Our Work: 2019 in Review and What's Coming Next

December is a month for reflecting on the current year and looking ahead to the next one
Blog Post
Dec. 16, 2019

While December is certainly a month for joy and celebration, it’s also a month for reflecting on the current year and looking ahead to the next one. In that spirit, this post will highlight our early and elementary education policy work in 2019 across four themes and offer a peek at what we’re planning for 2020.

Our Work In Review

Early Childhood Educators: Teachers and Center Administrators

Across the country, there are activities underway aimed at better credentialing, preparing, supporting, and compensating the early childhood education workforce. Early in 2019, we released two papers, “Earning While Learning with Early Educator Apprenticeship Programs” and “Putting Degrees Within Reach,” to highlight strategies to address the financial barriers early childhood educators face to pursuing degrees. To begin turning strategies into action, we held an event in Indiana bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders to consider the opportunities and challenges in ECE apprenticeships for the state. Early childhood educators value advancing their education but the burden of paying for it should not be on them alone. Last spring, we wrapped up our Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators blog series, edited by Stacie G. Goffin. The series included diverse perspectives on some of the ECE field’s most challenging issues: preparation and education, compensation and status, and diversity and inclusivity. In 2020, we will publish a compendium of these perspectives, which will also include a few new essays and ideas for moving forward. Finally, this fall, we launched the “Supporting Early Educator Degree Attainment Working Group“ to explore barriers institutions of higher education face to implementing reforms and innovations that better support and prepare early childhood educators. We also explored diversity in the early education workforce with an event that elevated educator voice and the fact that with such low compensation, it can be a difficult decision to remain in the classroom.

Early Childhood Educators: Elementary School Principals

Our team has been writing about the importance of elementary school principals in ensuring quality learning environments and teaching in pre-K and early grade classrooms. Last spring, we released a series of blog posts, “Building Early Education Leaders,” that took a close look at how two states and one school district are equipping principals to better support young learners. Principal preparation is another important lever for ensuring that principals have what they need to understand what good teaching and learning look like in pre-K and the early grades. “Preparing Principals for Pre-K in Illinois” dove into the implementation of the state’s principal preparation reforms, which include incorporating curricula and field experiences that expose all prospective principals to early learning.

High-Quality Learning Environments

In early 2019, we launched the new webpage, “What it Looks Like to Promote Young Children’s Growth and Discovery.” The page provides stories and portraits from classrooms and other learning environments that are based on findings from the science of child development. In the classrooms highlighted, children engage in hands-on exploration, inquiry, and discovery; positive relationships and enriching back-and-forth social interactions; and targeted and personalized instruction that is tailored to a child's specific needs, growth, and development across multiple domains and subject areas. The page also includes a curated list of related articles, books, videos, and other resources. Our team will continue to develop content for this page in 2020, beginning with videos spotlighting high-quality teaching and teacher-child interactions across the early childhood continuum and in diverse settings.

Last January, as California started the year under new leadership with Governor Gavin Newsom, we held a California early childhood policy forum in Sacramento in partnership with the Learning Policy Institute. The forum focused on how to deliver quality and best serve children in underserved communities, including important supports for the workforce, and laid out the research base that should be informing policy recommendations for improving early learning in California, from birth through age 5, and into elementary school.

Pre-K to Kindergarten Transition and Alignment

We also continued our work on pre-K to kindergarten transitions, releasing two briefs focused on strengthening transitions and alignment. “Moving into Kindergarten: How Schools and Districts are Connecting the Steps for Children and Families” highlighted innovative efforts schools and districts across the country are taking to ease the transition into kindergarten for families and students, including students without access to pre-K prior to kindergarten. The brief built off the 2017 report “Connecting the Steps,” which highlighted the work four states were doing to ease the transition into kindergarten. The second brief, “Using Local, State, and Federal Dollars to Improve Pre-K to K Transitions,” explained the federal programs that can help support and fund state and local transition efforts. Strengthening transitions and alignment will remain an area of focus for our team, as more intentionally connecting children’s early and elementary education experiences is an important step in ensuring they thrive and succeed later in school and in life.

Looking Ahead

Next year, while we will continue to do work in the themes above, we will also closely follow and provide analysis on the 2020 presidential election as well as key state races. In the spring, we will also release a brief stemming from discussions with our working group that identifies innovative strategies and initiatives in institutions of higher education (IHEs) to better support and prepare early childhood educators who want to pursue two- and four-year degrees. IHEs often face barriers to changing long-standing practices and innovating. Our work will explore these barriers, identify IHEs that are doing things differently, and discuss levers to encourage and support transformation in IHEs.

We will also launch work on family child care here in D.C. Our research and policy analysis will explore strategies for pre-service and in-service training for quality improvement as well as the unique compliance challenges family child care providers face. We will explore pathways to degrees for early childhood educators including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships. We’ll be looking for examples of and writing on high-quality learning environments and teaching in kindergarten. Our team will continue following the work in three California communities (Fresno, Oakland, and San Jose) to reform the way early childhood systems work and the way teachers and other caregivers are trained and supported. And, we will kick-off a project that looks at states that have passed laws to limit or ban suspensions and expulsions for young children. Specifically, we’ll be analyzing what professional development and tools teachers have to support children with behavioral challenges and what they need.

Finally, in early 2020, keep a lookout for a new vision for early and elementary education as we begin a new decade. We’ll put forth some bold and pragmatic thinking in eight areas: realizing a seamless learning continuum, building on educator strengths, emphasizing families, embracing children’s language and culture, connecting teaching and learning, promoting efficiency, emphasizing continuous improvement, and securing predictable, sustainable, and increased funding.

Happy holidays from the Early & Elementary Education Policy team at New America, and here’s to a happy and healthy 2020!

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