There is now general consensus in this country on the critical importance of quality early childhood experiences for all children and its positive impact over the lifetime of a child. There is also growing consensus on the importance of a high-quality, aligned continuum of learning from birth to grade three. Convened by the West Central Initiative, with support from the McKnight Foundation, a group of early childhood stakeholders has been meeting since 2014 years to discuss ways to improve outcomes for Minnesota’s children by better aligning the State’s early childhood and early elementary systems. This group dubbed itself the Pre-K to 3 Design Team.
The Design Team began meeting in early 2014 and added professional facilitation and project management in the summer of 2014. The first year was spent building a shared understanding of Pre-K to 3 by working through a framework for planning, implementing and evaluating Pre-K to third grade approaches. The framework was developed by Dr. Kristie Kauerz of the University of Washington and Julia Coffman from the Center for Evaluation Innovation.[i] This Pre-K to 3 continuum has an expectation of continuous, connected and aligned learning that engages students and families from preschool to third grade and seeks to improve academic outcomes and long term success while reducing achievement gaps. The Design Team reviewed multiple research articles, advocacy pieces and federal guidance, including the proposed Strong Start[ii] bill and Preschool Expansion grants[iii]. The McKnight Foundation commissioned New America, a national think-tank known for its reporting and policy analysis on early education issues, to review Minnesota’s existing Pre-K to 3 elements and make recommendations for improvement.[iv] Design Team members had the opportunity to review the report, hear New America’s presentation and engage with the researchers.
Following the 2015 legislative session, staff at the Minnesota Department of Education approached the Design Team and asked it to provide specific input and insight into how Minnesota could develop a statewide, voluntary preschool system for four year olds that includes mixed delivery options for families and communities. To undertake this effort, the Design Team first ensured that it included stakeholders from diverse racial, geographic, and cultural communities and with expertise in multiple approaches to Pre-K provision, from school-based to Head Start to private center and family based settings. Once we knew we had a diverse mix of individual perspectives at the table, we embarked on a shared learning agenda, consulting a number of books and research articles about preschool[v], local and national experts, the Minnesota Department of Education’s Early Learning Listening Sessions report[vi] and tapped into our own networks of parents and providers. Two of the Design Team members were also able to travel to Sweden in November of 2015 with the Minnesota Council of Foundation’s delegation[vii] to learn more about Sweden’s success with early childhood programs and report back to the Design Team. To begin, we acknowledge the great strides Minnesota has made in fostering a robust early childhood ecosystem.
ADD HERE ABOUT WORKFORCE WORK
[i] Available online at: http://depts.washington.edu/pthru3/PreK-3rd_Framework_Legal%20paper.pdf
[ii]The Strong Start for America’s Children Act, S. 1697, initially introduced by Senator Tom Harkin, would expand access to high-quality preschool for four year olds from low and moderate income families through state –federal partnerships and reauthorizes appropriations for FY 2014 – FY 2023. http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Strong%20Start%20for%20America’s%20Children%20Summary.pdf
[iii] See: http://www.ed.gov/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/EXPANSION-grants-Executive-Summary-REVISED-05.14.14.pdf
[iv] Available online at: http://www.edcentral.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Building-Strong-Readers_Final-.pdf
[v] We used the book, The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies and Issues, edited by Edward Zigler, Walter Gilliam and W. Steven Barnett, (2011) to provide structure to our monthly meetings.
[vi] The Minnesota Department of Education held 7 community listening sessions around the state in November of 2015. Over 600 people participated in these community gatherings. An additional 2,521 surveys were completed by parents, teachers, early childhood administrators and community partners (e.g. university, business, faith leaders). It should be noted that while surveys were translated into other languages, the vast majority of responses were from the English version of the survey. Responses therefor underrepresent families who do not speak English. The report is available online at: http://education.state.mn.us/mdeprod/groups/educ/documents/hiddencontent/bwrl/mdm0/~edisp/mde034769.pdf
[vii] The Minnesota Council of Foundations organized a trip to Sweden to meet with Swedish experts and observe high-quality early childhood programs. The Minnesota delegation included early childhood funders, researchers, early childhood professionals, consultants, legislators and a representative from the Governor’s office.