Resources for early childhood teachers in teacher evaluation systems

August 14, 2014

The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) wanted to know how states are incorporating early childhood teachers in their teacher evaluation systems, and additionally, whether requirements for evaluating early childhood teachers are different from teachers of higher grades. CEELO has done extensive work and produced many resources on teacher evaluation in early education classrooms, including producing a policy report on an extensive study of 11 states. In addition, an Executive Summary  outlines the report’s policy recommendations and findings. There is also an annotated bibliography, Selected Resources to Support Early Childhood Teachers in State Educator Evaluation Systems, a collection of resources that were helpful in gathering information on teacher evaluation.

Some resources CEELO found especially helpful in collecting information were New Jersey’s Teacher Evaluation Support Document for Pre-K & K, which helps evaluators think about using the Danielson rubric with an early childhood perspective in order to evaluate these teachers fairly, and provides sample early childhood Student Growth Outcome charts; and Rhode Island’s Online Modules, video toolkits for creating SLOs and developing assessment.

Teacher evaluation has been at the forefront of education policy in the past few years. Teacher evaluation systems link the results of methods to evaluate teacher effectiveness to targeted professional development to help teachers grow in their profession. Evaluating birth-through-third-grade teachers in public schools is especially important, because we know that a teacher’s impact on children’s learning during the early years affects long-term educational outcomes (see our post from last week). Knowing where states are headed in creating policy to ensure every child is in a quality classroom–and taught by a high quality teacher–is important in making this issue a priority for policymakers. States are beginning to include guidance and supports for early childhood teachers in teacher evaluation protocols, rolling out new tools and rubrics for teachers and evaluators to better understand the process.

CEELO found that states vary on where they are in terms of implementation, and how teachers are licensed and evaluated. States are also responding to changes in teacher evaluation policy by increasing and targeting professional development to make sure educators understand this changing system. For example, New Jersey uses evaluation scores to determine a pathway to targeted professional development. All states have unique ways of sharing information, whether through regional education networks or online databases. This process is ongoing and states will continue to evolve every school year as new research and information becomes available on best practices.

The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders Databases on State Teacher and Principal Evaluation Policies includes a number of databases that track teacher and principal teacher evaluation policies. This site also offers users the option of comparing up to three states on their teacher or principal evaluation systems. This includes a variety of resources on professional development and online tools with state-specific contexts.

In order for progress to be made in teacher evaluation, CEELO recommends ensuring inter-department coordination and involvement on evaluation changes and suggestions. This is particularly important in making decisions related to early education classrooms, since many states are just beginning to implement programs to evaluate early childhood teachers. Continuing to encourage targeted professional development efforts also ensures that educators are aware of changing policies, and maintains coherence among educators keeping up with the changes.

–Michelle Horowitz is a Research Assistant at the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes.


Evaluating the Teacher Evaluators

August 7, 2014

Educators of young children require certain unique skills that differ from those required for children in higher (and more-often tested) grades. Teachers of children in their first years of life lay the foundation of knowledge that children build on for the rest of their educational careers. Therefore, it is particularly important that educators in this field are highly knowledgeable on appropriate content and best teaching practices for young children. Evaluating teachers ensures we are holding educators accountable and gives teachers an opportunity to obtain professional development that will improve their skills. As early childhood is unique, evaluators must be familiar with early childhood pedagogy in order to evaluate teachers accurately.

CEELO’s policy report How are Early Childhood Teachers Faring in State Teacher Evaluation Systems? found that the majority of the states studied use principals or other administrators to evaluate classroom activities and teachers. Although many elementary school principals have prior experience teaching in children’s classrooms, they are not required to be certified or hold a license in early childhood and often have no experience teaching young children. Their knowledge of learning and teaching may span pre-K through grade 12 generally, but they often lack specific training in early childhood education.

