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

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

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 received 349 Responses from the public.

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.

Thank you for your interest in the RTT-ELC Program, the administration's signature early learning reform initiative. This program will be jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS).

In order to run a rigorous competition and obligate funds to grantees before the December 31, 2011 statutory deadline, ED will waive rulemaking for this new program, pursuant to its authority in the General Education Provisions Act. However, we want your input on how we implement the major elements of this program so we are posting this draft executive summary of the draft requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions for the RTT-ELC competition on this Web site and we encourage all interested parties to share their comments with us. This document will be posted for public input until 5:00 PM EDT on July 11, 2011, at which time the input section will be closed and we will begin considering input received as we develop final requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions. We will publish those requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions in a Notice Inviting Applications in the Federal Register later this summer.

The RTT-ELC competition is a powerful tool that will help highly committed States provide more children from birth to age five from low-income families – with access to high-quality Early Learning and Development Programs. As with the first two rounds of Race to the Top, the bar to receive an RTT-ELC grant will be set high.

Through the RTT-ELC, we want to support breakthrough work that dramatically improves the quality of Early Learning and Development Programs serving High-Need Children. The competition will focus on key reforms, including aligning early childhood resources and systems and improving early learning and development standards and assessment, program standards, tiered rating and improvement systems, and early childhood educators. We will be looking to fund applications that demonstrate courage, commitment, capacity, and creativity.

In commenting on this document, we encourage potential applicants to identify barriers in current federal programs that may impede implementation of an ambitious, high-quality State Plan.

We are posting this document on a moderated site. That means all posts will be reviewed before they are posted. 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. Please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements, as we will delete them before we post your comments. Additionally, to protect your 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 comments. For more information, please be sure to read the "comments policy."

Please understand that posts must be related to the RTT-ELC competition and program, and should be as specific as possible. Each post must be limited to 1,000 words. All opinions, ideas, suggestions, and comments are considered informal input and ED and HHS will not respond to any posts. If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. We look forward to receiving your ideas and suggestions. However, the input you provide in these posts might or might not be reflected in the final RTT-ELC requirements, priorities, selection criteria, or definitions, or the other policies that are enunciated in the final RTT-ELC NIA.

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

Note to reader: Defined terms are used throughout this document and are identified using initial capitalization. Definitions are provided later in the document.

Click the links below to read the draft requirements, priorities, selection criteria, and definitions; then click "Add a New Comment" at the bottom of the screen to tell us what you think about that item.


According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the Harvard Educational Newsletter (Wilson, 2009) teachers in grades Prek-3 are spending up to six times more time on subject areas associated with standardized tests and test prep instruction rather than engaging children in play or free choice time. Schools are eliminating recess and physical education as well as forcing teachers and young children into scripted curriculum all in the name of improved test scores. In a study presented to a congressional briefing on early education, the Alliance for Childhood and the authors Miller and Almon stated the importance of play and play related child initiated activities. The report, Crisis in the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school (2009), also touched on ineffective programs such as the $6 million Reading First program which was designed to support at risk readers. Though the program significantly increased reading instruction, support to teachers, and discrete reading-skill activities for children (at the expense of other curriculum areas), it was a complete failure. (National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Educational Sciences, 2008).
What is rarely discussed is the damage done to the children by these catastrophic oppressive curriculum failures. The children that are involved in these programs can never get those years back. They won’t know what it would be like to learn through exploration, using creative imagination, and developing their own understanding of the world through play in those key years of their life. Some may think this is being overly dramatic, but a child who is 5 years old and in one of these programs will miss out on the most exploratory stage of their life, because by the time the school realizes the program doesn’t work they are 8 or 9 years old and in the third grade where curriculum is significantly different and should be. Research has shown that the period in a child’s life from 3 to 8 years is extremely important to the development of the brain (Committee on Integrating Science and Early Childhood Education, 2000), so dramatic though it may seem to say this overly academic focus is catastrophic we have to face the consequences of what this is doing to children.
As our children step into the future they will be faced with “challenges and opportunities beyond what we can imagine today, problems and possibilities that will demand creativity and ingenuity, responsibility and compassion” (Mau, 2010, p. 3), and in order to prepare children for an ever changing future we must support the development of innovative and creative skills from an early age. Creativity, imagination, and problem solving are all skills learned by the very young through play, exploration, and the ability to be wrong. As children grow they need the opportunity to expand upon these skills through social constructivist means of learning. If children are not allowed time to explore and practice creative activities and build problem solving skills they will not master them and we will become a nation of non-problem solvers. Hopefully we will realize as a nation soon that the rest of the world is passing us by in education and creative pursuits and wake up like the best schools in the world, namely Finland, have.

I heartily concur with this comment: it is all to likely that, regardless of intentions, the result will be an expansion of drill and kill instruction to boost test scores.

Unfortunately one only needs to look at schools in Atlanta and the danger is illuminated.

