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.


Revisiting early childhood teachers, 25 years later

November 19, 2014

This week, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment released its report Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Childhood Workforce 25 Years after the National Child Care Staffing Study with a live event at the New America Foundation. In 1989, the National Child Care Staffing Study brought attention to the high turnover rates and poverty-level salaries for early childhood education teachers. The new report revisits the topic of teacher wages and working conditions in light of the dramatic increase in attention to, and investment in, early childhood education in the last 25 years. Despite this focus at the local, state, and federal government levels, as well as in private industry and philanthropy, early childhood education teachers are still struggling to get by.

Some striking findings of the report:

  • Tracking early childhood educator salary is complicated, as both Bureau of Labor Statistic categories– “childcare workers” and “preschool teachers”– are relevant. Child care workers earned $10.33 per hour in 2013, a slight increase from the $10.20 (adjusted) in 1997. This is still less than is earned by “nonfarm animal caretakers.” “Preschool teachers” earn $15.11 per hour, which places them above bank tellers ($12.62) but well below “kindergarten teachers,” who earn $25.40.
  • Wages vary significantly within the early childhood sector, based on age of child served as well as program location. Teacher working with 3- to 5-year-olds in child care setting earn two-thirds of what teachers in school-based pre-K programs earn and half of what Kindergarten teachers make, even with similar qualifications.
  • While parents have seen a nearly two-fold increase in the cost of early childhood services since 1997, their children’s teachers have not experienced an increase in real wages. The authors note “While there are no available data to explain this glaring gap between trends in parent fees and teacher wages, it is abundantly clear that families cannot bear the burden of addressing the imperative to provide more equitable compensation for their children’s early childhood teachers.”
  • Low salaries have real, negative impact on early childhood professionals. In 2012, almost half of childcare workers used one of four public income support programs to support their own families, compared to a quarter of the U.S. workforce. The utilization of these programs by early childhood workers (the Earned Income Tax Credit; Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) totals $2.4 billion per year.

NIEER has written previously about the need to pair increased requirements for early childhood teachers with a fair and equitable pay scale, as well as the importance of professionalizing the field. The authors of CSCCE’s report also highlighted a potential role for NIEER through a renewed call for a focus on data: “States, through their Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), and entities such as the National Institute for Early Education Research that provide guidelines for improving state ECE policy, strengthen these existing vehicles for encouraging quality programs by including workplace and compensation policies among their quality criteria.”

NIEER has previously collected data on state policies for pre-K teacher salary in the State of Preschool Yearbook, though the 2008-2009 school year was the last year for which NIEER requested this information. This was the discussed in a recent paper:

The 2008-2009 survey collected information from states about teacher pay. As shown in Table 1, in programs able to report salary range for pre-K teachers in public settings, 83 percent were paid less than $50,000; in nonpublic settings, 88 percent were below that level. The majority of programs were unable to report this information, which is why NIEER stopped collecting it. These data indicate that the median salary for teachers in public school settings was $40,000 to $44,999, while for those in private settings it was $30,000 to $34,999….

State pre-K salaries in 2008-2009

Through the 2009-2010 school year, the NIEER survey also asked whether teachers in state-funded pre-K programs were paid on the same scale as similarly qualified K-12 teachers. The survey results indicated that 31 percent of programs reported that teachers in the state-funded pre-K program were paid on the public school salary scale; another 39 percent reported that the public school pay scale applied to teachers in public schools but not in private settings. Given CSCCE’s finding that teachers of children ages 0 to 5 routinely earn less than kindergarten teachers, pay disparity is clearly an issue in both public and private settings.

How does the field move to rectify the low teacher salaries that are a real problem in early childhood education? The ongoing conversation around the report, as well as the authors’ recommendations, call for multiple approaches, ranging from improving data collection in workforce registries; to establishing regional guidelines on entry level wages and pay increases; and focusing on teacher pay in subsequent legislation, including the next Head Start reauthorization.

-Megan Carolan, NIEER/CEELO Policy Research Coordinator


Overcoming the Pitfalls of Early Childhood Assessment

October 3, 2014

In the age of accountability, data collection seems to be in vogue. Data are now routinely collected nationwide on children, classrooms, and teachers. The data help teachers and schools improve their programs to meet the needs of children attending. Most states are conducting child assessments in early childhood classrooms (including Kindergarten Entry Assessments). The relevant literature has classified two types of assessment for children, summative and formative. Summative assessment provides teachers with a snapshot of student’s understanding which is useful for summarizing student learning. Formative assessment occurs during instruction and provides teachers with a tool to improve student achievement by informing instruction with these data in an ongoing process.

Assessing children is often “unreliable” as young children’s performance is not necessarily consistent over even short periods of
time, and contextual influences and emotional states are especially relevant for this group. For these reasons, tests administered teacher teaching numbers at one point in time alone may not provide an accurate picture of the child’s concept knowledge, skills, or understanding. Teachers need an effective assessment to understand children’s development and to help guide their instruction. This instrument should allow them to collect evidence about what students know, determine their skills, and measure their strengths and weaknesses. Researchers at NIEER have developed the Early Learning Scale (ELS) for preschool children, and have recently completed developing and evaluating the Kindergarten Early Learning Scale (KELS) to do just this.