If states do not use principals or administrators to conduct evaluation, they use certified evaluators, state employees specifically trained to use state-determined instruments to evaluate classrooms. Evaluators are not required to have any specific background knowledge in early childhood, and may not be familiar with best practices in early childhood classrooms. As states continue to roll out new teacher evaluation programs, especially those with high stakes, they should be committed to providing professional development to those who are involved in making these decisions. According to a study in Maryland, principals themselves were concerned about the capacity of principals to serve as evaluators. How can an elementary principal or certified evaluator accurately evaluate an early childhood teacher’s performance when many have little prior understanding of how early childhood classrooms operate? teacher w boy and girl

The National Governors Association offers policy recommendations; all principals should be certified evaluators and should complete a certification to be eligible to score teachers. This should include a specific category for early childhood grades. They also recommend that states track professional development and adopt reasonable timelines for their teacher evaluation program, to ensure principals are receiving the education they need to evaluate a teacher before the state fully rolls out high-stakes evaluation.

With a strong current focus on teacher evaluation policy, some states are beginning to make efforts to guarantee that evaluators are familiar with early childhood classroom instruction before they evaluate teachers in early childhood classrooms. Some states, such as Delaware and Illinois are currently developing early childhood-specific training for evaluators in the coming year. Certification of observers should not only include acknowledgment that they are able to accurately score a classroom, but also ensure they are able to prove they gave the right score for the right reason. In order to do this, they must have extensive scoring practice in authentic scoring scenarios. The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) is developing a report on what principals should know about early childhood education.

CEELO found that states are also developing resources to ensure that administrators or evaluators have a clear understanding of what “good teaching” looks like in relation to the allowed observational frameworks. Each component is important to ensure that best practices are used to educate young children in the classroom. Keeping early education in mind while creating teacher evaluation policy and programs will ultimately strengthen the entire evaluation process.

–Michelle Horowitz, Research Assistant at the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes.

Check in next week to see Part II of this blog, outlining resources available on teacher evaluation in the early grades.


Hiding Behind the Sofa: One Child’s Perspective of a Teacher’s Home Visit

July 30, 2014

The space behind the sofa in our den provided the perfect hiding place when Miss Miller, my kindergarten teacher, stopped by for her September home visit. I was caught off-guard by this “out-of-context” experience, trying to process competing feelings of excitement, apprehension, and bashfulness. While confident at school, I was transformed into a turtle-like schoolchild whose head popped out periodically to make sure she was aware of my presence. After all, she was on my turf.

Engaging families in the education of young children is nothing new. Education was always viewed as a partnership between parents and teachers, with teachers held in high regard by their families and parents valued for their contributions and ability to reinforce shared values and expectations. Home visits were part and parcel of the home-school connection a half-century ago in my youth, and parent-teacher conferences were sacrosanct throughout elementary years.

Hiding behind the couch, from Flickr Creative Commons user Taylor Brigode: https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylorlb/9110126712/in/photostream/

Hiding behind the couch, from Flickr Creative Commons user Taylor Brigode: https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylorlb/9110126712/in/photostream/

Yet the NIEER State of Preschool 2013 paints a somewhat different picture. The survey indicates a range of policies and practices for parental involvement across 53 state-funded pre-K programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Eight-five (85) percent require programs to provide some form of parent involvement activities, yet one in five programs does not require either parent conferences or home visits. Slightly more than half (51%) require programs to offer parenting support or training. Policies for 21% of programs allowed local jurisdictions to determine the type of parent involvement activities offered, reaffirming that a family’s zip code often shapes one’s early education opportunities.

Parent involvement was a cornerstone for Head Start from its inception and family engagement remains a key component. Regardless of the Head Start program model employed (center-based, home-based, combination option), parent engagement remains a program value and expectation. Head Start Policy Manual 70.2 was a mantra during my years with the program, defining the forms of parent participation including involvement in the decision-making process; engagement in the classroom as employees, volunteers, and observers; participation in and development of activities; and working with children in cooperation with Head Start staff. These elements have been expanded in current Head Start regulations (45 CFR section 1304.40), maintaining a provision for programs to offer at least two home visits annually. Other federally funded programs such as Early Head Start and Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) programs maintain active parent-provider engagement in program policy and design, and the defunct Even Start Family Literacy program was built upon a strong family-school relationship in its two-generation model. NAEYC featured home visiting in an article in Young Children last summer, and has a literature review on the topic as well.

The importance of strong parent-teacher relationships has never been questioned, yet with more parents participating in the workforce, engaging parents in meaningful ways appears to be more difficult. Home visits are no longer considered standard practice, due to scheduling challenges and safety concerns, and parent conferences conducted during regular program hours are often difficult for working parents to attend. This is particularly evident in kindergarten and the primary grades.

