Success Starts Young: Closing Achievement Gaps Where They Begin

A National Symposium on Early Learning Standards, Kindergarten Readiness, and Technology and Early Learning

Early Learning Standards
September 18, 2015 — National Press Club — 9:00 AM

People in this video:

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki
Clayton Burch
Catherine Scott-Little
Rhian Evans Alvin
Yvette Sanchez Fuentes
Emily Samuels
Amanda Bryans
LuAnn McNabb

Transcript Body

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - All right, so I want to welcome you to the first panel today on early learning standards. So my job at ETS is as Principal Research Project Manager at the Early Childhood Research and Assessment Center. We've been conducting research on early learning standards for the past year and a half, and will soon be releasing our report and those of you here today will get notice of that when it comes out. So I want to quickly, I know you have bios, but I want to quickly give you short bios of these amazing people on the panel. So immediately to my right, Catherine Scott-Little, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In collaboration with Sharon Lynn Kagan and others at Teachers College she completed several national studies on state level early learning and development standards. And she also served on the North Carolina Enhanced Assessment Grant Consortium and as an advisor on early learning standards all around the country. When we started our own research, everything I was reading was Catherine's, so she's done some amazing work.

Next to her, Clayton Burch. Clayton, I'm going to get his title right, Chief Academic Officer for the West Virginia; no, no, now it's Assistant Superintendent. Right?

Clayton Burch - You can call me anything you want.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - He's from West Virginia with a real important job. I don't know if this bio is outdated now.

Clayton Burch - No, you're good.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - Okay, good. All right. So he leads the Division of Teaching and Learning, targeting early learning, middle and secondary learning, and assessment and special education. So he has a whole great big span of stuff. He previously directed the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Early Learning, which focused on pre-K through 5th grade. He's done a lot of stuff. I mean I'm very impressed. His work's always included community collaboration efforts, funding, continuous quality improvement projects, school readiness initiatives and professional development. He's an Executive Committee member and the West Virginia Department of Ed designee to West Virginia's Early Childhood Advisory Council. And as if he's not busy enough, he also chairs the West Virginia Department of Ed Advisory Committee on a Comprehensive Approach to Early Learning.

Next to him, Rhian Evans, Rhian Evans Alvin, pardon me, Executive Director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and known as NAEYC. And she's responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the organization, as well as overseeing daily operations. Before Rhian came to D.C., she was a guiding force in Arizona's early education movement for more than 15 years. She specialized in public policy, philanthropy and community engagement. She was a senior advancement officer at the Arizona Community Foundation. She also served in leadership roles at the Libraries for the Future and at Children's Action Alliance, Arizona's state-based child advocacy organization.

And last, but not least, Yvette Sanchez-Fuentes, currently President of the National Alliance for Hispanic Families. She has extensive experience providing services to children and families from low-income backgrounds. Prior to joining the National Alliance, she served as Director of the Office of Head Start at the Administration for Children and Families under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also worked as Executive Director of the National Migrant Seasonal Head Start, services and policies and resources for migrant and seasonal farmworker children and their families. What an impressive group. Let's give them a hand. Okay, so we're going to start with Catherine and then we'll be moving down the line.

Catherine Scott-Little - Good morning. I'm really pleased to be here today, and if this works, let's see. There we go. My purpose is to set the context for this panel, and I'm really going to try to define just what are early learning and development standards so that we're all on the same page with that, talk a little bit about why they're important, and then a few thoughts on what we need to do as we move forward to make them truly tools that can lead to success starting early.

So first what are early learning and development standards? Well, the federal government has given us a definition which comes from our Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge application, and basically they are documents that outline expectations for what children should know and be able to do. Now you might think that seems fairly simple, but it's not, but it is critically important because they outline the expectations for what we want for our children, what we want for them to be able to know, and be able to do as they move through the ages of birth to five. Now the federal government also said they need to be comprehensive and holistic, not pull children apart and look at only certain areas, but address all domains. And so what we see now, over the past ten years in particular there's been a lot of activity to develop and then revise early learning standards, and all states and territories have them for preschool-age children, and almost all states have them for infants and toddlers.

Now what's important to understand is how these documents came to be, because at the state level they've been developed by stakeholder groups and really are the result of a process that combines what we know about children from research, from best practices, our current political context within the state, and our values, what it is we want and hope for children. So as a result we do see that all 50 states cover the five domains that we feel are important, but they do it somewhat differently because of the way the documents have been developed. They're not just a straight, "This is what research says," and they're also not just policy documents, and they are a set of values as well as what we know. So they're our hopes for children as well as what we know about children.

Now to kind of set the context for the rest of the panel I do want to make sure that we think a little bit about what's similar about our early learning and development standards and what's different from the Common Core, because the Common Core is another set of standards that like early learning and development standards sets out expectations for what children should know and be able to do. So that's common between the two sets. But there are some differences that are important. The first is how they were developed. So I just said early learning and development standards tend to be fairly organic and reflect a state's priorities and were developed by stakeholders, so teachers, sometimes parents, policymakers, higher-ed folks, a conglomerate group of people who come together and wrestle with what should children know and be able to do. Our Common Core at the national level, not the state level, has been developed primarily by experts and really research based, and so you see a difference there between, yes, outlining expectations, but a somewhat different focus in terms of how they were developed.

The second difference is the age, okay? So that's obvious, but I want to make sure that we understand that early learning and development standards typically have been developed for birth through five and now in several states carry forward into the early grades. Common Core starts at the end of kindergarten. So when we say early learning and development standards, we typically are talking up to the kindergarten door, and with Common Core we're talking about standards that start at the end of the kindergarten year and move forward.