Low cost solutions to early childhood development, are crucial elements to be included in any policy approach. Spending tons of money has not 'moved the needle signifcantly for any of us in either the public or private sector. We have a significant portion of our population that is being ever more left behind to the shadows of society and destined to live in a world of chronic under-achievement.

Our national policy should emphasize four major policy poisitons:

1) All children are of value...all children should grow to the maximum of their capacity and one approach (one size fits all) does not work.

2) Parents are a child's first teacher...and reading aloud to children 0-6 IS early childhood development.

3) Public-Private partnerships are preferred....and measurable results essential.

4) Disintermediative strategies that go directly to the 18M parents of children 6 and under are spot-on.

Sustainable, measurable, resource and engagement rich programs exist and should be upscaled to critical mass.

I am a director of a preschool on a college campus. We have voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) at our school. I have two concerns. First is the strong focus on academics and minimal focus on the social emotional development of the children. This may be due to the difficulty in measuring the social emotional abilities of a child. There is a large diversity of needs a family/child has when they come into a program. And the second issue is giving the families a diverse choice of programs.
Many preschool teachers have been put in the impossible situation of teaching students without the necessary discipline skills to address the emotional and social issues of today's children. These children come into our centers with poor social and emotional skills, as well as poor academic and weak vocabulary. Our VPK Test can measure academics but we can't forget the whole child. The Florida's providers VPK score is based on these children's grasp of academics making the majority of the focus on academics only, not the whole child. This contributes to the high expulsion of children with poor social emotional skills, because the centers have to worry about their VPK score. Current brain research indicates fear is detrimental to optimal learning and brain development. If a child is unhappy, scared, or living in an environment that does not offer community or examples of prosocial behavior the child is very unlikely to be successful.
These children need to be in a system with love, expressed through safety, cooperation and respect. They need to be in a system where teachers and students are empowered to control themselves and to relate to others. The families need to be in a system where children become problem solvers and explorers. They need a school that is focused on the needs of their community. It is very hard for large school systems to offer flexibility in their environment to meet diverse needs of the various populations. Smaller schools in churches, colleges, or corporate facilities can often take on more of the support issues to help this child/family become successful. They often have resources beyond the state to help support the family. They can tailor their program to best support their clientele. I am an advocate of choice for parents on where they send their child for their early childhood education, not only having it in the public school system.
The state then has to take on the responsibility of being able to measure the quality of the preschools. This can be done by offering grants to pay for and to requiring national accreditations.

We can create multitude of systems, which we have already been doing. What is our goal? Where in the world are we racing? What top?
We look at schools as businesses. We turn teachers into human doings and expect, by setting up some competitive criteria, to have them raise human beings out of our children. We are in a circle of "madness". This new criteria can only begin to shed light, if we understand the basics of our own humanity.

A child is a greatest gift and a greatest responsibility to each parent. To be a teacher is a greatest honor and one of the highest expressions of trust. As a parent, teacher and innovator, I firmly state that the true change in education begins with us, adults, parents, teachers and communities. This change is not about what and how we teach the children. It is about who we are as people. Our children learn from observing life around them. Life does not happen from top down and is not created by a group of people to be implemented in masses. Every single one of us is a creator of his own life. We must take responsibility for every act as we are, regardless of our profession, all teachers to one another. Our accountability is our service to one another, our greatest reward is the well being all humanity and our planet. We must help each other to get to the top collaboratively!

We need is schools for adults to learn how to be, how to live a healthy life with open heart and open mind. In a consumer oriented society with multi billion food and pharmaceutical industries to the comfort of which we voluntarily subscribe, we kills our bodies, close our minds and destroy our hearts. Until these processes are reversed, every plan, regardless of how wonderfully it is thought through, will fail.

Let us not forget the provisions of the IDEA that are not being supported through any other legislation or governing body concerning the 0-5 learning environment. Children with diagnosed or even perceived delays, especially those related to behavior are being "kicked out:" or expelled from their early learning programs at an alarming rate nationwide. The rate of expulsion nationally has been reported to be as high as 17%, and that is only from those programs who are willing to admit it. Children communicate through behavior in the first few years of life, and that behavior is slowly replaced by communication as we grow older. When the behavior is anything less than perfect, children are being adandoned. VPK programs are evlauated by the testing results of very yougn children and not taking into account the child who is impacted by behavior or delays that have been undiagnosed or fall under "at risk' factors contributing to their difficulty mastering skills or performing on tests. Teachers are ill-equipped or totally unequipped to manage mroe than the typical behavior problems and send the child packing from place to place to place, making the situatino worde. The 0-5 child in an at risk situation will ultimately suffer when they show the world what they are experiencing through their behavior and adults cannot respond appropriately. We need to impose more oversight of the laws already in place to protect these children under the IDEA and provide funding to train early learning educators how to respond to the behaviors that are an every day occurence and lead to failure in education and life. Early learning funding opportunities are great but we need to focus on QUALITY of care.

