Lessons learned from Vanderbilt’s study of Tennessee Pre-K

October 2, 2015

Newly released findings from Vanderbilt’s rigorous study of Tennessee’s state-funded pre-K program are a needed tonic for overly optimistic views. No study stands alone, but in the context of the larger literature the Tennessee study is a clear warning against complacency, wishful thinking, and easy promises. Much hard work is required if high quality preschool programs are to be the norm rather than the exception, and substantive long-term gains will not be produced if programs are not overwhelmingly good to excellent. However, the Vanderbilt study also leaves researchers with a number of puzzles and a similar warning that researchers must not become complacent and have some hard work ahead.

Let’s review the study’s findings regarding child outcomes. Moderate advantages in literacy and math achievement were found for the pre-K group at the end of the pre-K year and on teacher ratings of behavior at the beginning of kindergarten. However, by the end of kindergarten these were no longer evident and on one measure the no-pre-K group had already surpassed those who had attended pre-K. The pre-K children were less likely to have been retained in kindergarten (4% v. 6%) but were much more likely to receive special education services in kindergarten than the no-pre-K group (12% v. 6%). The pre-K group’s advantage in grade repetition did not continue, but it did continue to have a higher rate of special education services (14% v. 9%) in first grade.

By the end of second grade, the no-pre-K group was significantly ahead of the pre-K group in literacy and math achievement. The most recent report shows essentially the same results, though fewer are statistically significant. Teacher ratings of behavior essentially show no differences between groups in grades 2 and 3. Oddly, special education is not even mentioned in the third grade report. This is puzzling since prior reports emphasized that it would be important to determine whether the higher rate of special education services for the pre-K group persisted. It is also odd that no results are reported for grade retention.

If we are to really understand the Tennessee results, we need to know more than simply what the outcomes were. We need information on the quality of the pre-K program, subsequent educational experiences, and the study itself. It has been widely noted that Tennessee’s program met 9 of 10 benchmarks for quality standards in our annual State of Preschool report, but this should not be taken as evidence that Tennessee had a high quality program. Anyone who has read the State of Preschool knows better. It (p.10) specifies that the benchmarks “are not, in themselves, guarantees of quality. Arguably some of them are quite low (e.g., hours of professional development), even though many states do not meet them. Moreover, they are primarily indicators of the resources available to programs, not whether these resources are used well. In addition to high standards, effective pre-K programs require adequate funding and the continuous improvement of strong practices.

The State of Preschool reported that Tennessee’s state funding was nearly $2300 per child short of the per child amount needed to implement the benchmarks. More importantly, the Vanderbilt researchers found that only 15% of the classrooms rated good or better on the ECERS-R. They also found that only 9% of time was spent in small groups; the vast majority was spent in transitions, meals, and whole group. This contrasts sharply with the high quality and focus on intentional teaching in small groups and one-on-one for programs found to have long-term gains (Camilli et al and Barnett 2011). The Tennessee program was evaluated just after a major expansion, and it is possible that quality was lowered as a result.

Less seems to be known about subsequent educational experiences. Tennessee is among the lowest ranking states for K-12 expenditures (cite Quality Counts), which is suggestive but far from definitive regarding experiences in K-3. We can speculate that kindergarten and first grade catch up those who don’t go to pre-K, perhaps at the expense of those who did, and to fail to build on early advantages. However, these are hypotheses that need rigorous investigation. Vanderbilt did find that the pre-K group was more likely to receive special education. Perhaps this lowered expectations for achievement and the level of the instruction for enough of the pre-K group to tilt results in favor of the no-pre-K group. Such an iatrogenic effect of pre-K would be unprecedented, but it is not impossible. There are, however, other potential explanations.