And then third the difference is what they focus on. So early learning and development standards tend to be holistic, whereas the Common Core really focuses on two content areas. So you'll hear some discussion later about the Common Core and I just want to set the context for that.

So why are early learning and development standards important? And I'm going to briefly talk, just three reasons. So I do think they're critically important for our systems, but the first reason they're important is really they're kind of at the core, they're at the heart of an intentional approach to teaching. They guide what we think is important for children, our curriculum decisions, our assessment decisions, and ultimately those intentionalities ripple out into quality programs and experiences for children. So they're at the heart of what we want with an intentional early learning and development system and programs.

Second, they're a help for teachers. They give teachers a baseline knowledge of child development. They give them a foundation for what is it I'm trying to accomplish with my children? So not only for programs, but for teachers. They are really an important resource and they're the center of intentional practice. And finally, and perhaps most applicable for our content today, they are what I see as a foundation for equity. They even out our expectations for all children from different circumstances and backgrounds. And, you know, Barbara Bowman many years ago said teachers all work with standards in their head. It's a matter of is it their own standards or something that we agree on, and they can differ by children. So early learning and development standards level the playing field in terms of what we expect from children and children's access to intentional teaching, because if using early learning development standards is about intentional teaching, we want that for all children.

So where does the field need to go to truly use these documents? I think first we have a lot of work to do to make sure we got it right, that our content really reflects and is responsive to children from different backgrounds, circumstances and characteristics. We also need to continue our effort to really support teachers in using these documents. Professional development is critical. And finally this trend we see of standards being developed and pushed up into the early grades — kindergarten, 1st, 2nd grade — we have a number of states doing that, and that is a very exciting development that you'll hear more about in this panel.

Clayton Burch - Well, good morning. Greetings from West Virginia, right next door, you know, a couple states, places over. I am excited to be here. I told Catherine she could have some of my time because unlike the rest of the panel I really don't show up with notes. Being from West Virginia, we have a heritage of telling stories, so get ready. I tell a lot of stories and I think it works better that way because I think we do have a story to tell. And I'm going to pick up kind of where Catherine left off, and about those standards filtering up through the early grades. You know, 20 years I spent in early childhood, early care and education, and for that 20 years I think I was drawn to it. You know the motto in West Virginia is "Mountaineers are always free." I like the challenge and I always found early childhood to be the challenge, the underdog, the voice that wasn't heard in the education system.

So fast forward 20 years, and I left higher education and came into the state Department of Ed and no experience in the public school system. My career was in childcare, working with Head Start, the university, and I went to the state Department of Ed and they said, "Please come here and help us put together this universal pre-K program in the state of West Virginia, a program that I ridiculed while I was at the higher ed. I said, "You'll never figure it out. You'll never pull this off, bringing all these independent voices together." Lo and behold eight years later I am the first Assistant State Superintendent of Schools for K-12 from early childhood, and the reason being is I'll be darned if they didn't do it. They figured out a way to give early childhood in the state of West Virginia one heck of a voice.

And what's interesting is, back to those things I like to challenge, I like to poke the bear a lot, is what you see on the — oh, yeah, it showed up — is this balance that you see here. And what's interesting is when you shift to a state department of ed, and I really want to give it from; I know I told Andrea, "Be careful what you ask for." I'll give you the context from West Virginia from the state Department of Education is typically when I first got there and you want to have a conversation about college-career readiness, where did the conversation take place? They took place in high school. Of course it did. That balance sat right over here. They would talk about AP, and rigor and graduation rates, and then I show up and I said, "Hoo-hoo. If you really want to talk about graduation rates and you really want to talk about college-career readiness, you've got to back that conversation up. You're going to have to come over to this side of the balance beam and have a conversation with us, the early childhood field, because we're the ones that are really doing that work for you." And the balance began; then the balance beam started to equal out in West Virginia, and it really did. And you know 10, 15 years later with universal pre-K in West Virginia, we now have this balanced discussion taking place that you can't talk about college-career readiness without talking about this comprehensive birth through age eight system.

But everybody kind of comes to West Virginia now. I'm looking at Steven. He has been working with us for a long time, Steven Hicks from the U.S. Department of Ed, and he hears this story a lot because it's hard to tell this story without first telling this story. And this is a mess, right? Because that's really what the early childhood field looked like in West Virginia 10 or 15 years ago, all independent voices. You know what I mean? We have a very, very strong Head Start presence in West Virginia. I mean we are a state that does struggle with poverty statewide, underrepresented children. We have quite a battle ahead of us to break that cycle. We have a very strong childcare system in West Virginia.

And along comes this idea of universal pre-K, pre-K for all four-year-olds, and I kind of jumped into the middle of it. And the goal was to take all these initiatives, and every initiative you see on the board are probably initiatives each one of your states have. We have a governor in our state, 3rd grade reading initiative, all kids are going to read on grade level by 3rd grade, universal pre-K. We have graduation rates. We have all of the Common Core Next Generation standards in West Virginia discussion going on. And the goal really was in West Virginia of how do you bring all these players together? And to come back to standards, that's what strengthened West Virginia, because we were able to bring all of those voices together, and so to have one set of standards that Head Start, childcare and the public school agreed upon. And once we figured out that and got over that hump — see if we can go backwards — this is how we began to balance the conversation.

