The RTTT-ELC initiative is a step in the right direction, however, Texas, did not apply for the RTTT funding in 2009. If the state does not apply for this round of funding, organizations such as AVANCE, one of the oldest, largest and most distinguished parenting/early childhood education programs in the country will not have a chance to compete for much needed funding to serve the most vulnerable families in the state of Texas. Consequently, Texas children and families will be at a greater disadvantage.

    How can organizations like AVANCE compete for Early Learning dollars if Texas does not apply? Is it possible to set apart some of the funding and open up the competition to organizations such as AVANCE that has a proven track record of providing high quality early learning in all key areas of child development including cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development for almost 40 years?

    The education pipeline does not begin at Pre-K or Kindergarten; it begins at birth. A child’s critical years are during the formative years, birth to age three. There is a critical need for early learning particularly in economically disadvantaged communities. Children from low income and low literacy families are not ready to learn at Pre-K or Kindergarten, and if disadvantaged children do not receive early learning, they will never have a chance to begin school ready to learn or catch up to their peers.

    Since 1973, AVANCE has continued to provide innovative education and family support services to predominantly Hispanic families in low-income, at-risk communities. Dedicated to promoting school readiness and supporting family engagement, AVANCE proudly serves as a national model and best practice of early childhood education for vulnerable families. Over the years, AVANCE has consistently demonstrated that children who graduate from AVANCE as toddlers are school ready when they transition into a school system, have high promotion rates to the next grade level, have high attendance rates, and outperform their peers on state standardized tests. Additionally, parents who graduate from the parent education program increase their sense of parental efficacy, enhance their view that they are their child’s first teacher, become more engaged in their child’s development and learning, and increase their knowledge and skills. Many parent graduates also continue their own education thus helping to break the cycle of poverty.

    Hispanics are the fastest growing minority population in the United States and research shows that Hispanics are far less likely to earn a high school diploma than African Americans and their white counterparts. If the state of Texas does not apply for the RTTT-ELC, this could have negative implications for economic development, quality of workforce preparedness, and our country’s national security. If the education gap persists, high rates of poverty will continue and can lead to other societal problems.

    Please consider setting aside some of the $500 million of the FY11 RTTT-ELC funds for organizations such as AVANCE that are already making a positive difference in the lives of many disadvantaged children. Help us help you to build the bridge that can close the achievement gap among America’s most vulnerable families.

    Glendelia M. Zavala, Ed. D.
    Chief Program Officer
    AVANCE, Inc.
    San Antonio, TX

  16. I agree 100% with all the “Ben” said, such as:
    Recommendation: Certain Common Definitions Are Needed to Facilitate State System Building
    To facilitate the development of integrated state early learning systems, we believe that early learning communities within each state need to use the same definitions. Therefore, we recommend the following definitions:
    “Child” refers to an individual from birth until the day the individual enters kindergarten.
    “Low-Income” means a child whose family income meets income eligibility for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) as defined by the state or a child who meets Head Start and Early Head Start eligibility requirements.
    “Disadvantaged” refers to those populations included in state eligibility for CCDF services or those populations which are Head Start and Early Head Start eligible. These populations include children with special needs, language minority children, children in protective services, children who are experiencing homelessness, and other special populations.
    “Early Learning Program” is defined as “early childhood education program” as provided in the Higher Education Act.

    Lisa Grenia
    Head Start Parent

  17. Especially for large states such as California, it’s vital that Counties or regions be allowed to compete for federal funds directly, not through the state. Either that, or the rules should provide that each county would get an allocation based on its size.

  18. ARE WE AWARE that it is not only “low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who [not] enrolled in high-quality early learning programs”. I am an ex-teacher with twelve years of post-graduate studies and over three (3) years of teaching experience at the middle school level and three (3) years of experience at the post-secondary level. Upon becoming a mother, I was unable to allow my first born to attend an early learning program at the price of $285 per week let alone two (2). Being a Canadian National, I am astonished at how middle class working families are working basically to provide child care for their children. It is not possible that a mother of two (2) would have to earn at least $560 per week in order to keep two (2) children in child care. Every parent desires
    “high-quality early learning programs and services” and I am fortunate that I am a teacher and have been teaching my sons on my own till they are able to attend public school but what about providing resources and support for those parents that cannot provide such support to their children? New Jersey

Comments are closed.