Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children
Photo: Caroline Silber for Strategies for Children

During last month’s White House Summit on Early Education, the Obama Administration released a new public policy tool, the “Playbook for Becoming an Early Learning Community.”

The playbook offers communities “strategies for local leaders to develop and expand early education in their communities,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s part of the president’s national early learning agenda called “Invest in US.”

The playbook should be a helpful resource to local communities — both here in Massachusetts and across the nation — that are working to improve early learning and kindergarten readiness.

As the playbook explains, “An Early Learning Community works together to deliver measurable improvements in the lives of its youngest children. It provides all children, regardless of what zip code they live in, an equal opportunity at success by implementing a continuum of high-quality early learning services.”

These communities focus on three priorities:

1. “Significant public investments and private or nonprofit partnerships that catalyze greater investment in early learning”

2. “Clearly articulated goals to reach and serve additional children with high-quality early learning services,” and,

3. “A commitment to high-quality early learning services across the continuum from birth through age five.”

The playbook also suggests six strategies for taking action:

1. Mobilize key stakeholders in your community, including parents, educators, civic organizations, philanthropists, businesses, and faith-based groups

2. Use data to share the basics on young children in your community

3. Develop a community-wide strategy or plan

4. Determine funding mechanisms that work best for your community

5. Develop a data tracking system

6. Implement and expand on the community plan

The final pages of the playbook include links to additional information and resources, including information on positive parenting as well as on enhancing services for infants and toddlers and on professional development.

The playbook also points to examples of early learning communities around the country. Boston gets recognition for its efforts to build a universal pre-k program in its public schools, work that has grown to include community-based programs.

The playbook adds, “As successful as Boston’s Pre-K program has been, the City recognizes that in order to truly close the achievement gap, they need to not only increase access to high-quality early learning services for 4-year-olds, but also improve access to high-quality services and education for children before- and after pre-K.”

Palm Beach County, Fla., wins praise for its Healthy Beginnings Data System, which contains data for the 60-plus programs run by the Children’s Service Council.

“The system allows the Council to track the services each child and family receives and outcomes associated with those services,” so that officials can use the data to show impact and “continuously improve programs.”

In addition: the data system “allows programs across sectors, including the health, family intervention, and early childhood sectors” to identify additional services that families are receiving, “facilitating coordination and smooth transitions, and preventing duplication.” The Council also cooperates “with the local School District, and has implemented a process to issue student identification numbers at birth with parent consent, further enabling the County to demonstrate impact for investments longitudinally.”

Where can communities turn if they want help doing this kind of work?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services:

“Ten organizations have stepped up to help connect leaders; and as resources become available, they will provide technical assistance, planning grants, and other resources to Early Learning Communities. ‘Invest in US’ partners supporting the Early Learning Communities initiative include the Alliance for Early Success; The BUILD Initiative; the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative; Early Childhood-LINC at the Center for the Study of Social Policy; The National Association of Counties; the National Governors Association; the National Institute for Early Education Research; The National League of Cities, The Ounce of Prevention Fund, and The U.S. Conference of Mayors.”

As the playbook notes, “By giving children the strong start they need for success in school and life, families and communities — the very building blocks of a productive society — can be strengthened for generations to come.”