“On a June morning in this rural eastern North Carolina community, about a dozen families grabbed the edges of a rainbow parachute, making plastic balls bounce in its ripples. Grandparents, parents and children switched between water games, parachute activities and swing-sets spread across a playground.
The fun and games are serious business to the group that runs them, the Down East Partnership for Children, a 25-year-old nonprofit that provides educational and health resources to families of young children in rural Nash and Edgecombe counties. The goal of these meetings is to highlight the importance of basic interactions between parents and their kids.
Playgroups are held at least twice a month for families with children from birth to 5 years old. The meetings are a way for families to meet other families, get connected with resources and prepare children for kindergarten. Families often need support in this part of the state, an area struggling to keep up with the economic growth of the high-tech Triangle region, the metropolitan home of the state capital, Raleigh, about an hour away.
‘The ultimate goal of Play and Learn groups is to strengthen [the] parent-child bond,” said Cornelia Singletary, Down East’s family services program manager. “For families who are hesitant about putting their child in a formal child care setting, this is kind of like a little preschool, but you get to be with your child.’”
“In many cities and towns across the United States, elementary schools are forging deeper partnerships with families and community organizations well before children arrive at kindergarten. The aim of this work is to improve children’s experiences and family engagement and support along the entire continuum from prenatal care through grade 3 and beyond.
This potent combination of educational supports and family services is the single best strategy we have to address pernicious opportunity gaps and raise achievement for low-income children. Communities such as Cincinnati, Ohio; Omaha, Neb., and Multnomah County, Ore., are embracing this approach to tackle persistent poverty, family instability, the hollowing out of the middle class, and the demand for a more highly skilled workforce.”
“A new Child Trends report finds growing evidence for the effectiveness of a rapidly expanding approach to educational achievement. Integrated student supports (ISS) promote students’ academic success by connecting them with nonacademic resources that support the whole child, including secure housing, medical care, tutoring, food assistance, and other supports.
The report comes as states and school districts begin to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which explicitly encourages the use of ISS models. It finds that students’ participation in effective ISS interventions can have long-term benefits and provides an overview of effective models for policymakers, funders, and practitioners to examine as they try to build high-quality programs.”
Late last week I posted a new version of a theory of action and 7 principles for P-3 Community Partnerships. The aim of the piece is to help clarify the important role P-3 partnerships can play in improving outcomes for young children. Based on what we have learned about early learning partnerships around the country, I draw attention to a set of core strategies partnerships can employ in building the capacity of elementary schools, community-based preschools, and other P-3 organizations.
I want to mention that the Theory of Action page has been revised as well. This page provides an overview of the somewhat more detailed explanation in the post. The theme I use for the P-3 Learning Hub uses a relatively narrow column width for posts, which is intended to make reading easier. It may also make posts seem longer than they are, especially when compared to the wide columns in a report. With this in mind and following the lead of the blogging platform Medium, I’m going to start noting the expected reading time for more substantive posts. Medium calculates that the new post on Version 2.0 of the P-3 Theory of Action is a 12 minute read.
Finally, I included a footnote thanking a number of reviewers for their very thoughtful and enormously helpful feedback on the first version of the theory of action. I’d like to thank them here as well:
Laura Bornfreund, Elliott Regenstein, Angela Farwig, Kyrsten Emanuel, Lisa Hood, Karen Yarbrough, Chris Maxwell, Martha Moorehouse, Rebecca Gomez, Sara Vecchiotti, Naomie Macena, Joan Wasser Gish, Titus DosRemedios, Keri-Nicole Dillman, Sarah Fiarman, Rob Ramsdell, Joanne Brady, and Pat Fahey. Special thanks to Sarah Fiarman for in-depth conceptual and editorial support on this and related work over several years.
This post updates a theory of action and 7 associated principles that I first posted last year. I’ve revised a few of the principles, and the principles line up with the graphics much more clearly now. I also draw attention to three distinctive features of the theory of action. According to the blogging platform Medium, this post is a 12-minute read. See this page for an overview of the core ideas. Many thanks to friends and colleagues for all the helpful feedback. ¹
Over the last 10 years, research, policy, and expert opinion have converged on the idea that addressing achievement gaps requires a comprehensive focus on the first 8-9 years of life, beginning with prenatal care and continuing with high-quality supports through third grade (P-3). The goal of this work is to improve the teaching and learning of cognitive and academic skills while deepening supports for physical and mental health, social-emotional learning, and family partnerships.
Community partnerships of elementary schools, community-based preschools, and other organizations serving young children and their families have great potential for achieving this goal and addressing achievement gaps. When these organizations take concerted action around a common set of goals and strategies, they are among the most effective and powerful ways of improving educational outcomes for lower income children.
Quality Within, Continuity Across
In order for early childhood education and early elementary school to be most effective, communities need to address two obstacles. The quality of both early childhood and early elementary education is highly inconsistent, and the mixed delivery system is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation. Addressing these twin obstacles–inconsistent quality within organizations and fragmentation across organizations–requires a collective response on the part of communities, efforts that require state and federal support as well.
Communities need to raise the quality of education and care in the various community-based organizations and public elementary schools that serve young children and their families in their locale; they also need to create meaningful linkages that align and coordinate the work of these organizations. Developing this capacity requires partnerships of schools, community organizations and families focused on quality and continuity–what I call P-3 Community Partnerships.
I’m pleased to announce that EDC has received a grant from the California-based Heising-Simons Foundation. The grant is funding a study of place-based approaches to improving early learning outcomes for young children. I will work with my colleague, Kyle DeMeo Cook, to investigate three types of community partnerships for early education:
Cradle-to-Career partnerships that bring together community leaders and community organizations around a common vision and common benchmarks,
Community approaches to wrap-around services for preschools and schools, and
P-3 Partnerships that support prenatal through third grade alignment
Cradle-to-career, wrap-around, and P-3 partnerships are all part of a new wave of educational collaboration for education. They each have a place-based dimension in that they attempt to concentrate their impact within defined geographic areas, and the early years figure prominently in all three. Yet they have developed as three distinct reforms, each with its own principles, priorities, and learned experience. Typically these partnerships have been implemented separately from each other. The new study will investigate how leading edge communities across the country are drawing from the three partnership models as they design integrated approaches to best serve young children and their families. The aim of the study is to inform—through recommendations, guidance documents and presentations—the work of communities interested in implementing effective community partnerships for early education.
This research study is part of a broader project to develop the P-3 Theory of Action, the associated 7 principles, and related practical implementation guidance. See in particular Principle 4 on integrating vertical and horizontal alignment strategies and Principle 5 on strengthening neighborhoods and communities by linking P-3 with cradle-to-career initiatives.
From the New York Times: “Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.”