Seven Innovative Ideas for PreK-3rd Education: Will These Projects Be Funded?

With nearly 1700 school districts and non-profit organizations vying for the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) grants, it’s encouraging to see that 384 of them are putting a focus on early learning -- and at least seven of them are proposing programs that recognize the continuum of learning from birth or pre-K up through third grade.

The grants come from $650 million provided to the Education Department after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The i3 program emphasizes the same priorities as the Race to the Top grant program:

  • Effective teachers and leaders,
  • Use of data,
  • High standards and high-quality assessments, and
  • Persistently low-performing schools.
It also identifies several competitive priorities—giving applicants an extra point or two if they adequately address the priority. One of i3’s “competitive” priorities is early learning, which earns applicants an extra point. (Race to the Top included early learning as an “invitational” priority, meaning no extra points were awarded for states that included it.) According to the application guidelines, the Department is looking for projects that improve outcomes for high-need children, birth through third grade. It requires applicants to focus on: 
(a) improving young children’s school readiness (including social, emotional, and cognitive readiness) so that children are prepared for success in core academic subjects (as defined in section 9101(11) of the ESEA);
(b) improving developmental milestones and standards and aligning them with appropriate outcome measures; and
(c) improving alignment, collaboration, and transitions between early learning programs that serve children from birth to age three, in preschools, and in kindergarten through third grade.
We surveyed the i3 applications that incorporated early learning as a priority and were pleased to see some applicants proposing to develop or validate Pre-k – 3rd grade approach or birth to 3rd grade approaches. We have talked about the positive impact of this type of education reform and have recommended it include voluntary universal pre-kindergarten programs, full-day kindergarten, and high-quality standards and curriculum for pre-k through the third grade, coupled with parental engagement and highly qualified teachers who share data and connect professional development within and across grade levels.
 
Seven applicants appear to be using this approach. (There were many other interesting projects too with focuses on literacy, school readiness, and teacher quality. If you are interested, you can search all of the project descriptions here.)
  1. The Hartford School District in Connecticut requested $3,354,073 to develop theBetances Early Reading Lab Prek-3 Lab School, which would “create an innovative learning community by joining together two powerful components.” The first component of this project is the Pre-k – 3rd school structure. The second piece is the establishment of an early literacy professional development center, housed in the school, that would foster a learning community of teachers and staff who use data collaboratively and effectively to maximize student learning.
     
  2. The New School Foundation in Seattle submitted an application for $20,760,468 in collaboration with Bremerton School District, located in a working-class town; Toppenish School District, a predominantly Latino and Native American district; and Seattle School District, the state's largest district to validate its Pre-K-3rd Quality and Alignment Model (P3QAM). According to the project’s description, P3QAM links preschool programs to elementary school programs by using aligned high standards, curricula and instruction combined with high quality assessments. The applicants intend to validate that this approach increases third grade academic achievement, accelerates academic growth in the Pre-K - 3rd years, reduces achievement gaps, reduces supplemental services for students and improves the social/emotional status for children.
     
  3. The Bank Street College of Education in New York submitted an application in partnership with the Memphis City Schools for $3,951,419 to develop the Project Teacher Leaders for the Pre-K Continuum (Project TLC). The project’s goal is to support improved outcomes for all pre-K - 3rd grade children attending school in the district, with more intensive efforts in the city’s lowest-performing (striving) schools. Project TLC includes six activities: 1) a comprehensive and intensive teacher advisement program in striving schools; 2) on-site support for school leadership teams; 3) on-site and online professional development for teachers & leaders in striving schools; 4) visitations to higher performing (Paragon) schools; 5) a professional development video library and guide for district-wide use; and 6) annual citywide conferences.
     
  4. Building Tomorrow's Scholars Today is a project proposed by the Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut. The district requested almost $5 million to build on an existing Early Reading First Project. This pre-K – 2nd grade literacy initiative comprises a job-embedded coaching model and targeted professional development for classroom teachers and paraprofessionals. A multi-disciplinary literacy team, including a speech/language pathologist, would provide regular support to teachers and students as well as parent trainings. Additionally, teachers would be trained to work with parents to establish home-school connections intended to support children’s language and literacy development. Teachers who participate in the project would also have the opportunity to take three on-site graduate level courses delivered by Fairfield University.
     
  5. The Life Services System of Ottawa County in Holland, Michigan – in partnership with eight school districts – submitted a proposal to validate its project Parents and Communities United for Success. They requested $21,938,400 over five years. According to the project summary, this birth to 3rd grade initiative combines several strategies that create a continuum of support for children and their families from birth through 3rd grade. Strategies include extending learning time for core academic content; integrating support services; parent engagement activities; establishing a protocol for schools and parents to work together on an educational plan for their student/child; and securing the private sector's support and understanding of the importance of early childhood learning.
     
  6. McMinnville School District in Oregon submitted a proposal requesting about $3 million to develop a Birth through 3rd Grade Project. MSD’s plans is to build a bridge to graduation and postsecondary completion by increasing school readiness and ensuring that every child enters kindergarten with skills at or above age five, fostering early school success, and increasing the percentage of students performing at or above grade level in reading and math by the end of third grade. MSD would establish a mobile child development center to provide curriculum resources, modeling, and coaching to parents of high-needs young children. MSD would also provide preschool for high-needs children; Kinder-Plus (enrichment) for high-needs students; and an extended day/year and supplemental support for high-needs students in kindergarten through third grade.
     
  7. ServeMinnesota, along with a consortium of several schools, submitted a validation proposal for its Age 3 to Grade 3 Reading Proficiency: A Scalable Model for Individualized Interventions Harnessing the Power of Americorps to Deliver Accelerated Results. The applicants requested $20,232,904 over five years to validate the potential for AmeriCorps to “serve as the vehicle for implementing the use of an individualized data based problem solving model as a proven, effective methodology for helping age 3 to grade 3 children achieve reading proficiency by 3rd grade on a national, unprecedented scale.”
Of course, these are just snippets from each applicant’s dense proposal—it is difficult to tell which ideas are the best and which applicants are the most apt. We would love to review them in their entirety, but the full applications for these proposed projects are yet to be posted. So, while we can’t delve into the particulars, we can get a snapshot of the kinds of projects that might get funding.
 
We here at Early Ed Watch would like to see at least one of these projects selected. They all incorporate, in one way or another, a promising approach that eliminates the artificial divide between early education and K-12 education and focuses on effective practices such as teacher collaboration, early literacy, vertical alignment, and parental engagement. They also would avoid what some pre-K critics call the “fade-out” problem -- the potential for the benefits from pre-K and full-day kindergarten to lessen over time if not sustained with high-quality instruction year after year. With the pre-k – 3rd approach, young students are more likely to maintain and build upon early gains because their early education experiences are aligned to kindergarten and kindergarten is aligned with the early elementary grades.
 
We know the competition is fierce—about $ 13 billion in proposals. However, if quality projects using the pre-K – 3rd approach are selected as i3 grantees, it would provide an excellent opportunity to study and learn about the approach, the impact it has on students as they move through the education pipeline, and how it can be replicated in more schools and districts.
 
We anticipate winners to be announced sometime this summer. Stay tuned for more on whether or not any of these proposals were selected.
 
P.S. Over at Ed Money Watch, colleague Jennifer Cohen delved into the data and shared what she found about who submitted, for what type of grant they applied, and under which absolute priority. You can also learn more at the new website: data.ed.gov.

Author:

Laura Bornfreund is director of early & elementary education policy with the Education Policy program and co-director of the Family Centered Social Policy program at New America. She leads a team of writers and analysts working on new ideas for improving children’s birth-through-third grade learning experiences.