Much has been made of this study being a randomized trial, but that point is not as important as might be thought. One reason is that across the whole literature, randomized trials do not yield findings that are particularly different from strong quasi-experimental studies. The Head Start National Impact Study and rigorous evaluations of Head Start nationally using ECLS-K yield nearly identical estimates of impacts in the first years of school. Another reason is that the new Vanderbilt study has more in common with rigorous quasi-experimental studies than “gold standard” randomized trials. Two waves were randomly assigned. In the first wave, just 46% of families assigned to pre-K and 32% assigned to the control group agreed to be in the study. In the second wave, the researchers were able to increase these figures to 74% and 68%, respectively. These low rates of participation that differ between pre-K and no-pre-K groups raise the same selection bias threat faced by quasi-experimental studies. And, uncorrected selection bias is the simplest explanation for both the higher special education rate for the pre-K group and the very small later achievement advantage of the no-pre-K group. I don’t think the bias could be nearly strong enough to have overturned large persistent gains for the pre-K group.

Even a “perfect” randomized trial has weaknesses. Compensatory rivalry has long been recognized as a threat to the validity of randomized trials. In Tennessee one group got pre-K; the other sought it but was refused. It appears that some went away angry. Families who agreed to stay in the study could have worked very hard to help their children catch up and eventually surpass their peers who had the advantage of pre-K. Alternatively, families who received the advantage of pre-K could have relaxed their efforts to support their children’s learning. Similar behavior has been suggested by other studies, including a preschool randomized trial I conducted years ago for children with language delays. Such behaviors also could occur even without a randomized trial, but it seems less likely.

Randomized trials of individual children also create artificial situations for subsequent schooling. If only some eligible children receive the program, do kindergarten teachers spend more time to help those who did not attend catch and “neglect” those who had preschool? Would kindergarten teachers change their practices to build on pre-K if the vast majority of their children had attended pre-K and not just some; perhaps they would only change with support and professional development?

Clearly, the Vanderbilt study has given the early childhood field much to think about. I am reminded of Don Campbell’s admonition not to evaluate a program until it is proud. However, programs may also be in the habit of becoming proud a bit too easily. We have a great deal of hard work in front of us to produce more programs that might be expected to produce long-term results and are therefore worth evaluating. Researchers also would do well to design studies that would illuminate the features of subsequent education that best build upon gains from preschool.

What we should not do is despair of progress. The media tend to focus on just the latest study, especially if it seems to give bad news. They present a distorted view of the world. Early childhood has a large evidence base that is on balance more positive than negative. There is a consensus that programs can be effective and that high quality is a key to success. Research does help us move forward. Head Start responded to the National Impact study with reforms that produced major improvements. Some states and cities have developed even stronger programs. Tennessee can learn much from those that could turn its program around. If it integrates change with evaluation in a continuous improvement system, Tennessee’s program could in turn become a model for others over the next 5 to 10 years.

–Steve Barnett, Director, NIEER

P-3 governance–What is it, and why is it important?

September 16, 2015

No time is more critical than the present to consider governance and how a state’s approach to governance affects the development and implementation of P-3 systems.


Part I: Defining and Describing Governance

Governance, as a term applied to the field of early learning, is somewhat ambiguous. To whom or what are we referring when we say “governance of P-3 systems?” The State Education Agency? Local Education Agencies? Human Service Agencies? State Early Childhood Advisory Councils? Governance is composed of three principal dimensions: form, function, and durability. Form refers to the structure(s) in which governance functions are carried out. Functions include, for example, policymaking, the authorization and allocation of funds and services, and mechanisms for holding programs accountable for how those services are delivered (Kagan & Kauerz, 2008, 2012; Kagan & Gomez, 2015). Durability refers to the degree to which the governance entity can withstand political, economic, and sociocultural changes.

These three dimensions interact to yield a state’s approach to governance and, perhaps unsurprisingly, no state’s approach is the same–in part because each state bears a different set of cultural, political, and economic conditions.