So the power of standards in West Virginia became voice. And as soon as the early childhood community came together and had that agreement on standards, voices changed. The dialogue in West Virginia came. Now don't get me wrong. I have been truly blessed to have superintendents, governors. Jacqueline has heard me say it a hundred times, "Oh, my goodness, thank goodness for our governors in West Virginia that have been early childhood supporters and a state superintendent." But voice became really, really important. In fact voice has become so strong in West Virginia from the early childhood field the discussion is changing, and I'll give you a few examples.

Because we were able to come together and have one voice for standards, all early childhood, even the discussion around kindergarten readiness is changing. In the state of West Virginia we asked the governor to change the law, and I know your next session is on kindergarten readiness — so sorry, Andrea — but we removed it in West Virginia. What makes five or six-years-old so important that they need to be ready? What makes that the magical time that we're going to look at children and say they're ready? So we had our governor remove that from state law and say that kindergarten is part of the ongoing readiness program. So in the state of West Virginia, pre-K and K are considered one and the same, preparing children for wherever they come.

We also because the voice became so loud and we went back to what Catherine said about standards kind of inching up, and once they become strong and begin to inch up into that K-1-2 world, we now have a state board that is looking at the complete continuum from birth through 3rd on to 5th grade as early learning. So we're really not so hyper focused any longer on what exactly are the skills that children need to know at five years old. We live in a state, and until we solve the poverty issue they're going to continue to come to school at different levels. They're going to continue to grow at different levels, and we've got to be able to honor that. So the standards do set those goals we talked about and Catherine articulated, but what we've been able to do is say, "Listen, it's about a trajectory of learning."

So we have a new state superintendent and the one right in the middle, one voice, one focus, all students achieving. Now we know all students will not achieve at the exact same rate and they will not all hit some magical point in time where they're all on grade level. But what we do have is a set of standards that we've all agreed upon and that will guide those teachers, and those families and those children to know that we're pushing toward that idea of college-career readiness. And it may not magically happen in kindergarten, it may not magically happen at 3rd grade, but they are all moving forward. So in West Virginia we are proud of the one voice, one focus, and we appreciate it, so, Andrea, thank you.

Rhian Evans Alvin - Good morning. It's terrific to be with all of you today and I really appreciate the opportunity for NAEYC to be part of this event. We believe at NAEYC that we have a significant responsibility, and quite frankly an obligation, to make sure that early childhood educators can navigate the implementation of standards while simultaneously embracing all that they know about how young children learn and develop.

So to extend and build on what Catherine said a little bit, it's very common to hear people talk about standards in this big large bucket, and to make broad sweeping generalizations about standards, and that quite frankly is not helpful. What is helpful is to really understand the precision and the specificity around the intended purpose of standards and different types of standards. So in that vein I just want to make sure that we nest the notion of early learning standards also in the notion of teaching standards, what teachers should know and be able to do. Second in programmatic standards what administrators should know and be able to do, what programs should offer families, what family engagement looks like, what curriculum looks like. That, those two concepts kind of hold the basis for then what children should know and be able to do. We can't just put this notion of standards on the back of young kids and not think about the obligation of programs and adults.

So within those early learning standards, as Catherine said, there's multiple states who have standards and multiple sets of standards, and there's early learning standards and then K3-K12 standards. The implementation of standards is different than the standards themselves. So when you think about implementation, there are elements of financing, curriculum, teacher professional development, parent engagement, administrative support. And then there's the assessment of standards, which I know we're going to get into. That's a whole separate conversation from the standards themselves. And so again think about these things, yes, connected, but discrete as well so that we avoid making these broad generalizations.

So the two things very quickly during my time I want to talk about are the relationship between these standards and developmentally appropriate practice, and then paying attention to the implementation of the standards, what we need to be doing to support early childhood educators in getting this right, because they want to get this right. I also want to mention that what I'm going to say is based on a paper that we released, our Center for Applied Research under the direction of Kyle Snow, our senior director, last winter that was entitled Developmentally Appropriate Practice and the Common Core State Standards: Framing the Issues.

So the first question around the relationship between standards and developmentally appropriate practice. The tenets of developmentally appropriate practice require that teachers are both meeting children where they are, which means teachers are getting to know children well, and enabling them to reach goals that are both challenging and achievable. The tenets also include that all teaching practices should be appropriate to children's age and developmental status, attuned to them as unique individuals, and responsive to the social and cultural contexts in which they live. The third is that developmentally appropriate practice does not mean making things easier for children. That's not what DAP is. Rather developmentally appropriate practice means that ensuring that goals and experiences are suited to the learning and development of children, and challenging enough, challenging enough to promote their progress and interest. And finally that teaching is based on best practices. It's based on research and expert knowledge, not assumptions about how children learn and develop. And that this research yields the major principles around human development and learning that are the twelve principles that guide developmentally appropriate practice, and those principles, along with the evidence about curriculum and teaching effectiveness, form a solid basis for decision making in early care and education.

So when we look at that as the body of work around developmentally appropriate practice, and then look at it in comparison to early learning standards, and not only are there state-based early learning standards, Head Start has early learning standards. There are a variety of levels of early learning standards. In all cases they are defining the expectations of what children should know and be able to do. Those standards should be guiding curriculum and assessment choices, but what they don't do, what they don't do and where developmentally appropriate practice steps in, is they don't prescribe the approaches to teachers, the approaches they must take to support those standards.

So the fear, and the fear is grounded in a lot of reality that you'll see in classrooms, is that there's this overload overwhelming teachers that can lead to potentially problematic teaching practices, that in place of what we know about whole groups, small groups, individualized learning, child-led learning, that it gets replaced with excessive lecturing to whole groups, fragmenting teacher discrete objectives rather than looking at the whole child, very rigid, tightly-paced schedules, and really it's only up until kindergarten where the standards are mentioning multiple domains of child development and we lose that. So there's an opportunity to connect the dots. We just have to be really intentional about it.