Supporting and improving the early education for our young children is long in coming and I am thrilled that we are now seriously respecting this population of kids AND educators! The earlier a child's skills and readiness for learning can be assessed allows for earlier and aggressive intervention which over the long run far advantages the child, the system, the taxpayer, and the economic and intellectual health of the nation.
This should not be viewed as merely testing. Testing is a process for collecting data while assessment is is an ONGOING process that drives instructional practice and thus requires an effective and knowledgeable teacher. While data must be required and drives further the needs of the child and educator professional development needs, is should not be regarded as an waste of time or as a reason to teach to the test. In fact, for young children you simply CAN'T t teach to the test when is comes to these early indicators.
Attending to the early learning skills and needs of EACH children, like children in all of PK-12 should be founded on the preparation and ongoing education of the teacher. Our schools of Higher ed MUST improve their own Professional development, use syllabi and text that support what the science says about how we learn and what works. We must look outside of traditional state and federal educational systems to get the knowledge, experience and expertise. We must purge publishers who continue to pitch and sell inferior products that often use the right words and definitions but do not reflect the science and give little attention to the full continuum of students across the high and low ends of the bell curve. If we do not pay attention to the entire spectrum of children's abilities we will continue stagnating in the middle- continuing to leave many behind and limiting the talents of our most gifted minds.
We must take the long-term view. Because teaching is a professional career and NOT a job, individuals (teachers and other professionals) who are not resistant to change, reform and will look to the science are the leaders who will take us forward in doing the right things for our children and our nation.

This is not to say that informal assessments, creating portfolios and record keeping of student progress should not happen. But the incorporation of formal assessments in prek is taking away the essence of the child. Prek and early childhood education is for the purpose of preparing the child through a rich environment and hands on learning for education and learning in kindergarten upwards.

With the incorporation of assessments teachers such as myself are going to feel the need to teach to a "test" and not nurture the whole child building a foundation where the child feels confident in their learning process.

I do feel that we need to look at creating all schools and early childhood centers equally in funding, resources and materials, and allowing all children to have the same opportunities and experiences. In moving forward we do not want to leave "the child" behind.

"Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” Maria Montessori

Thank for your time and understanding.
2nd Year teacher in Prek/K

I agree. The need to play, & use that powerful tool called "imagination" is so important. To learn not from tests or teachers who only teach tests is not working. I pray that the states turn down this grant as it puts government in more power of our learning & they receive a failing grade at this point. Since government has gotten involved our country has gotten stagnant with growth & inventions. Let our children learn with play & a little help.
Thank you for listening.

"Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” Maria Montessori

I'm currently a Prek/K teacher at a public Montessori School where I'm also going through training to earn my certification for a Primary Montessori teacher ages 3-6 years old. Through my training as well as through my undergraduate studies, we learned to observe the child, create a rich environment because this is the age that children acquire and learn information through the environment and experiences created in the classroom.

I feel that we continue to get further and further away from allowing children to be children. We are taking away the very foundation that creates well rounded children where we are able to nurture their very soul and being. By incorporating assessments in early learning environments we are taking the essence away from the child. As a result its taking away crucial learning time away from creating valuable learning experience. Prek and kindergarten is the age where children should be able to learn through explorations, build meaningful relationships and friendships, make connections, ask questions, become thinkers and learn how to interact and communicate with each other.

As we race to the top we should not want to leave the very essence of early childhood to the sides. In doing that we are failing the child and ultimately we will feel the repercutions later in the life. Learning takes place through experiences, touching and feeling, manipulating, not sitting behind a desk and listening to a teacher lecture. Maria Montessori said, "the hands are the instruments to a man's intelligence." Creating all schools equally where all schools and early childhood learning centers are able to participate and have the same opportunities and exposure as their neighboring schools.

I strongly feel that through carefull observation of the teacher, guiding them, creating rich environments and parents being held equally accountable as teachers in their child's learning process is where we need to begin.

Thank for your time and understanding.
2nd Year teacher in Prek/K

Would like to give a vote of confidence for this comment

"I feel that we continue to get further and further away from allowing children to be children. We are taking away the very foundation that creates well rounded children where we are able to nurture their very soul and being. By incorporating assessments in early learning environments we are taking the essence away from the child. Prek and kindergarten is the age where children should be able to learn through explorations, build meaningful relationships and friendships, make connections, ask questions, become thinkers and learn how to interact and communicate with each other."

This is so true and so crucial to the development of the children impacted by new policies and endless experimentation. Teachers and policy makers must not lose sight of the potential damage that can be done by "competition" and testing where young children are concerned.

I applaud these comments. Can we support what we know builds an early foundation from birth without setting up barriers created by competitive assessments. Can we provide evaluations that give us reliable information regarding areas of wellness for a child and family and what supports can further strengthen a child and family.

How do home care providers fit in with this new program. Many low income families use in home providers; who are certified/licensed through there state. Will there be any funding to help or improve home based programs. I am a Professional Type B Provider in Ohio, and I have an associates degree in ECE and a valid CDA. I operate a pre-k program which follows the Ohio Early Learning Standards for pre-k and infants. If I am able to run a purposeful program and be educated; will the Race to the Top help providers like myself?