In December, New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team released Transforming the Early Education Workforce: A Multimedia Guidebook, an interactive resource that distills key takeaways and action steps from the National Academy of Medicine’s seminal Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8 report.
While public school arbitrarily begins at age 5 in most communities, we know children are learning from the moment they are born. And achievement gaps in kindergarten (and much earlier) are evidence of the need to support children in the years before they enter elementary school. To ensure that all children enter school ready to succeed, families need access to high-quality supports and services like home visiting, child care, and pre-K from birth to age 5. And for children to realize the full benefits of these efforts, they need access to high-quality instruction in kindergarten through third grade that builds on what they have already learned.
From birth through age 8 children are usually exposed to multiple care and education settings, which each adhere to different standards and may be inconsistent in terms of instruction, content, and quality. Continuity from one year to the next, both within and across programs, is important for children to sustain the gains made early on, as explained in chapter five of Transforming the Workforce. A strong continuum of learning across the early years depends on teachers and leaders who have a strong understanding of child development and early learning.
In Omaha, Nebraska, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute is working with 11 school districts to strengthen their early learning continuum. Termed the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan, this initiative is being fully implemented in 12 schools and includes home visiting services for children from birth to age 3, pre-K for three- and four-year-olds, with aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessment in kindergarten through third grade. The following video, produced by New America and featured in the guidebook, highlights this work:
As Sam Meisels, Founding Executive Director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, explains in the video, “What we are trying to do here is something that begins early and is persistent. Persistence of effort will yield persistence of effect.” Having a highly knowledgeable and skilled workforce that understands the importance of continuity and can provide culturally and linguistically appropriate instruction for this diverse population is key to the initiative’s success. As Dawn Marten, Principal of Sandoz Elementary School which is participating in the Superintendent’s Plan explains, “I highly encourage my staff to not think in silos. How do we look at supporting families and children regardless of what our title may be? We want to make sure that everybody who touches that child in this school is aware of how we are supporting them.”
The Buffett Institute is employing a community schools model, based off of Schools of the 21st Century, conceptualized by Yale University Professor Edward F. Zigler. This work can serve as a model for leaders in other communities who are interested in strengthening children’s early learning experiences from B–8. To learn more about what policymakers, institutions of higher education, educators, and other stakeholders can do to strengthen the early childhood education workforce, explore the guidebook’s “Blueprint for Action” section here.