Quickly the second point. Where they're not; issues around implementation. Number one, remember that most young children are having their early childhood experience through preschool outside of a public school setting. We're in a mixed delivery system and the implementation and the funding for standards is uneven. The carrot and the stick around standards is uneven as well. So if the Department of Education holds the early learning standards and most of the early learning system is guided and governed by the Office of Childcare, then there's a disconnect in this fragmented system that we have, so we need to be really clear about how you cut across governance and financing streams around standards.

Alignment, to Catherine's point, we're starting to; kindergarten entry assessments I think are such a great opportunity to sort of push up the alignment in early learning standards. We have a lot to offer K3/K12 around what we know about how young children learn, and I think the alignment has to be at both/and rather than a pushdown, the validation of standards. And then finally families as partners in standards. It is absolutely essential that families know what they can do to support their young child's learning, and we can talk in the discussion about great ways to be able to do that. Administrators being able to support teachers in their flexibility on how they teach standards.

So the final thing that I want to say, two recommendations. One is that standards have to nest in order to be successful, and that there's a disconnect in the sophistication that we are requiring between what teachers should know and be able to do and what we're requiring of them of their educational attainment right now, and the fact that right now in most states that while we're asking for these sophisticated approaches in implementing standards, the threshold for becoming an early childhood educator is oftentimes a high school diploma and free of tuberculosis. We have got to be able to marry the requirements and expectations around what teachers should know and be able to do and really define our early childhood profession. Our policy around early childhood educators has got to catch up with the science. Thank you.

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes - All right. Hi, everybody. Good morning. Buenos dias. We'll change it up a little. So I am thrilled to be here. Was going to do a PowerPoint, but I'm just going to put one slide up, if I can figure out how to do this. Yeah, so I'm going to focus on this one. So first off let me say that I'm thrilled to be here. I want to thank everyone for the invitation and I'm happy to see so many friends. And I am so excited to hear everybody this morning say Head Start more than once. And I say that because there's been a lot of talk about the work of the Department of Education, early learning standards, the definition that we have, but what I often like to remind folks is that Head Start itself has a very long history of standards. But I would guess that most folks are more familiar with the Head Start program performance standards. Right? Everybody's heard about 1700, 2000, whatever number you think that is. But I also want to remind folks that over the last I'm going to say five to seven years the Office of Head Start at the Department of Health and Human Services actually has rewritten their early learning framework twice, and this is not an easy venture. Catherine talked a little bit about how early learning standards come together in states, and I just wanted to share that it's a very similar process at the federal level, but it is a mix because you are dealing within a political context, you're working within a very huge bureaucracy which I often like to describe as the Titanic, and you're also taking in the values.

So you heard a lot this morning from the keynote speakers about the values and where Head Start started 50 years ago, along with this mission of Sesame Street, so they really come together. But it is in all of that context that the early learning framework has been revised twice, and it is not an easy venture. And I think that, you know, I see Amanda. She's over there like; you know, she probably had a lot of sleepless nights during those couple of years. Not much, right? Good girl. But let me say this. If you haven't seen them, please take a look at them, because the latest version is actually taking into account babies. There's a lot of discussion around early learning standards for preschoolers, and as we think about how we push them up and align them we also have to start to talk about our babies. And so please take a look at those. I think that they are very exciting and it is definitely a way to go.

The other thing I also want to say is that I think that we often think about Head Start as a silo, and I think that Dr. Edelman said it greatly when she said everybody needs to stop fighting, you know, childcare, and the Head Start people and the pre-K people. And what I will say is that what I have seen over the years is that Head Start is not functioning as a silo anymore. Maybe they were many years ago, but the truth is, is that as local programs and the federal government really think about how they move forward as it relates to early learning standards, and as it relates to the program performance standards, which I think most of you know the public comment period has just closed, as they think about those pieces they're taking into account what is happening in states, because here is the thing that people do realize. They do realize that the burden is on local programs. They realize that teachers, and administrators, and kids and families, the burden is on them. It's not on us, sitting up on this panel. It's not on the feds. It's not on the folks at DOE or folks in states. It's at that local level. And I will say that as those things happen I hope that folks will really take that example and start to think about how the decisions that we make impact our local programs. They are the ones that we have to figure out how to support.

The only other thing I'm going to say, because I feel like everybody here has said this, is that we have a lot of standards. States have them. The feds have them. We have early learning standards, program standards. It really is time for us to think about how do we align our professional development systems so that we can make sure that teachers are getting the support, the skills, the knowledge, the abilities that they need to support kids and families. We started this morning with the keynote speakers talking about low-income families, and those are the families that we have to make sure are successful. At the National Alliance for Hispanic Families, we're focusing on this issue of our low-income Hispanic kids. Most of you have seen the data. This is the population that is going to be supporting this country. And I hate to keep repeating what Dr. Edelman said, but if it is in our own self-interest, then we need to figure out how culture and language fit into these experiences that our kids having so that we do come up with standards that are appropriate, they're reasonable, and that we support our teachers. And, yes, of course, we always think about where our parents and our families fit in and the context of our communities. So I'm looking forward to the discussion. Thank you.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - Okay, the way this is going to work is I'm going to ask the panel three questions one at a time and they're going to respond. Anybody can jump in and we'll hear what they have to say. So the first question, early learning standards are in effect standard or consistent expectations for all children within a state. But the children they are used for or with are culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse. What are some issues that need to be considered as we write and use early learning standards with diverse children? The second part of the question, how do these same issues affect engaging their families in understanding the use and purpose of early learning standards? Take from whoever would like to respond.

