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.
The Center for Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) recently released a report I wrote comparing P-3 System-Building in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The three case studies address a central question: How can states support P-3 system building at both state and local levels?
See the Executive Summary at the beginning of the report for nine themes and patterns and nine recommendations for state education agencies. There are also examples of local P-3 efforts, both urban and rural, throughout the report.
On Monday we are doing a webinar on the report for people interested in the state role in P-3 efforts. Panelists from all three states are participating.
My thanks to all the interviewees and panelists for their thoughtful insights on the work they are leading. And to my CEELO colleagues for all the helpful feedback throughout the project.
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”