DSC_0906While every state’s dimensions of governance are different, state approaches to governance typically fall into three categories: consolidated, regionalized, and compartmentalized (Gomez, Kagan, & Khanna, 2012). In consolidated approaches, the majority of programs and services are subsumed under the authority of one agency, meaning that there is one office/department that oversees implementation of the subsystems, programs, and services, and ensures they are coordinated. Pennsylvania’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), Maryland’s Division of Early Childhood in the State Department of Education (DCE MSDE), and Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) are examples of consolidated approaches to governance. Each entity in these three states has a different form–the Departments of Welfare and Education jointly oversee OCDEL, the DCE MSDE is subsumed under the auspices of the State Department of Education, and the EEC is a stand-alone department under the auspices of the Executive Office of Education. Common to consolidated approaches, however, are the governance functions. Each entity carries out, within its consolidated form, several important functions:

  • Allocation
  • Planning
  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Regulation
  • Outreach and engagement
  • Standard-setting
  • Quality improvement

In MA, MD, and PA, the consolidated approaches to governance were derived from these state’s desire to solve particular policy problems plaguing the P-3 field. Each state’s political and cultural context at the time of consolidation influenced the choice of governance form.

In regionalized approaches, authority for some programs resides at the state level, while authority for others is devolved to a regional or local entity. Arizona’s First Things First (FTF) and North Carolina’s Partnership for Children’s Smart Start are examples of approaches that are regionalized. In both AZ and NC, the regionalized form dictates that some of the governance functions will occur at the regional level. In these states, state culture and values emphasize local control, and so devolving governance functions to levels of government that are more proximal to the P-3 workforce, and the children and families being served, matches those values. FTF, for example, is organized into 28 regional councils that make funding and programmatic decisions for their catchment area. Smart Start is similarly organized.

Finally, in compartmentalized approaches, authority for P-3 programs and services is decentralized across many state-level agencies, and regional/local entities. This type of approach is by far the most common among U.S. States, and is the de-facto approach to governance of P-3 programs and services. In these cases, states have to work to ensure that there is formal coordination between and among many entities to ensure smooth system development, service delivery, and accountability.

Stated simply, a state’s approach to governance influences how its P-3 system evolves and, in turn, those systems affect services provided to young children and their families. As such, it is critical to understand how P-3 services are governed. In part II of this (brief) series on governance, next week, we will focus on governance functions and capacities of governance entities to affect system development.

Resources for further reading related to governance dimensions:

Kagan & Gomez (2015) Early childhood governance: Choices and consequences. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Regenstein, E. & Lipper, K. (2013). A framework for choosing a state-level early childhood governance system. Boulder, CO: Build Initiative

–Rebecca E. Gomez, Ed.D. is an Assistant Research Professor at NIEER and studies early childhood systems and governance.

Buried treasure: Discovering gold in the NIEER State of Preschool Yearbook

September 9, 2015

Similar to birds migrating north every year, a wealth of information on early education flies annually into the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), as specialists from state education agencies provide data for the Annual State of Preschool Yearbook.

Entering its 13th year, the Yearbook reports valuable information on access to, quality of, and resources for state pre-K programs, allowing administrators and policymakers to keep pace with current developments and trends over time. The Yearbook has served as a useful, perhaps indispensable, resource as state-supported pre-K has expanded over the decade, rightfully cited as the “go to” resource on state policies and practices. Still, a wealth of information within the Yearbook remains untapped.

While the Yearbook may not rival To Kill a Mockingbird for popularity or reading enjoyment, anyone who has taken time to explore the annual report understands the abundance of practical information contained within its pages. From the Executive Summary highlighting major developments and trends, to individual state profiles with rankings, readers soon realize that the Yearbook, now published online, has “everything you wanted to know about pre-K but didn’t know to ask.”

The most informative section of the Yearbook is, perhaps, the most underutilized. Appendix A contains more than 60 pages of topical state information organized for at-a-glance review and comparison, supplemented by 27 pages of detailed state program notes, a veritable goldmine. For example, have you ever wondered:

  • How many English language learners are enrolled in state-funded pre-K? (Only 19 of 53 programs in 40 states and DC are able to provide an accurate count)
  • How many children are served in programs operating under the auspices of public schools versus private organizations?


Enrollment By Auspice (1)

  • Which states require pre-K programs to operate a full school day throughout the school year? (15 states and DC)?
  • What criteria do states use to determine eligibility, other than income?
  • Is a sliding fee scale based on income permitted? (13 states have some provision)
  • Which state programs require lead teachers to have a BA with specialization?