Catherine Scott-Little - So I'll start and I'll say I think you have to address both sides, so both the standards themselves and the implementation, if we're going to really use standards effectively with children from diverse backgrounds. So on this side of the equation the standards themselves. I think we've taken our first cut at what it is we want children to know and be able to do, but we can go much deeper and do it much better the second round, which is really to think about how do standard expectations for children play out when the children come from such different circumstances and we know we have cultural differences? So two things on that side. One, we really need to look carefully at research and knowledge that we've gained about different cultures, research from sociology and from other countries, to help us see how our expectations really are different across cultures and to use that understanding in the process of writing standards. The second thing is deeper stakeholder engagement as we write and revise standards and making sure that they really reflect our values. On the other side, the implementation side, I think we are learning a lot about culturally-responsive pedagogy and how to help teachers do that. So we have to take that further in how do we respond to families and really be culturally sensitive and at the same time use that lens for interpreting the standards themselves and how to implement them. That's a very sensitive sophisticated kind of teaching, and so we have a lot of work to do on both sides, getting the standards really to be culturally responsive and teachers know how to use them in that way.

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes - I guess I would; so I would add on sort of the implementation side that we also need to work with our schools of education. So we need to start to think about who are the people in our classrooms, who are the people coming through our programs, because most of you often hear this, right, people respond better or easier to someone that looks like them. I don't think that that's always necessary, but I think it is important as we think about how diverse our kids and our families are becoming, and not just by skin color or race, but all of our families. Families look different today than they looked 50 years ago. We need to take those pieces into account as we think about who's coming through those systems.

Rhian Evans Alvin - And I would just add that much like, again on the implementation side, that the expectations around professional development and the competent, knowledge and competencies of the early childhood educators is absolutely essential. You can't just wing it. You can't just trust your gut and hope it all works okay. There is research, and science and pedagogy. And if you look at a standard on math sequencing, it may not be obvious to a teacher that you could actually teach that in the mud. You could do math sequencing in the mud. Just like it may not be obvious that you change your teaching technique based on culture, or background or language. And that, we have to invest in the professional development to be able to do that. I distinctly remember when we were implementing our QIRS in Arizona we were hitting some huge barriers with various Native American populations on the language scaffolding requirements, and we thought, and the first instinct was, well, it's not relevant. Well, it is relevant. And interestingly enough, I would put as a culture Native Americans are some of the best storytellers I've ever been around. We realized we were doing it wrong. We didn't have Native American coaches teaching. We didn't have Native American assessors assessing. We weren't thinking about professional development specifically in the cultural context in various tribes. When we started doing that, the entire paradigm shifted, and it wasn't that Native American students couldn't meet class requirements. That wasn't it. It was how we were implementing it, and I think that kind of sophistication requires money and it requires intentionality.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - I just piggybacked on what Catherine said. When we were doing our report, one of the things we did, and I don't have it in front of me unfortunately, was to look at how many states actually had standards for special needs children, for second language children, and it was very discouraging. What we found in a lot of standards documents was also discouraging, where a sentence or two that said something to the effect of if you have special needs children or second language children, please be aware that they may need some individualized instruction, and that was it. That was all that was in the document. So I mean I think we have a whole lot of work to do and I don't think it's easy work at all. And I totally agree with what Rhian said. Having been a teacher-educator for 30 years, we need to do better, a lot better. So, okay, I'm going to ask the second question. How can early learning standards be used to integrate developmentally appropriate expectations and teaching practices into existing K-through-12 systems. Take a stab at that.

Rhian Evans Alvin - All right, I will. I'll take a shot at it. You're next. So I think first off I think we shouldn't minimize how difficult it is to overcome some of the culture overlays that the learning relationship is one way from K-12 education to early childhood education. I think we've made some significant progress on that. And I am living this anecdotally because I have a seven, eight and ten-year-old, so they're in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade, and K-3 teachers are in this no-man land, this space that isn't really, you know, the non-tested years. They are hungry for professional development. First of all I can tell you kids are tested in those years. I've started collecting all the various assessments. But this notion of, well, it's not the hardcore assessment and testing that starts in 3rd grade, and yet we're too sophisticated, we're too K-12 to do early childhood kind of stuff, and it's really complicated and there is huge opportunity. It's something that NAEYC is spending a lot of time thinking about, around, specifically around professional development and K-3, because, as Catherine mentioned, if you take Common Core for the states that have implemented those, that's English and math. That first of all there are other subject matters, so there's that, but then also approaches to learning, physical, social-emotional development. We have so much to teach and we can't be timid about that. I think we're too timid about what we have to offer our K-12 education, and we've got to do a better job, and I rest this partially on NAEYC and where we need to head in partnering better with K-12 organizations and being able to do that.

Clayton Burch - So from the state department kind of an area, the whole child, and I like that you brought up Common Core. West Virginia is a state that adopted Common Core, and they might have made it another version, but we all know it's still what it is, you know, ELA and math. And this right now is a break for me. I'm in the middle of a one-month statewide tour doing town hall meetings on standards.

Rhian Evans Alvin - Here, this needs to be stronger.

