What does it mean to be school ready?
Different stakeholders have different answers – and that can lead to fractured efforts to help young children.
Georgia, however, has come up with a framework for school readiness that should help unite the actions of families, schools, and communities.
“The framework articulates not only the central components of school readiness but also the roles various stakeholders play in promoting it.”
This is an important step forward because many states have struggled to define school readiness.
To develop the framework, the nonprofit organization GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students worked with state leaders to form a committee that solicited feedback from experts and from stakeholders across the state.
Thanks to a survey, nearly 2,000 people — among them parents, early childhood and elementary school educators, health care providers, and the staff of community organizations — shared their views.
A key finding: School readiness can’t be defined by one indicator, it’s multifaceted. It “requires families, schools, and communities to work together to provide the healthy foundation that supports children’s growth in the following fundamental domains:”
• physical development
• social-emotional development
• cognition and general knowledge
• language and literacy development, and
• approaches to learning
How can this work be done?
The framework lists many of the actions that can be taken. For example:
• promote healthy development by talking, reading, and playing with children starting at birth
• access regular, on-time, preventive medical and dental care, and
• use early intervention services for children experiencing delays
• promote alignment and collaboration between and within early childhood and K-12 systems
• foster a family-friendly atmosphere and serve families with diverse cultural, linguistic, and developmental needs, and
• ensure teachers have access to high-quality professional development resources
And leaders and policymakers can:
• assure equitable access to high-quality health services and early learning programs
• convene stakeholders to collaboratively meet the needs of the whole child, and
• stay informed about how to promote best practices
Here in Massachusetts, we have taken a long and winding road to defining school readiness. The effort goes back to at least 2001 under Governor Jane Swift, when the report “School readiness in Massachusetts: A report of the governor’s commission on school readiness” was released.* Strategies for Children’s Founder Margaret Blood was a commission member.
In 2011, Strategies’ research fellow Dr. Ashaunta Tumblin conducted a study of school readiness in Massachusetts. She surveyed early learning practitioners who offered varying definitions of “school readiness,” and who tended to favor a multi-layered definition that echoes the ideas of both the 2001 report and of Georgia’s new framework.
So, while Massachusetts has seen progress on advocacy and policy for topics such as preschool expansion, program quality, and workforce development, we have yet to revisit the work of actively defining school readiness.
We will continue to follow this issue because a clear, shared understanding of “school readiness” promises to boost public awareness and help Massachusetts’ families, schools, and communities maximize our investments in young children.
*We could not locate a copy of the report online, but we have hard copies at our office if readers have any follow-up questions.