The ELS and KELS observation-based scales offer teachers:

  • The opportunity to assess learning in the children’s natural environment during typical instruction;
  • An assessment of children’s development and skills across several domains;
  • An assessment approach that focuses on strengths and interests of children;
  • Information on children’s progress, to share with parents, that is understandable and complete; and
  • Data to inform their teaching practices and report on student growth.

The ELS and KELS are used by teachers of young children as they become participant-observers and engage in an iterative process over time. They can implement a formative assessment process that includes:

  1. observing and investigating young children’s individual behaviors as a seamless part of instruction;
  2. documenting and reflecting on the evidence;
  3. analyzing and evaluating the data in relation to set goals or a trajectory of learning;
  4. hypothesizing and planning which considers what the children are demonstrating and the implications for instruction; and
  5. guiding and instructing where the data helps the teacher target the needs of the children and scaffold their learning to the next level.

The ELS and KELS fill a need for a succinct and manageable way to assess preschool and kindergarten children across domains. NIEER researchers developed these instruments to be responsive to teachers request for a multi-domain assessment that can be used to improve teaching and learning, without overburdening the teacher. The ELS and KELS provide this by spanning several domains (math, science, social and emotional, language and literacy, and physical development), but maintaining a manageable number of items to evaluate.

Items are included in the ELS and KELS for skills that:

  • are measurable/observable;
  • develop on a continuum; and
  • are critical to present and future learning, as defined by research.

A new report from NIEER confirms that the KELS is a reliable and valid measure. Teachers were able to achieve acceptable reliability with a mean of .70 on the instrument. This indicates that teachers are able to effectively score data consistently across programs. Further, results demonstrated acceptable levels of validity with moderate relationships with standardized measures in appropriate and meaningful ways. This means that the items on the KELS that align with the content of the standardized test relate well and those same items appropriately do not relate well to standardized tests that measure different constructs.

For more information about using the ELS or KELS contact me at sayers@nieer.org.

–Shannon Riley-Ayers is an Assistant Research professor for NIEER/CEELO.


Anticipating quality for all children

September 10, 2014

I remember the anticipation each fall as school was about to begin. So much was going on in my mind. Who was going to be in my class? What kind of year was it going to be? What were we going to learn? I was excited. I was nervous. These memories are not from when I was four or five, but rather when I was a teacher in the classroom. Twenty years ago this fall I began my tenure as an early childhood teacher. Although I no longer teach in the classroom, I still feel this excitement through my children’s eyes and through the work I do with teachers and leaders in the field.

I see young children filled with excitement and anticipation around the towns hopping on buses, jumping into cars, and lacing up their shoes to walk to school. So, it is this time of year that I pause to reflect on what young children deserve in their educational lives to maintain this excitement, and to increase their success both now in their early education career and later, in their learning down the road.

Yearbook set 6

  • All young children should have access to a high-quality preschool experience. Roughly 75 percent of all young children attend preschool at age four and half of these children attend preschool at age three. Unfortunately, most programs are not of high quality. Only 18 percent of low-income children and 29 percent of high-income children are enrolled in good pre-K.
  • All young children should be taught by qualified teachers who are well-trained, dedicated and caring. These teachers should know the science of teaching and understand the art of educating young children. States vary in teacher preparation requirements. These include teacher degree, preparation specifically in early childhood, and the in-service support provided.
  • All children should feel safe and healthy at school. Early care and education can improve children’s health both directly in the short-term and indirectly through long-term effects of education on health, health-related behavior, and access to health care.
  • All children should have access to materials and opportunities to advance their learning. This learning should be across domains, including language and literacy, science and math, and social studies. Children should also have ample opportunities to persist through difficult tasks, develop social problem-solving skills and self-regulation with support from an adult, and to be curious and solve problems.
  • All children should engage in play and hands-on meaningful learning. This provides children opportunities to learn, demonstrate their skills and development, and apply their learning flexibly to new and unique situations in a safe environment. Children often exhibit higher level skills in language and math through their play than in other didactic learning situations.
  • All children deserve individualized attention from teachers who know what the children know and understand how to bring their learning to the next level. Formative assessment is a process that teachers employ to collect and use assessment information to tailor instruction to the individual needs of children. Collecting information from multiple sources and analyzing it in light of children’s individual learning needs can support teaching whereby all children learn and develop.
  • All children should feel welcomed and valued in classrooms. Welcoming all children and valuing their home language and culture is an important part of early schooling. Moving forward, a concerted effort must go into educating and hiring bilingual staff with special attention to enhancing practices supportive of dual language learners.

I wish you a wonderful year and thank you as you continue to support early education so that all children have multiple opportunities to succeed.

-Shannon Riley-Ayers, NIEER/CEELO Assistant Research Professor


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


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