Clayton Burch - Yeah. So, you know everybody asks from back home, "How is it?" I'm like, "I just could not be there right now." So it's really interesting because everywhere I've gone — we've hit about half the state now; I've got about two weeks left on this tour — and the conversation has been about standards, and rigor, and relevance and college-career ready, and it's interesting that many of the parents that have been in the audiences have asked, "What about the other subjects?" And the conversation took, you know, what happens at these and about standards tends to focus on those key ELA and math and what we're going to test. And it's been really interesting to be able to stand in front of these town hall meetings, and parents, and higher education partners and early childhood community and say, "You do realize that we have standards for the whole child." I mean I was asked to come here and talk about the Common Core. It happens to be ELA and math, but the Department of Education in West Virginia has dedicated itself to the whole child. We've created standards, and most recently standards for social-emotional development through middle school. And you know what it's like to have a conversation? I mean I have two middle school children right now. One thank goodness is in high school and out of that, and I've got one more coming up into it. They're just as vulnerable as our three and four-year-olds. The conversations are actually really the same conversations in middle school that we should be having with our three and fours when they transition to school. The transition to middle school is just as important and we need to be talking about social-emotional development. So what we've gathered from these town hall meetings really is we get so wrapped up in what the standards are, and whether they're going to be tested and how they're going to be assessed. And now I'm kind of coming out of these town hall meetings going, "We need to be changing the conversation to accessibility of standards," because our parents and the folks out in the field, really they have a really misunderstanding of what the standards are, and we need to do a better job of making them accessible and understandable to the general public and parents, and, you know, hope that's what we're able to do.

Catherine Scott-Little - So and I'll just add I do think the trend that Clayton was talking in West Virginia is something that we see in other states where they are beginning to take that holistic approach, and it starts by writing the standards down of what we want to learn to know and be able to do in these other areas. But then what that does is it creates a stepping stone, a framework for teachers, "Oh, I need to learn about this area and how do I teach this?" and at the policy level for us to broaden what it is that we think is important. Now not necessarily, and maybe a good thing in all states is it associated with testing at all, but it's really standards to define what it is we want children to know and be able to do in these other areas. And following the standards come hopefully emphasis, professional development and hopefully a better-rounded curriculum that can incorporate developmentally appropriate practices more easily because we're looking at the whole child. So I think it's a tremendous opportunity as states have sort of put their toe into, "What does this look like," K-2, K-3 in these other areas to have standards to define our expectations for children.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - We'll close on this topic, but I just want to say in my career in early childhood I consistently heard the term "push down curriculum." So we're making our babies learn; what I learned in kindergarten, they're learning in pre-K, right? So I think it's our opportunity as early childhood educators and researchers to push up. There's a lot of value in that. Okay, last question for me. In light of national and state goals that aim to have all children reading proficient by the end of 3rd grade, how do early learning standards support alignment with a state's 3rd grade reading goals? It's a hard one.

Rhian Evans Alvin - All right. Well, let me say this, because I could go off the rails on this actually. I think it's well documented and well researched that 3rd grade is a pivotal moment — not the only moment — a pivotal moment on children being able to read, and to switch from learning to read to reading to learn, so I think that that's grounded. I think from; this is where though to me some of the science and the policy don't match up, because I'm not a scientist, I'm not a researcher, but what I understand to be the case is that phonemic awareness, decoding, all of the elements that are about reading are based on this foundation of a massive amount of exposure to intentional language, and it doesn't matter if it's Spanish, or Mandarin or English. Babies' brains are wired to just suck in language and start to be able to do it themselves. And if we think that investing millions of public dollars in K-3 around specific reading techniques is going to fix where we didn't invest in early learning and language development, we are sadly, sadly mistaken. And so I think there is a massive role to connect the dots, and it goes back to this notion of at a national level, at a national level having a threshold of expectations and competencies for early childhood educators. That has to happen. The unevenness, when you think about scaffolding language and what that means for an infant-toddler teacher to expose kids to language, for a preschool teacher that just kind of doesn't happen. There's a pedagogy to it. And we have this anything-goes approach to what we believe the profession should know and be able to do and we have to get past that. We have got to have an agreed-to national set of competencies and expectations for early childhood educators. If we're going to invest money in 3rd grade reading, that's where I would put it before I would put it into decoding and reading immersion in 1st grade. Okay, I went off the rails. I'm sorry.

Clayton Burch - I like that. So in West Virginia I talked earlier about voice, and we're not immune to political madness either, and we had a governor that decided that he wanted to jump on the bandwagon. He was going to have a 3rd grade reading initiative. And the really neat thing in West Virginia was the voice was so loud that we were able to work with the governor and legislation to say, "Define what you mean by a 3rd grade reading initiative. Work with us. Define it." And the definition in West Virginia was if we're going to invest dollars in a 3rd grade reading initiative, the dollars will go into birth-to-five, and that's exactly where they went. We still honor kind of what you said about we know the research, we know that 3rd grade's that pivotal year. We've also invested many, many dollars into our universal pre-K, so we started closing that gap, closing the gap. If we want to close the gap even further, we finally, because after a decade and a half of having a dialogue about early childhood, knew if you want to tackle 3rd grade reading, you've got to tackle it as early as possible. So the governor just invested, and it's not a ton of money, for West Virginia about $6 million, and almost the entire pot went to a birth-to-five approach to really target it at its core. So that once again is the power of having a strong early childhood voice, one voice, one focus.

Catherine Scott-Little - And so just to add, the role of early learning standards in that process is really to define along that continuum a trajectory of the skills that children need starting at birth and moving to 3rd grade to actually come to that pivotal moment or grade prepared. And so they're the lynchpin, if you will, between all the resources that are needed along that whole continuum, making sure that teachers know how to teach, and then that we actually have expectations for what children are able to do along the way and can identify when children need additional support along that whole continuum, not at some magic point in time when they turn 3rd, in the 3rd grade.

