Learning from California

For the past three years, New America has been following three communities in California experimenting with what it takes to reform early learning. Here’s what we are finding out.
Blog Post
June 26, 2018

In 2014 I was tasked by New America to keep a close eye on reforms in early care and education that were just beginning to take shape in three communities in California: Oakland, Fresno and San Jose. Since that time, my team and I have interviewed over 80 people in these communities: teachers, school district administrators, community workers, parents and advocates, blogging along the way. We work closely with New America policy analysts to better understand what we are observing.

And despite struggles in our state: poverty, insecure housing, anxiety about federal immigration policy, and a less than strong commitment from our governor, what we are finding is a hopeful story.

In Fresno, Oakland and San Jose, with philanthropic support, local leaders are not waiting for Sacramento to take action. Instead they are organizing. Networks of school leaders, county administrators, teachers, caregivers, librarians, and social workers are working together to improve access to and quality of early learning programs for young children, building on years of efforts at the local level.

Their work is the subject of our new report: Lessons from Three California Communities on Strengthening Early Education.

The report finds that despite impediments at the state level, these three communities have made important strides in engaging families, improving teacher practice, collecting and using data, and building cultures that support early learning. This work takes place even while communities struggle with political turmoil, deep poverty among families, and lack of resources in districts and community organizations.

We also find that successful models and initiatives in these communities:

  • build on the expertise in a community, which empowers teachers, parents, and caregivers to lead;

  • put equity at the center;

  • offer high-quality and ongoing professional development paired with coaching, with input from teachers on how it is developed;

  • build community partnerships to train informal educators; family, friend, and neighbor caregivers; and parents;

  • train principals in early learning; and

  • use data to evaluate progress and enable teachers and leaders to use that data to change systems.

Notably, the central challenge of this work is how to scale up reforms so they make a real difference for all the children of these communities and eventually for California as a whole.

You can read the full report and follow our continuing coverage of California on our in-depth page.

This work is supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and part of its Starting Smart and Strong Initiative.