To the editor:
There is more to the recently passed state budget than Medicaid expansion. Gov. Ralph Northam, the House and Senate made early education a priority with $6 million in targeted investments.
The debate about early education has shifted from simply expanding access to ensuring that high quality in the classroom is at the core of the state’s investment. The ingredients of high quality are an integrated curriculum, aligned professional development for teachers, coaching for effective implementation and use of data to continually improve the quality of instruction in the classroom and teacher-child interactions. And, being able to prove that children are entering kindergarten more prepared because of these investments.
The evidence is clear — high quality early education experiences help children develop foundational readiness skills that are highly predictive of educational and workforce success. Children who enter kindergarten behind their peers will struggle to catch up, and the achievement and readiness gaps widen over time. Closing the gap begins with high quality in the classroom and a focus on strong teacher-child interactions.
E3: Elevate Early Education set out a few years ago to make data-driven investment in early education a priority. Our approach was to listen to policymakers, philanthropists and stakeholders to understand where the issue stood in our state. This work informed our recommendations. Our strategy was to:
- Define the readiness gap by creating the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness program, a comprehensive kindergarten assessment, in partnership with the legislature, Virginia Department of Education and UVA Center for Advanced Study of Teaching & Learning.
- Advocate for a Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission study to analyze the design, implementation and effectiveness of state-funded programs for children younger than 5, and propose ways to improve.
- Demonstrate to state leaders that investment in high quality leads to kindergarten readiness by creating an innovative, privately-funded demonstration model, The New E3 School, located in Norfolk.
The JLARC report states that one-third of all Virginia kindergarteners enter kindergarten unprepared in at least one learning domain (literacy, math, self-regulation or social skills) assessed by VKRP in 2014, but no statewide data currently exists. The recommendation is to expand VKRP statewide and use the readiness data to understand how well programs promote readiness. The report also reveals that the Virginia Preschool Initiative, Virginia’s state-funded pre-K program for at-risk 4-year-olds, impact on readiness is unknown; that the quality of the preschool experience varies across school divisions; and that the program needs stronger quality assurances.
Upon the release of the JLARC report, E3 helped to develop specific policy initiatives alongside policymakers and advocated for a House-led $6 million budget package focused on strategic, evidence-based, data-driven investment in innovation that will demonstrate impact and improve the readiness gap.
The state budget directs the Virginia Department of Education to develop a plan to improve quality in VPI with UVA CASTL to assess quality and curriculum in VPI classrooms and provide professional development to teachers. The VKRP will be expanded to all kindergarten classrooms in both the fall and spring to show student growth and inform instruction. And, a voluntary statewide pilot of the UVA CASTL designed curriculum, professional development and coaching model developed in The New E3 School in 50 faith-based and private classrooms.
This is an exciting time for early education in Virginia. We are well on our way to becoming a national leader in innovation and impact when it comes to this issue. There is still much work to do. It is my hope that we will continue to see both sides of the aisle work with Governor Northam and the First Lady to improve the quality of instruction in every early education classroom in Virginia and close the readiness gap.
President and chief executive officer, E3: Elevate Early Education