Minimum Lead Teacher Degree Requirement

  • Can faith-based programs receive funding for state pre-K? (17 programs directly, 35 programs indirectly; however, they may stipulate that religious content is not permitted)


Faith-Based Funding Eligibility (1)

  • What instruments do states use to monitor program quality?
  • Which states mandate an evaluation of the pre-K program? (21 of 40 states; some states operating multiple programs do not require evaluations for all programs)

States Requiring Formal Program EvaluationThese are but a few examples of data readily available to those wanting to explore policies and practices related to pre-K. While not every question imaginable can be answered using the Yearbook, it remains the best single compendium resource available with the click of a mouse. All you need to do is dig a little to satisfy your pre-K curiosity and discover gold.

–Jim Squires, NIEER Research Fellow



P-12 Alignment: Collaboration and Communication in Louisiana

June 24, 2015

As part of an ongoing series of interviews with leaders in early childhood education, CEELO spoke with Jenna Conway, Assistant Superintendent, Early Childhood Education, Louisiana Department of Education, about their process of implementing major changes in Louisiana’s early childhood program. We focused on how they are enhancing leadership at every level.

What is the scope of change occurring in early childhood in your state?

We are part of a multi-year effort to unify early childhood programs in Louisiana–Head Start, pre K, child care, public and nonpublic schools–from how do we keep kids safe, all the way to: How do we identify what instruction we want to see happening in every early childhood classroom in Louisiana? How do we work together to achieve that?

This effort is unprecedented in the level and speed of change in Louisiana. It comes with a host of leadership challenges. The first is the need for all the leaders to come to the table and work collaboratively to achieve shared goals. And we’ve gotten every community in Louisiana to step up and to do this; leaders who didn’t interact, who may even have perceived each other as competitors, are now working together to consider how to focus on kids; look at standards, professional development, enrollment, what the data tells us about kids being kindergarten-ready. The most dynamic leadership teams are taking it back to teachers and parents to make sure they’re part of the change movement.

The other important challenge is that this effort works differently in different contexts. Part of the magic in our model is in saying that local leaders are best suited to find solutions that meet their local needs, as they are the ones who best understand their teachers, children, and parents.

A bit of learning we’ve had from implementation—we pilot and learn from that and then develop policy. And we support local leadership: if local leaders are invested and believe that it’s a solution that works for their families, it’s more likely to be successfully implemented.

How are you addressing leadership at different levels in the state: classroom, school, district, SEA?

Considering we are building local birth-through-12th-grade systems that include a portfolio of providers, we like to think of our local networks as community entities rather than school districts. At the state level we see our leadership work in 3 key pieces of work.

First: promote a shared vision and support our community leaders to successfully execute that vision locally. In our pilot model: all kids are Kindergarten-ready; kids have access to high quality classroom experiences; parents can make the best choice for their kids; teachers are supported to provide effective meaningful interaction in the classroom. The state provides funding and technical assistance to achieve that, then removes the barriers–regulatory and bureaucratic–to allow communities to be successful.

Second: Organize all of the things that impact programs, from rules and regulations, and funding, to create a more level playing field. You can’t just say here’s a shared vision, but child care is funded at a lower level than schools; teachers and their preparation differ. We’re thinking about how to use policy, funding, and incentives to create a more level playing field in which the community networks are operating.

Third: Be very responsive to what is working and what is not in the field and communicate that frequently as you go. A law was passed to call for a unified system—that has been a very dynamic and interactive process since the beginning, responsive to families and local leaders.

The hardest part about this work and about change is how it works and how you implement changes over time. Being responsive, adjusting, and learning as we go has been important. We quickly fix what’s not working—going from ideas and a requirement to sustained, locally owned change.

What are the challenges associated with implementing professional development changes?

When it comes to leadership there are both tangible and intangible aspects that are critical to success. Since the outset we have grappled with the question: How do we at the state level support local leadership in a specific sustainable way? We’ve focused on collaborative leadership locally. We created a pilot rubric in which we laid out what success looks like over time in leadership and tried to make sure everything we produced was in line with that rubric.