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes - So can I just add one last? I'm going to take us off the teacher side a little bit. So I think going back to defining the expectations that we want our kids to have and also being able to talk about them, we have to take into account what's happening with parents and families. If the science is telling us that exposure to language, whatever the language is, is what makes the difference, we have to think about where our kids are spending their time. And if our kids are not in formalized centers or formalized licensed family childcare homes, they're either at home, they're with the vecina, they're with abuelita or the tia down the street, that's going to make a huge difference as our kids move into our public school system. So I would just add that let's not forget that piece of it. Teachers are important, but so are families and so are communities.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - Okay, on that note we're going to open up to questions. If you'd like to ask a question, please give us your name, the organization you represent and we'll have mic runners come out and get you. So does anybody have any questions?

Emily Samuels - I'll go ahead and start. Hi, I'm Emily Samuels with the Urban Libraries Council and I'm so thankful for your last comment. And, Rhian, I think you also brought this up about families and that we know that there is a ton of early learning happening with the immediate caregiver in libraries. So I'm having a hard time understanding like when we're talking about standards and we're talking about teachers where the place for, and you just touched on it a little bit, Yvette, but a little bit more about how when you start talking about standards, parents and that, you know, early childcare giver, the family member doesn't quite connect with the idea of standards. So how do we make sure that those children who are getting their education, and it might not be five days a week, it might be drop in for a couple hours on one day a week, but it's still so crucial for being prepared for school and kindergarten, so how do we make that connection? What are the next steps there to make sure that it's across the board?

Catherine Scott-Little - So I think we've seen states in different ways do outreach to different stakeholder groups, and use the early learning standards sort of as the core and then branch off into what does this mean for parent education, and how can we in different formats? You know it's not the same document necessarily, but in different formats reach out to other audiences so that they have information about what it is that we're hoping for children to achieve, to learn, and then strategies specific for their relationship with that child, so be it parents or other community caregivers. And so states have done that in different ways. I think the focus first was on let's write them and let's get them into the classroom, but a number of states have branched out to other stakeholder groups.

Rhian Evans Alvin - I would just add too I think public libraries are essential to communities. I mean central to democracy, but that's a whole other story. And I saw in a state like Arizona, that has a reputation of being very hostile to various cultures, oftentimes a family will come to the public library where they'll go to no other place because they're scared, and I've seen major public library-based initiatives on family engagement and literacy that I think have a huge impact. The one thing with my NAEYC hat on I would recommend is more intentional partnerships between formal early learning settings and public libraries, whether it's stay and play after hours, or it's a field trip and bringing families, or brain boxes that libraries can check out to families along with the books. I think there's a whole host of really cool strategies. But parents are their child's first and best teacher and language, you know, language scaffolding starts at day one, so they're absolutely essentially. Our ten program standards that are the basis for NAEYC accreditation, one of the standards is family engagement, and I think it's an area that child early care and education programs really can still stand to do a lot of work around family engagement and how it's implemented well. But the notion that families are partners in this and it's not just about make sure you pick your kid up by six o'clock, that it's about let's talk about what we did today. Here were the standards we used and this is how we implanted them today. We made homemade paper, and while we were doing it X, Y and Z happened. And early childhood educators, again, back to the pedagogy, and it's not just kind of hope it all works out okay, have to be really intentional in how they engage families.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - Other questions?

Amanda Bryans - Thank you very much. I'm Amanda Bryans from the Office of Head Start and thank you for all the remarks from the panelists. They were really interesting. I have kind of two questions I guess. One is I really enjoyed what Clayton said about school readiness, and school readiness is the authorizing purpose of Head Start, so in no way do I want to kind of diminish its importance. But I think that under first Yvette and certainly Dr. Enriquez, we've been encouraged to think about school readiness as a term encompassing the idea of schools ready for children, meaning that schools are prepared to meet the needs of the children who will be coming in the through the door because they're five years old and they're eligible for kindergarten. And an important aspect of that is, and I think we're going to talk about kindergarten readiness assessments later, but the idea is that information is being used to scaffold for every child so that they make great progress during their kindergarten year, not being used to categorize kids and form expectations about their capacity because of the results of those tests. So I think that's just; I guess I would like to hear what kind of the panel would say about that, or maybe you want to hold it ‘til later. I don't know. And the other thing is kind of if one of the, if any of the panelists would speak about dual language learning as a strength rather than a problem that needs to be kind of compensated for. Most of the world, a large part of the world children routinely learn more than one language. We know that. There's a lot of mixed research, but I recently read that those of you who are bilingual have a little less likelihood of developing Alzheimer's than the rest of us. I think also that we have to bring common sense to the whole thing, so everything we know about early brain development suggests that laying those neural pathways and establishing capacity around language learning is probably a good thing. So how can we make what is often seen sort of as a deficit for otherwise at-risk low-income kids a strength that is preserved, and nurtured and built upon as they make their journey through our public school and secondary education system?