Though some wish to turn back the hands of time when stereotypical Ozzie and Harriet families were the perceived norm, policymakers and educators would be wise to support innovative policies and practices that adapt to the changing work-family-school context. Consideration should be given to new approaches such as workplace visits with the support of business owners, to provide paid release time for parent-teacher conferences and volunteering in one’s child’s classroom. Summer, evenings, and weekends also provide excellent times for teachers to exercise greater flexibility in connecting with parents, yet this would require a rethinking of the traditional school calendar and compensation schedules. Care must be taken to make these accommodations in a way that supports teachers and administrators, rather than creating a well-intended but burdensome add-on, and visits should not impinge on valuable time families spend together. It would be a shame for home visits to become a relic of the past.

Thinking back to Miss Miller’s home visit, by the time she was done I had fully emerged from my shell and was trying my best to thwart her escape to her next student’s home. She had toured my bedroom, surveyed my favorite toys and books, and gained a sense of my world. I’m sure she left with a better understanding of me within my environment, a stronger connection with my parents, and ideas for personalizing my formative education experience. I’m also sure my mother was relieved as Miss Miller drove away, in part knowing she had an ally when it came to coaching little Jimmy out of his shell and fostering his education.

–Jim Squires, NIEER/CEELO Senior Research Fellow


Betting on Public Support for Preschool

July 21, 2014

This entry is cross-posted to The National Journal’s Education Insiders blog  in response to the prompt “Early Education Polls Well With Republicans, Swing Voters” from Fawn Johnson.

 

The new polling data from the First Five Years Fund are a source of hope that major new investments in early care and education will take place in the near future. This may even have presaged by recent advances in preschool investment across the country from New York to Michigan to California. Particularly interesting from a policy perspective is that the public has come to solidly support investments in our youngest children and to recognize the value of early child care, not just preschool education. Yet, the new polling data also point to some important concerns and, in particular, policy pitfalls that must be avoided as more politicians jump on the early care and education bandwagon.

Despite strong, broadly based support for government action, the public is also committed to reducing the tax burden on families. Support for a major new federal investment drops sharply, and I suspect does not succeed with the Republican base, if funded by even a targeted tax increase. Nevertheless, unless Congress is willing to fund it by increasing the deficit, some kind of loophole closing or targeted tax increase is likely to be necessary. A sunset provision on the targeted tax increase, requiring it to end or be reapproved after 10 years, might raise support. The other alternative is to fund new investments in early care and education by cutting other programs; as a majority of voters disapprove of this strategy, any proposal funded in this manner should be viewed as a poison pill.

However, the most serious concern is that politicians seeking voter approval will favor expansion of slots over quality and sloganeering over substance. The history of state pre-K and federal child care and Head Start policy provide ample reason for concern. High quality programs that provide long hours of care and a good education are expensive. Poor quality care and preschool programs that provide only a few hours a week are cheap. Given the resistance to tax increases, it will be tempting for politicians–Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress–to encourage wishful thinking and spread too little money over too many children and families. The result will be an increase in spending, but no real investment. Hope will be expressed that once the expansion is achieved, added resources can be obtained for quality or that somehow efficiencies will be obtained that will allow us to produce high-quality at a much lower cost than has ever been achieved before.

This next year could prove to be a turning point in the quest for public investment in high-quality early care and education. As nation emerges from the recession, resource constraints will ease. With economic growth, there will be possibilities for new investments without commensurate increases in tax rates. Will early care and education remain a top priority? And, will quality remain part of the formula? The importance of putting quality first cannot be overemphasized because the expansion of poor quality programs only creates a larger interest group that favors a continuation of poor quality. One early tell-tale sign will be the Obama Administration’s action on preschool development grants–will they emphasize increased numbers over quality, given the relatively modest budget available? Another will be Seattle voters’ preferences regarding their ballot initiative on quality preschool for all. I would like to bet on quality, but children’s advocates will need to work harder than ever if I am going to win that bet.

- Steve Barnett, NIEER Director


State prekindergarten programs: A decade of progress

July 9, 2014

By Alison May

Alison May is a staff coordinator of the National Conference of State Legislature’s Children and Families program. This  post originally appeared on June 30th on the blog of NCSL. 

