Deepening and Extending the Work in New Jersey

New Jersey is well-known for its leadership in early learning. Notable examples include the state’s highly-regarded preschool and kindergarten implementation guidelines, its investment in preschool across the state, extensive support for PreK-3rd early literacy in low-income communities, its PreK-3rd Leadership Training Series, and leading edge success stories in communities like Union City and Red Banks. Vince Costanza, the Executive Director of the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge for the NJ DOE, recently shared some updates on the state’s early learning work in a blog post and in a presentation at the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Birth—3rd District Leadership Summit. Here are a few highlights:

  • 1st through 3rd Grade Guidelines: Having created PreK and Kindergarten guidelines, the state is extending its implementation and best practice guidance to the early elementary years. Costanza says that the transition out of K is “the next frontier.” Regarding the new guidelines: “We want something that say the things that need to be said and aren’t currently being said; that conceptualize academic rigor and developmentally appropriate practice and show what it would look like.” Supported by NIERR and CEELO, the Department of Education has worked closely with teachers, districts, and higher education, building engagement and buy-in at the local level. Costanza expects that the guidelines will be finalized this fall.
  • Deepening Kindergarten Practice:  The Early Childhood Department has developed a 3-part video series, High-Quality Kindergarten Today, that demonstrates best practice in kindergarten classrooms. Renowned early childhood educator Dorothy Strickland provides helpful commentary throughout the series. The department is also creating a professional development series focusing on problems of practice in kindergarten teaching.
  • Connecting State Initiatives: Regarding integrating state initiatives like the Common Core, educator evaluation, student growth objectives, and the kindergarten entry assessment, Costanza talks about the need to “double down and define what this work looks like in the early years.” See New Jersey’s Teacher Evaluation Support Document for PreK and K for an example.
  • The KEA and Social-Emotional Development: Rick Falkenstein, the superintendent of the Kingwood Township School District, describes a partnership in which the state supported KEA implementation in a number of school districts. Falkenstein reports his kindergarten teachers saying that their use of Teaching Strategies Gold has made them more “intentional” in their teaching. One veteran told him, “I know my students in ways I didn’t before.” Falkenstein also noted that as a result of his kindergarten teachers using the KEA, 1st and 2nd grade teachers are expressing more interest in social-emotional development. “It has been pretty contagious.” I wonder if other districts are experiencing this kind of contagion effect?
  • 10 Kindergarten Policies: The Ounce session on kindergarten also profiled a policy statement from the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education: The Power of Kindergarten: 10 Policies Leading to Positive Child Outcomes.
  • New Transition Tool from Washington State: And in a contribution to the session from the West Coast, Anne Arnold from the Highline Public Schools shared a Profile of a Kindergarten-Ready Child, a transition form developed by a cross-district coalition that included Seattle and that was supported by the Gates Foundation.

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