Archive for November, 2010

The President has made clear his priority of creating a “cradle to college and career” system. However, the design of the previous system has not prioritized the very first (and perhaps most important) step in that system—early childhood. That is going to change.

The U.S. Department of Education and, in a newly created position, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Early Learning Jacqueline Jones, Ph.D., want to be clear that a focus on early childhood is essential to ensuring success in school and life. There is already evidence of this shift taking place. Both successful applicants in Race to the Top Round I and seven of the 10 winners of Race to the Top Round II addressed the Early Learning Initiative Priority in their applications (U.S. Department of Education). As we discussed in Welcome to a New Year and New Priorities several weeks ago, early childhood has reached into the comprehensive center work as a new priority. In addition, the Education Department and the Department on Health and Human Services have created an interagency board on early learning. The Education Department has created a new Early Learning Initiative website and a listserv to keep the public updated on the progress of the initiative.

What does all of this mean? The Education Department is answering the question, “How can we expect students to perform well in school and beyond as citizens when they miss out on the first steps to having access to a quality education?” The answer is that we can’t expect performance later without an investment now, and more needs to be done to (1) enhance the quality of early learning programs and (2) increase access to high-quality early learning programs, especially for young children at risk for school failure.

These are the new early learning goals of the Education Department, and to support the achievement of these goals, a set of standards is being developed that:

  • Addresses multiple domains of learning
  • Describes what children should know and be able to do
  • Reflects current research
  • Is clear and understandable to a broad range of stakeholders
  • Is developmentally, culturally, and linguistically responsive to the populations being served

In addition to developing new standards and in order to be successful in this initiative, reform is needed in many areas of early learning—governance, assessment systems, program monitoring and evaluation, and workforce development, to name a few. Most of us have experience with early learning, whether it is our own memories, a younger sibling, a child, a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or working in early childhood, health care, community development, or elementary education. We are all stakeholders in this initiative. How can we use the tools laid out here, or where can we find the tools we need, to ensure that all children do not miss their first steps and have to start catching up before they even begin?

So, your state has adopted the Common Core State Standards? Now what? In Illinois, the next step was to conduct a gap analysis of the current standards and the Common Core standards to look for areas of overlap and gaps. This analysis is complete, and the Illinois State Board of Education hosted a webinar on incorporating the Common Core into the Illinois standards. The webinar will help district and school practitioners begin to understand what the new standards will be, where they come from, how they will relate to assessments, and what the process of beginning to implement the standards will look like.

Illinois’ review found that Common Core standards meet the intended goals of being aligned with college and career readiness, have rigorous content, build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards, are informed by top-performing countries, and are evidence or research based.

The webinar describes what the standards are and what they are not. The Common Core standards are intended to create a single set of standards that will ensure students are college and career ready when they leave school. These standards capture the most important and common elements of accomplishing this goal; the standards do not capture everything that will be taught in any classroom, provide a dictated curriculum, or tell educators how to teach to these standards.

This brief introduction takes the first eight minutes of the presentation; following that, the webinar describes what the English language arts and mathematics standards are, what is in the standards, and some of the differences between the old Illinois standards and the Common Core standards. The webinar also addresses the question, “What does this mean for assessments?” and talks about participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment consortium. The presentation ends with a question-and-answer session.

To watch the complete 60-minute webinar, click here (Windows Media Player will open and begin playing the archive).