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes - I don't want to start because we know each other, but so I love what Amanda said, particularly around the dual language piece, but it also kind of goes back to the first question that was asked around families. And I think part of our thought process in terms of dual language learners has changed over the last couple of years. The research, while it's a little soft, is showing that there are a lot of strengths for dual language learners. But I do think that it does go down to this piece around values, and what does a community want and what does a community want their kids to know? I think that we spent many years telling parents that teachers are right, doctors are right, your kids need to learn English only, and then since then we've had research that says, well, actually, if they get really strong in their home language they'll do much better when they get to the public school system. So on some level for me it goes back to the stakeholder piece, and as you're developing these standards, as you're implementing standards, as you're doing anything that impacts kids and families, parents and community members have to be at the table because they have to own it. They have to own it, and they have to be the ones that say, "This is what we want for our kids." So I guess I would just go back to that piece. And I would say for Head Start, Head Start has a long, long history of parents, and I failed to mention that even in the revisions of the early learning framework, while it is a combination, it is a combination of experts, so you do have researchers, and you have practitioners, but you also have parents at the table who get to say, "This is what we want for our kids." Then, of course, yes, there are judgments made and decisions have to be made within a political context, but it is important that parents and communities have ownership of what they are saying they want their kids to know.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - We have time for maybe one more question. Anybody?

LuAnn McNabb - Hi. I'm LuAnn McNabb with the National Council of Teachers of English, and thank you all because we do try to teach very diverse books to our children. My question is could you talk about the role of play? My concern is with the standards coming down so low, so many teachers now are teaching to the test that play and recess are getting shoved to the side, and I've always understood play is so important to the education of a child.

Yvette Sanchez Fuentes - Okay, I'm just going to say one quick thing about this, because we had this discussion yesterday and I absolutely agree with you. Play has gotten lost. I'm not an expert. I don't know what the answer is, but what I do know, and a very good colleague said this to me, we have now a whole generation of new teachers that don't know how to play. So not only have we said like we need to focus more on the ABCs and the 1-2-3s, but we're not even teaching people how to play anymore. And so there are people here who are much better experts at this than I am, but I would say that we need to figure out a way to teach people how to play again, and to help them to realize, like Rhian said, that you can learn a lot by playing in mud or anything. But I just think that comment just brought tears to my eyes because it's true. We have a generation of teachers who are like, "What? You want me to put a wig on and dance around?" I mean that's really.

Rhian Evans Alvin - I would say two things. On this topic I can speak less and know less about K-3 and play, so more towards birth-to-five and play. The first thing is I would disagree a little bit. I can just say from our members, and from the content we put out and what I see at our, you know, 10,000 people at our early childhood conferences that play is alive and well, and the hunger for incorporating play, continuing to incorporate play into early childhood is deeply desired with early childhood professionals. I think as I mentioned in my remarks the fear is that, and what's actually happening is not that they don't know how to play or want to play, but that the pressure will quickly push people, push teachers to I'm going to do a whole group. I'm going to be very direct. I'm not going to do all of the things that are developmentally appropriate, play included in that. I think, and this is where I again put emphasis on the fact that we at NAEYC have this responsibility as much as anybody else to make sure if you put play in the context of developmentally appropriate practice as one approach, what we hear the most is, "Okay, we get it. You've told us what developmentally appropriate practice is. Show us. Show us what this is." We did last week during Week of the Young Child, we got these photographs from the Louisiana, the Child Development Center at Louisiana State University, and we wound up putting them up into a YouTube video. It was Taco Tuesday, and it was a completely standards-based lesson, but it was about what these teachers at the Child Development Center at Louisiana did to incorporate developmentally appropriate practice into the standards lesson on Taco Tuesday. They asked the kids research questions. They had to taste bell peppers and decide if they liked them, and they voted and they graphed that math. And they went down the street to a taco truck and they had to, they watched the sequencing of the ingredients of how tacos were stuffed. They talked about the transaction of money, and how you pay for tacos, and what you have to have and when someone gives you change. They came back and they made their own tacos in the science table. Then they documented their day, and they had pictures of the taco truck and how they did that. And then they went out to the LSU campus and took a survey of the students on LSU. These are three and four-year-olds. They took a survey of the students on the LSU campus on whether they like salsa or not, and they did taste testing to see if it was too hot. So those are brilliant teachers. That isn't just teaching like we hope it all works out okay. That is very intentional teaching that you have to learn through pedagogy, and have competencies and expectations. That is both meeting standards, a whole bunch of standards, and incorporating developmentally appropriate practice. It can be done, but we're so frenetic that we forget to show people what this looks like. It is incumbent upon us, it's incumbent upon colleges of education, it's incumbent upon associate degree programs, and teacher colleges and child development schools. Like we have to show people what it means to be able to do these standards and hold developmentally appropriate practice front and center. It's on YouTube if you want to see the Taco Tuesday thing.

Catherine Scott-Little - So I'll just add I always think of standards in this dual way. You think of the content and you think of how they're implemented, and Rhian just talked about play as a pedagogy and how to teach children the skills that we want them to learn. You could also on the content side think about there are play skills that we want our children to develop, and if we want to see teachers focus on that we need them included as our expectations for this is something children should learn. So on the content side, to kind of complement Rhian's pedagogy side, we need to see in our standards the social skills that kids need in order to play, the cognitive skills that kids need in order to play and the physical skills, because if we're focusing in the content of the standards also on play, we are much more likely to see teachers learn what it is kids need to know to be able to play and to see that pedagogy focus on play, so we need both.

Andrea DeBruin-Parecki - I would call that intentional playful learning myself. The other thing we need to do in regard to what Rhian said is to teach teachers they don't have to focus on one standard or one area, because you're talking about project-based learning, which is difficult for a lot of teachers to do, and we need to do better at that. On that note I'm going to say goodbye, but I'm also going to say why don't you take about 15 minutes. There's some water out there, some coffee, and when you get back we'll have the next panel. Thank you so much.

End of Early Learning Standards video.

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