We provide professional development sessions, such as a data reflection workshop at the end of the year, in which we model how to use data and think about what to achieve next year. We’ve put out an early childhood guidebook to get an understanding of what success looks like and give real-life examples of how this plays out.

We’d love to be able to provide more intensive PD, but there are very real resource restraints, and we may not be best positioned to teach leadership, especially the more intangible aspects.

Instead, what has worked well for us is this idea of cohort. We’ve provided space and time for ‘partner panels’ where we brought together leaders from each of the community networks. They share what’s working and what’s not, and they have really grown, both in their relationships with each other and in understanding in their work.

What leaders really need is tools to support their work, time and space to interact with their colleagues, and someone to get on the phone to work through issues with. This is not a typical workshop format, but is supporting community-level leaders.

As we move forward we need to take it to the next level, to help every director, Head Start, child care, elementary school principal, become the instructional leader, or to make sure instructional leadership is happening within their program. A critical lever for long-term success will be program-level leadership, not only in resources and enrollment, but in focusing on how they ensure every child has access to a high quality early childhood classroom.

Any advice to other states who may be considering taking on the same kinds of changes?

  1. Empower and honor local leadership from the beginning; fund them to pilot the change; make it their choice rather than a mandate; and learn from them. Be committed to going back to them time and time again—be humble about the state role and acknowledge their insights and efforts where the work is being done.
  1. Consider all the pieces of the system when you make policy: how you think about funding impacts teachers you can hire; which impacts what happens in the classroom; which impacts quality; and impacts what programs parents choose. If you do things in isolation it creates major gaps and unintended negative consequences for providers, families, and kids.
  1. Be intentional and proactive in engaging everybody who is touched by the work. We are making sure they feel heard, that we respond to every email, that we talk to people in programs.

We don’t have all the answers, we are working on a shoestring budget; we get things wrong, as everybody does. But we are committed to always being responsive to every parent, teacher, director, and superintendent.

Anything else you would like to add?

It really takes leadership at all levels; we’re transforming the Department of Education into a Birth-12th grade organization and that takes leadership from the top—acknowledging that the foundation for school, college, and career success starts at birth. At the local level, the child care owner, the Head Start executive director, and school Superintendent are critical—where they have been clear in their commitment to this work it has allowed other at other levels to support it as well, which is necessary to achieve and sustain this much change. And the leaders must keep kids’ interests at heart. Increasing opportunities for all young children should always be the priority.


The State of Preschool 2015: Please join the conversation

June 17, 2015

This year at the CEELO Roundtable in New Orleans, Steve Barnett talked about the findings reported in The State of Preschool 2014. He noted that we might be considered to be “on the sunny side of the street,” at the moment: quality is up in some states, Mississippi has a program, more children are enrolled. However: many states don’t have enough money to provide preschool at high standards, and the highest percentage of children are enrolled in states with lowest quality.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 4.28.06 PMThere is still tremendous variation across the states in pre-K—and we don’t see that variation in any other education area. Preschool has shown, however, what states can do in a short period of time. The biggest gain in the decade occurred in Vermont, which was not predicted—and added 82% of children to programs, going from 9% to 91%. Florida went to UPK, from no program. States that are very different can make really tremendous progress over a period of time.

As a national average we’re moving pretty slowly—we need a greater sense of urgency about early education. It would take 75 years to serve 50% of all 4-year-olds. To get to 70%, a figure some use to represent universal access, would take 150 years.

Quality standards are still a big issue, particularly teacher qualifications and pay. We use the examples of Perry and Abecedarian, but we invest on a lower-league scale, which won’t have the same results. Funding differences by state are really extreme; they would not be tolerated in K-12.

Expansion and development grants give us opportunities to build success, measure success. If we put evaluations into place we can have a body of evidence available to build support more quickly for the kind of success we’d like to see.

The State of Preschool is one useful tool to measure progress and improvement. As NIEER gears up to develop the next version and begin gathering data, we are asking for your input. Keep in mind the fact that we gather data from state administrators, who gather it from different sources within states themselves.

