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School leaders are expanding their commitment to early education by promoting a new set of policy recommendations. It’s an enhanced allegiance between pre-K and K-12 that promises to yield important progress for children.

“While state chiefs do not have full authority over all early childhood programs, we are crucial leaders in any effort to strengthen early learning opportunities and outcomes,” according to a new policy statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) called, “Equity Starts Early: How Chiefs Will Build High-Quality Early Education.”

CCSSO represents the “public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states.”

CCSSO’s policy statement points to “five action steps to leverage the value of early childhood education for their state’s public education system:”

• engage families and communities in early learning

• connect early childhood programs and elementary schools

• accelerate improvement and innovation in early childhood programs

• build a high performing early childhood workforce, and

• increase investment to provide quality, voluntary early childhood education for all children

“For the nation to realize a vision of graduating every student ready for college, careers and life, we must provide access to voluntary, high-quality learning opportunities for all kids from the earliest days of their educational career,” Chris Minnich, executive director of CCSSO said in a press release. “State chiefs are committed to raising academic achievement, starting with our youngest learners.”

Taking Action 

What specifically can school officials do? The policy recommendations include ideas and examples from across the country.

To reach families: “Massachusetts includes family engagement as a metric in the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Early childhood education providers are rated on their family engagement policies, practices, professional development efforts, and their use of tools to assess family satisfaction.”

To connect early education and elementary schools: “Washington organizes ‘Starting Strong Institutes’ that bring together principals, early learning directors, and other early care and education professionals to learn about the birth-to-eight developmental continuum and strategies for effective practice. To facilitate a smooth transition to school, the state is using a new Kindergarten Entry Inventory; bringing together families, early childhood teachers, and elementary school teachers to share information about each child; and requiring kindergarten teachers to meet with families to build a home-school relationship.”

To accelerate improvements and innovations: “Kentucky is implementing a new accountability system to improve the quality of programs, encourage integration of skills across content areas, ensure equal access to learning, and allow students to demonstrate understanding beyond a paper-and-pencil test. Each year, schools must conduct a program review in one of five areas, including K-3. The K-3 review examines curriculum and instruction, assessment, professional learning, and administrative support and monitoring. As a result of this review, schools are able to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth that are then used by school leaders to improve programs.”

To build a strong workforce: “Alabama’s First Class Pre-K programs are assigned a coach by the Office of School Readiness. The First Class Coach supports classroom teachers so that they can adhere to the First Class Classroom Guidelines. Coaches provide feedback, coaching, and assessments via regular site visits.”

To increase investments: “New Hampshire conducts outreach to superintendents, principals, and school districts to promote use of Title I funds to support voluntary Pre-K programming. Outreach is conducted through an annual Early Childhood Summit, an annual Early Childhood Leadership strand at the New Hampshire Educators Summer Summit, and through technical assistance. Between 2013 and 2015, the state was successful in increasing Title I funding for voluntary Pre-K by 300 percent, to serve 20 percent of all four-year-olds in the state.”

The school leaders’ conclusion:

“Despite years of diligent work to promote equal educational opportunities, early learning programs are still limited in most states and disparities in academic achievement still threaten the lifetime potential of far too many children. Chiefs recognize that real education reform begins in the critical early years, from birth through third grade.”

“Chiefs know that equity starts early. We stand ready to redouble efforts to see that every child across America has an opportunity to access high-quality, voluntary early childhood learning opportunities.”