In our work with state and local leaders, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO), have seen remarkable progress and momentum around birth to third grade learning. More K-12 education leaders understand the critical effects of children’s early years on their future success and growth, and appreciate the potential for high-quality early learning experiences to help close achievement gaps. Increasing access to Pre-K and full-day kindergarten, the spread of quality rating and improvement systems, and increased attention to the early childhood educator workforce are all signs of important progress at the state and local levels.
This increased leadership, commitment, and knowledge is not, however, always reflected in state plans for school improvement. For many years, most states’ measures of school performance began with third grade, in accordance with the requirements of No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The federal law has now changed, and with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states can seize the opportunity to better align their school improvement plans with what we know about child development and early learning from birth to third grade.
This toolkit provides a framework and research base for states to explore these possibilities. There are concrete steps state education agencies can take in the short- and the long-term to include the early years in state school improvement plans, in pursuit of much larger goals around improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps.