Version 2.0: A Theory of Action and 7 Principles for P-3 Partnerships

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.

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The Role of P-3 Community Partnerships

Continue reading “Version 2.0: A Theory of Action and 7 Principles for P-3 Partnerships”

New Study: Community Partnerships for Early Education

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.

New Evidence: The Impact of Community Partnerships

Liberals and conservatives often disagree about the causes of poverty and other social ills. Broadly speaking, liberals point the finger at structural factors and advocate for policy changes, while conservatives look to individuals and families and favor behavior changes. Clearly, both points of view have validity. But what’s often overlooked is what lies between these two poles — communities and neighborhoods — and the value of focusing on this middle zone. (David Bornstein, How Community Networks Stem Childhood Traumas)

In the early 1990s, Washington State created a state-wide Family Policy Council to address a spike in youth violence. The Council in turn funded local community networks to develop integrated approaches to violence prevention. David Bornstein, a reporter for the New York Times, describes the thinking behind the approach in ways that will sound very familiar to those working on P-3 initiatives:

Policy makers analyzed the problem and recognized the inter-connectedness of issues usually handled separately: child abuse, domestic violence, dropping out of high school, teen pregnancy, youth substance abuse, and youth suicide.

The separation made little sense. Youths who commit violence or drug-related crimes at 17, or drop out of school at 15, often have received a first suspension in second grade and have experienced abuse or neglect as toddlers or infants. It is now understood that the best hope of interrupting this downward spiral requires years-long collaboration between child welfare specialists, parents, educators, health workers, police officers, legal advocates and community members. [Italics added.] (Tapping a Neighborhood’s Inner Strength)

Over time the Family Policy Council began sharing research with the community networks regarding the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on young children. ACEs refer to 10 types of abuse, neglect, and family exposure to toxic stress. One in four adults report having three or more ACEs, which are closely linked to a range of problematic outcomes for adults, including drug use, physical and mental health challenges, and early onset of disease.

Washington’s community networks followed the lead of the Family Policy Council and focused their work on addressing ACEs. They launched community outreach campaigns, organized neighborhood associations to address the underlying causes of ACEs, and developed programs in schools and social service agencies. Communities chose to work on a variety of issues, including prenatal smoking and drinking, truancy, youth drinking, domestic violence, foster care, mentoring, and improving playgrounds and parks.

In recent years several evaluations have found that community networks have been highly effective in reducing ACEs, capped off by a recently-published Mathematica study that found that several communities had successfully reduced the “long-term social, emotional, and physical problems related to abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences.”

Continue reading “New Evidence: The Impact of Community Partnerships”

Three Lessons: How States Can Support P-3 Efforts

This post is a cross-posting from Preschool Matters Today, the blog of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). Thanks to Michelle Ruess at NIEER for her support. 

In western Oregon, a regional early learning hub supports 30 partnerships of elementary schools, neighboring family childcare providers and community-based preschools focused on professional learning and family engagement.

In Lowell, MA, elementary schools, preschool centers, and family childcare providers working in the same neighborhoods participate in “communities of practice” to improve teaching and family engagement. In addition, the city’s P-3 Leadership Alignment Team developed a school readiness definition and strategy that is informing city health, social services, and education programs.

A  Community Innovation Zone in Harrisburg, PA recognized that a paucity of pre-kindergarten opportunities resulted in too many children entering kindergarten with no preschool experience. It responded by providing a summer bridge program offering not only activities and starter libraries for children, but also workshops for parents.

Such partnerships are not accidental. Each resulted from deliberate efforts by state education agencies (SEAs) to support quality improvement and alignment throughout the prenatal through third grade (P-3) continuum. This support includes grant programs funding local P-3 efforts and state policy work to align standards, develop formative assessments, and organize leadership and workforce development opportunities.

My recently published report, Building State P-3 Systems: Learning from Leading States, examines the P-3 work underway in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, states that are part of a broader movement focused on improving quality and continuity across the P-3 continuum. Three overarching lessons for future state P-3 initiatives stand out.

Continue reading “Three Lessons: How States Can Support P-3 Efforts”

Building a Citywide Birth—3rd System: One City’s Plan

We are aware that building a coherent system is more time consuming and less flashy than just adding more slots or more dollars to an existing system. But we have an opportunity to … build a system that coherently knits together our existing resources and thoughtfully brings in new resources to meet the needs of our youngest residents.
–Richard Rossi, City Manager, Cambridge, Massachusetts

This is about as important as it gets, frankly. Achievement gaps do not begin in the fifth grade or the third grade. They begin much earlier. The right way to reduce and eventually eliminate achievement gaps is to start early…I believe whole-heartedly that with this effort to get there, we can make that difference. It is about coherence. The adults have to come together.
–Jeff Young, Superintendent of Schools, Cambridge, MA, speaking to a joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee

On November 16, the City Council and School Committee in Cambridge, MA met to review an ambitious set of recommendations to develop a citywide Birth through Third Grade (Birth—3rd) system.  The recommendations were presented by the City Manager, the Superintendent, and the city’s Early Childhood Task Force with the aim of expanding access to early childhood services and improving quality across the organizations that serve young children and their families. These recommendations are intended to guide a significant financial investment the city will make in improving Birth—3rd services, projected at $1.3 million in the first year, $2.6 million in the second year, and potentially increasing further in subsequent years. Continue reading “Building a Citywide Birth—3rd System: One City’s Plan”

“You Are on the Cusp of a Huge Movement”

So exclaimed Libby Doggett, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the US Department of Education. Doggett discussed the Birth—3rd movement at the recent District Leadership Summit in Chicago organized by the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She told the audience of district leaders that we are at “unique moment in time” and “can finally realize the promise of early learning” through the broader frame of the Birth—3rd approach. Diana Rauner, the President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, agreed with Doggett, saying, “We are at the beginning of something big here, a new normal, a new vision for educational attainment, and a new vision for collaboration.” Rauner shared the experience of the Birth-to-College Collaborative, a partnership between the Educare early learning program and the University of Chicago Charter School. Saying it took two years to “put our weapons down,” Rauner emphasized the importance of developing “a shared goal, a shared language, shared identity, and a shared vision for our kids.” Rauner suggested we need to “be able to present an aligned vision of parent engagement throughout the continuum.” In my post on the Birth-to-College Collaborative’s Toolkit, I mentioned how the  Collaborative had created a Parent Advisory Committee to help guide their work, and family engagement comes through as a strong priority throughout the Toolkit.