  • What kind of changes would you like to see in the Yearbook?
  • Any benchmarks to add? Drop?
  • What additional information would be useful to you?
  • Any variations on what we have?
  • Is there anything about the design and delivery of the Yearbook you would like to change?
  • If we could release the Yearbook any time of year, what would be optimal in terms of informing your state policy or budget processes?
  • We would like to add some special topics from year to year, and report out on findings: any suggestions for what topics would be most helpful to you?

Here are some topics that came up in the Roundtable Presentation discussion. Feel free to build on those or add your own and weigh in using Comments below. (Please note that comments are manually approved, so there may be a delay before your comments show on the site.)

  • More defined enrollment data; reducing duplication; including race, ethnicity, free lunch status, gender, home language
  • Some indicators of actual quality and outcomes
  • More clearly defined hours per day of service
  • Policies related to dual language learners
  • Information about teacher salaries and benefits; comparable to K-12?
  • Teacher retention
  • Evaluation results
    • Do you have an evaluation?
    • Does it show substantial impact?
    • What kind of evaluation? Required legislatively?
  • Child outcome measures and their use
  • QRIS information
  • Context and outcomes, linking to quality benchmarks.
  • Process quality measures (CLASS)
  • OSEP 619; report now, would like to approach that for all students.
  • Engagement of family in pre-K world and K
  • Clarifying funding streams: local schools, counties, Title 1, Head Start.
  • Leadership: Principals, coaching in classrooms
  • Public school pre-K facility licensing/approval
  • Kindergarten assessment
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Early learning standards alignment with K-2

Questions raised. Do you have any to add?

Can we pick one benchmark we should all embrace as states to emphasize or work on to move forward to move things faster?

Can you set a rubric on evaluation? Is the state looking at its results? Is it being used to make changes? How often to visit classrooms? What process measures to use? Which classrooms to visit?

Funding adequacy—is there enough money here to provide a program of sufficient quality and intensity to achieve the goals we want for kids?

Is there a rubric for a continuous improvement process in place: how to structure for reliable scoring for states?

Follow up with early learning challenge grants: measure of how much progress is being made in these grants.

A rubric to assess state agency capacity; organizational model for P-3rd grade?

–Kirsty Clarke Brown

Annie Rooney French on Early Learning Leadership Networks in Kentucky

December 23, 2014

CEELO logoAs part of a planned series of conversations on CEELO’s theme of Leading for Excellence in Early Childhood, CEELO staff member Kirsty Clarke Brown talked with Annie Rooney French Ph.D., Preschool Consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education. She described the Early Learning Leadership Networks in that state, and how they are integral to promoting early childhood program development.

Can you describe the Early Learning Leadership Networks and how they were started?

The Early Learning Leadership Networks were an extension of the K-12 Leadership Networks promulgated by Senate Bill 1 (2009), in the area of professional learning and support. The Leadership Networks (K-12) Kentucky’s Leadership Networks (K-12) are designed to build the capacity of district leadership teams (3-4 teacher leaders in each content area, 3-4 school leaders, 3-4 district level leaders) to implement new standards within the context of highly effective teaching, learning, and assessment practices. They are designed to ensure that each district has a core team that can scale implementation effectively districtwide. The Early Learning Leadership Networks (ELLNs) began in the fall of 2010. Each district was asked to assemble an early childhood teacher-leader team of up to four people. The teams includes a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, Head Start teacher, child care provider, and/or possibly the preschool director. The four main “pillars” of focus included the Standards (Pre-K and K), Assessment Literacy, Teacher Leadership and Highly Effective Teaching and Learning. The team members developed their own leadership skills and brought back knowledge about each of the pillars. There were four meetings a year. Meeting targets or objectives were developed by a state team, consisting of five regional teams. The facilitators for each of the five regional teams included consultants from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), consultants from the Regional Training Centers (RTCs), and higher education faculty. The state team held a retreat each summer to reflect upon practice and plan for the upcoming year. They continued to plan together during the school year at least once a month.

What topics they have addressed since their start?