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), highlighted some of the key findings of NIEER’s annual State Preschool Yearbook during a June 24 NCSL webinar entitled State Prekindergarten Programs: A Decade of Progress. Specifically, Barnett talked about the data and national trends for enrollment in, quality of, and spending on state-funded preschool programs.

The webinar was designed for current and alum members of the Early Learning Fellows program, which is NCSL’s premier program for legislators and legislative staff who are experienced or emerging leaders on early childhood and early learning issues.

This year marked a decade since the first Yearbook was published on data collected from the 2001-2002 school year. Barnet also highlighted notable recent studies of pre-K effects and talked about what works and doesn’t work in prekindergarten to produce larger gains in young children. “As policymakers, you might want to have some input on what we know works and some of the approaches that don’t work very well,” said Barnett. He also indicated that policymakers might want to consider designing programs with intentional teaching, individualization and small groups.

The full webinar is available on NCSL’s YouTube channel. We would direct your attention to the question-and-answer session (beginning roughly 40 minutes in) between Steve and the Early Learning Fellows, which touches on digging in to quality standards, access issues for younger children and utilizing funding sources, including federal funds.


“First you work and then it’s play.”

June 19, 2014

The words of 4-year-old Misty still ring in my ears, as she described her impending rite of passage to kindergarten. When asked what she would do in kindergarten, she replied, “Play and learn. Actually, learn and play, ’cause it’s learn first and then play.”

Misty was one of two dozen “graduating” preschoolers I interviewed in North Carolina and Vermont while researching my (unpublished) dissertation about preschoolers’ perceptions of, and attitudes toward, kindergarten. I wanted to understand and give voice to an important perspective missing from the school readiness debates–the children themselves. I learned much in the process, realizing that even at this early age, children were aware of the distinction between play and work as they prepared to enter “the big school.”

Through their words and drawings, children conveyed that kindergarten would be a learning experience filled with numerous activities.  Very few children expressed any uncertainty about what to expect; the majority had very clear ideas about the activities they would be doing in kindergarten. These activities fell into two categories–learn and play.

The children described learning as the work of kindergarten. They would be working earnestly to acquire new information and skills. Oddly reminiscent of the three R’s of traditional schooling, they described learning activities centered around reading, writing, and arithmetic. They were expecting to be immersed in an academic learning environment which promoted literacy above all else. Little or no reference was made to science, social studies, music, or other areas. The children were looking forward to acquiring these skills and meeting the expectations of teachers. Even when it came to art, I was told artists need to go to school “to learn how to draw like they’re supposed to.”

Playground, from a child’s perspective

Wardrobe considerations were also important when it came to learning. As Marci confided “I had to buy a new backpack because I’ll need homework.” A thousand miles away, Brie confirmed that homework was coming. “You learn how to do homework and how to do letters. If you’re big people, you’ve got to do homework.”

Not everyone was excited about the prospect about learning, though. When I asked Dawn how she was feeling about going to kindergarten, she lamented “Well, I don’t think it’s going to be so good because you know it’s hard to really listen and, you know, stand around and learn something. It’s not going to be so good, because I know that it’s really hard to just learn because learning is a really hard job to do.”

In addition to the hard work of learning, children created a very strong association between going to kindergarten and playing.  They perceived kindergarten would be fun, linking it closely to the opportunity to play. Casey explained, “Kindergarten is really fun. You get to do fun things. You get to play. You get to play a lot.” Heading to school in the fall with her third-grade brother, Twyla was glad that she was going to be a kindergartner. “I think it’s going to be . . . big kids learning stuff and little kids playing.”

The importance of play in the lives of kindergartners was evident throughout the interviews and in their drawings, and they fully expected it to continue when they arrive in the fall.  Preschoolers envisioned kindergarten as an environment filled with toys, many new playmates, and opportunities to play both indoors and outdoors.  Although learning would take place in kindergarten, they were anticipating ample opportunities for play. And that meant being able to make some of their own choices. Learning was imposed, play was freely chosen. Many were resigned to the realization that they’d be making a transition to a more teacher-directed agenda, but hopeful that play wouldn’t have to be sacrificed.

