Photo: Alyssa Haywoode for Strategies for Children


Many organizations are keeping an eye on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal K-12 education law that replaces No Child Left Behind.

But CEELO (the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes) is looking explicitly at how states’ early education programs can help enhance ESSA.

CEELO is one of “22 Comprehensive Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education,” and its goal is to “strengthen the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to lead sustained improvements in early learning opportunities and outcomes” by promoting “innovation and accountability.”

A good starting point for learning more about ESSA is the list of resources that CEELO has on its website.

There’s A Supplemental Tool for Structuring Your Plan for Preschool to Third Grade, which “provides a number of questions to ensure that preschool to third grade is elevated as a priority.”

There’s a link to a webinar about “Early Learning Opportunities in ESSA,” sponsored by CEELO and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. The webinar features the exemplary work done by three states — Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina – to build strong early education foundations that can boost K-12 success. Slides from the webinar are posted here. The work in these states includes public outreach and better aligning preschool and elementary school programs. For example:

In Arizona, officials have set up an ESSA webpage and a timeline of the work being done to develop an ESSA plan, according to Nicol Rusell, the deputy associate superintendent for early childhood in Arizona’s Department of Education. Outreach was essential and well-received. “We got tens of thousands of comments from the public about what we were proposing in the ESSA plan,” Russell said. “Many of those comments came from early childhood stakeholders.”

“The process in Colorado started in the spring with a listening tour that took place across the state,” Sharon Trioli-Maloney explains. She’s the director of Early Learning and School Readiness at Colorado’s Department of Education, which has an ESSA page on its website. Colorado is also “pulling together an early learning advisory group,” and developing a communication plan to ensure that early learning is part of the state’s ESSA plan.

“Our strategy really has been working together to engage early childhood leaders and advocates,” John Pruette, the director of North Carolina’s Office of Early Learning, said. Among North Carolina’s strategies is highlighting parts of ESSA that dovetail with the state’s early learning goals. Feedback from early learning stakeholders has shaped plans for ESSA and is deliberating being shared with policymakers. One key player in this work is the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation.

Another document on CEELO’s resource page provides a summary of states’ plans. As this document explains, “More than thirty states have announced internal state timelines for developing a state plan and transitioning into ESSA. Some states, such as Alabama, Illinois, and Massachusetts have indicated they will be making public state timelines later on in 2016.”

Other resources are also available, and CEELO will keep updating the page, so be sure to check it regularly.

For ESSA to succeed, states need better birth-to-eight alignment and pre-K/K-12 partnerships. As Chris Martes, a former school superintendent and president and CEO of Strategies for Children, points out: “Schools can’t go it alone.” K-12 and pre-K programs have to work together to make sure that all children thrive.