In the first year, the principal focus was on mathematics, including alignment of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for kindergarten with Kentucky’s Early Childhood Standards for 3- and 4-year olds. In the second year, ELLN teams developed their own competencies with the English Language Arts standards, as well as practiced using the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO) tool to measure literacy practices. The process of building ELA capacity continued into the third year. During the second half of the third year, teams focused on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including the conceptual shifts in science education leading to a deeper understanding and application of content, and the corresponding Kentucky early childhood science standard. Now that we’re in the fourth year, we decided to step back and allow the teachers to refine the knowledge they gained during the first three years and develop integrated units of studies using all the content areas in meeting the needs and interests of their children. Year four is also focused on the state’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), a new approach to measuring teacher and leader effectiveness, ensuring every child is taught by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Preschool teachers and leaders play an integral part in PGES, and ELLN teams received guidance to support the developmentally appropriate implementation of the Danielson Framework for Teaching, including examining how early childhood fits within the framework.

From the beginning, ELLN facilitators have supported teachers with developing their own leadership abilities. Our guidance for that work was the book, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009).

In the area of assessments, teachers worked on integrating the assessment instruments into the teaching and learning process, becoming aware of the connections to the standards, and ensuring individualization to meet student needs.

 What was your role in facilitating the groups?

I am currently facilitating the statewide process for the ELLNs. During a two day retreat in the late spring, we plan the entire year. Then we meet monthly to plan the upcoming sessions and review the previous session, including reviewing evaluations and making adjustments based on participant feedback. We spend long periods of time in discussions about the agenda and how to best help the teachers examine their practices and create a community of learners. Our goal is to share the same content, but since each region is different, each of the RTC teams have the flexibility to adapt a bit, based on their population and needs. Basically, my role as a facilitator is to ensure that we keep on task and accomplish what we set out to do. We work well together.

What kinds of meetings do people attend? And  what tools or technology is used to connect group members? Is there a group website or forum for exchange, for example, or are all meetings in person?

The ELLN process is a departure from previous approaches to training, including the train-the-trainer model. Building on current professional learning research and the work of Learning Forward, we’ve moved away from isolated professional development activities toward a well-designed professional learning program that changes teaching and learning practices. We’re working on developing teacher leaders. The RTCs keep in contact with the teacher leaders through e-mails and other trainings throughout the year. Also, since the RTCs provide technical assistance and conduct the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Revised (ECERS-R) in their region as part of the Preschool Program Review (P2R), they spend a great deal of time in the classrooms of these teachers.

The meetings have been face-to-face. The numbers range from 50-140 attendees in each of the five regions. Kentucky has a communication and technological system in place the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS), which is a “one-stop shop” for technological connections for the entire commonwealth. For example in PGES, the CIITS Educator Development Suite (EDS) serves as the technology platform for entering professional growth plans for each teacher. It is also a place where teachers may share lesson plans, videos and have access to a wealth of resources including Edivation formerly called PD360, an online, on-demand professional learning resource. One of our goals for the fourth ELLN year is to augment the postings of early childhood education materials.

What kind of support does the state provide to enhance the work of the ELLNs? How are districts and teachers supporting the work?

The Kentucky Department of Education provides funding to the RTCs for ELLN planning and curriculum development activities. This covers a stipend for the university faculty, rent for the facilities, books and resources for ELLN teams. The districts provide leave time for ELLN team members and substitute teachers to cover classrooms if necessary.

Do the administrator strand and teacher strand overlap or connect with each other at all?

The administrator strand of ELLN meets two times a year, in the fall and the spring. During the fall meeting, the administrators receive an overview of what to expect during the upcoming year, so that they can communicate effectively with teacher-leaders to ensure teams are making an impact. The administrator ELLN meetings occur before the first teacher ELLN day so that the administrators know what to expect. Based on action plans that have been successfully implemented, we found that some of the most effective teams were those whose administrator was a member of the ELLN team that met four times a year. Also, other successful teams were invited by the administrator to share their knowledge with the other educators in their district.

You have said that ‘using data to guide instruction’ was a strong outcome from the groups; can you talk about that a bit more? How did you encourage that, and what signs are there that it using data has been enhanced?