In the end, children perceived kindergarten to be a place where they would both learn and play. They expected to acquire new skills and information in kindergarten and, although learning may be difficult, they wanted it and expected to be successful with it. They also made it clear how important play remained in their lives, as if pleading their case for retaining play in kindergarten.

The play debates are likely to continue for years to come. No one disputes the value of play in the lives of young children; nor do we dispute the need for children to gain important intellectual skills, not always gained independently. As discussions continue about the appropriate balance of each, let’s not forget that there is an additional stakeholder group involved–those who were born in 2009 or later.

Illustrator James Estes may have captured it in a cartoon conversation between two  preschoolers building castles in the sandbox, “Next year we have to start school . . . You realize that’ll be the end of life as we know it.” If it weren’t so true, it would be funny.

–Jim Squires, NIEER Senior Research Fellow


One state’s bold step toward the future

June 6, 2014

Whether they know it or not, future generations of Vermont’s preschoolers are much better off this week. Last week Gov. Peter Shumlin signed H. 270- An Act Relating to Providing Access to Publicly Funded Prekindergarten Education  to guarantee every 3- and 4-year-old living in the Green Mountain State voluntary access to state-funded pre-K. In so doing, Vermont joins a handful of states (FL, GA, IL, NY, OK, WV) and the District of Columbia who have made similar commitments, at least on paper.

Building upon Act 62 (2007) which permitted school districts to provide publicly funded pre-K for age-eligible children to attend high quality programs either through a public school or qualified private provider, the new law requires all school districts to either provide or pay for at least 10 hours/week of prekindergarten education for 35 weeks/year for all 3-, 4- and 5-year old children who are not enrolled in kindergarten in their district in a “pre-qualified program.” For a state already ranked fourth nationally for 4-year-olds and second for 3-year-olds attended state-funded pre-K, things got even better.

There are numerous positive features contained in the law: parental selection of qualified providers; geographic portability for families; greater access through regionally coordinated, mixed-model delivery systems; financial stability through the state’s education fund; uniform data collection for planning, program improvement, and accountability, including data on child progress to “help individualize instruction and improve program practice;” and joint monitoring by the Agencies of Education and Human Services. Most important, all means all for Vermont’s young children when it comes to early learning opportunity.

There is a downside to the new law, however. It missed an opportunity to improve quality.

Although Vermont is a perennial leader for access in NIEER’s State of Preschool Annual Yearbook, it also sits among the bottom tier of states for policies assuring quality and consistency. In 2012-2013, the level of quality remained unchanged as Vermont’s two early education programs continued to meet only four of NIEER’s 10 quality standard benchmarks. Only three states (CA, FL, TX) meet fewer benchmarks.

State leaders failed to resolve the issue quality with the passage of H. 270, and, as a result, children will not necessarily benefit from direct interactions with qualified educators in all settings. It let stand an Act 62 provision permitting vaguely defined “regular, active supervision and training” from a licensed teacher for unqualified educators, and allowing a loophole requiring a program to employ a qualified teacher who may have no direct teaching responsibilities. The low dosage, of 10 hours per week, remains inadequate to improve Vermont’s static kindergarten readiness figures, particularly for those more disadvantaged children, and parents may be required to pay additional fees to private providers to receive even the minimum 10 hours. Reimbursement for schools and participating providers remains well below the kindergarten rate, which also requires only 10 hours per week to generate full funding (the majority of districts provide FDK, however). Further, there is an apparent lack of consistent or complimentary curriculum models even within a district. The act takes one important step in the right direction by requiring state agencies to develop rules (they cannot take effect until 2016 at the earliest); however, the golden opportunity to establish quality on equal footing with access was lost, at best “kicked down the road,” with the Governor’s signing.

Ascribing to the notion that one should not let perfect be the enemy of good, I still tip my hat to Vermont for its bold commitment to becoming a universal pre-K state. Once they figure out how to insert “high-quality” between the words “universal” and “pre-K” with the resources to make it happen, the state will be atop everyone’s list.

–Jim Squires, NIEER Senior Research Fellow. Squires was the early childhood programs coordinator at the Vermont Department of Education, and was involved with development and passage of Vermont’s Act 62, an Act Relating to Prekindergarten Education.

 


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