ELLN teachers are asked to bring data results of their students from the instructional assessment tool given at the beginning of the year. They are given time to look at the results either individually or as teams, and come up with the next steps to improve teaching, learning and assessment practices. This process also includes looking at the standards to determine the focus areas and knowledge of the next stages of development and/or achievement. Evidence of this may be found in lesson plans where teachers are including more individualization and small groups working on areas of development. Also we see increased evidence of teachers taking anecdotal notes in the classroom and using this knowledge to guide instruction. We have come a long way from setting up the environment and letting the children explore and discover. We still have strong developmentally appropriate practices, but now we are seeing more evidence of high quality teacher/child interactions that encourages deeper thinking and language skills.

You have also said that relationships are an outcome. Can you talk about how that happens and why it is important to the state work?

One of the major outcomes of these meetings was allowing the teachers time to engage in discussions about their work. We would schedule times during the ELLNs when teachers would share their assessment results and discuss the next steps with their team or the team from another district. Another important relationship that developed was the connection between the kindergarten and preschool teachers. This is something that was not present before the ELLNs.

What advice would you give to other states wanting to implement this kind of group?

The number one advice is to plan strategically. Teachers are very busy and they want relevant professional learning. In planning strategically, look at the big picture. Plan big and then make adjustments as you proceed. Understand the culture of the teachers in their settings and work with administrators to support their teachers. One of the major outcomes is improved connections between and among teachers. Also, the kindergarten teachers really liked being grouped together to discuss their unique issues. Finally, be patient. These improvements take time.

How has CEELO (if at all) been involved in developing/enhancing the work of the ELLNs?

CEELO connected me with the New Jersey consultants who are engaging in similar work.

During the June CEELO meeting last year, help was offered in the form of connecting to other states who are also working on the Danielson Framework with early childhood. Continued support in that area would be most appreciated.

How could CEELO be helpful?

CEELO could help us with research-based materials, examples of successful programs that have implemented similar programs, suggestions of speakers who would be able to present at our yearly conference in June, possible trainings for our facilitators, websites, and anything else you think would be helpful.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

You can find the latest information on our Early Learning Leadership Networks at this website.

Are there any other resources you would like to highlight for your state or other states?

New resources are planned for this site including an overview of the process, examples of action plans, Pre-K/Kindergarten connections, teacher leadership and others.

If Everyone Wants Preschool, Why Isn’t It Growing?

October 21, 2014

This entry is cross-posted to The National Journal’s Education Insiders blog in response to the prompt “If Everyone Wants Preschool, Why Isn’t It Growing” from Fawn Johnson:

What catalyst is needed to dramatically grow preschool enrollment? Why has it stalled? What can state and city governments do to increase enrollment? Does it matter what kind of preschool kids enroll in? Should preschool enrollment be required, as K-12 is? Should lower-income households get priority when preschool slots are limited?

As always, Fawn Johnson poses insightful, but difficult, questions. One reason that preschool policy has not advanced more successfully despite overwhelming popular support is that those who oppose it wield considerable clout. Opponents across political leanings often assert that no public money should be used to help the middle class, though research shows that children of all income levels can benefit. Special interests of all stripes prioritize their needs over those of young children generally, and researchers and advocates are forced to set the research record straight.

Also, politicians are adept at giving the appearance of more support than they actually deliver. Very few voters have direct experiences that would help them sort out truth from fiction in this regard.Children with potted plants

Increasing public awareness is the primary reason that NIEER publishes an annual state-by-state review of preschool policy. Even so we encounter considerable difficulty setting the record straight, as politicians seek to confuse the electorate with their own media strategies. They introduce bills supporting preschool that they have no intention of passing. They propose budgets and spending plans that never fully materialize. They authorize expenditures in excess of appropriations and cut budgets mid-year. Final tallies are rarely released with the fanfare that accompanies all of the initial proclamations of support. And, all too many politicians are not above simply misstating the facts.

Finally, the impact of the Great Recession should not be underestimated. More than anything else, it took the wind out of the preschool movement’s sails. The recovery has been slow, but as revenues rise at local, state, and federal levels we can expect to see the growing support for preschool programs manifest in expansions of both enrollment and quality.

– Steve Barnett, NIEER Director


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