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Investing in Innovation: More about the 2011 Early Learning Winners

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Last November, we wrote briefly about the second round winners of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competition. Our review of the winning applications and peer reviewers’ comments found that five of the 23 overall winners applied under the early learning competitive priority, but only four were awarded the extra point by peer reviewers. In this post, we will take a much closer look at thewinning proposals awarded the early learning competitive priority point.


To receive the early learning competitive priority point, applicants were asked to focus on:


  • Improving young children’s school readiness (including social, emotional and cognitive readiness) so that children are prepared for success in core academic subjects;
  • Improving developmental milestones and standards and aligning them with appropriate outcome measures; and
  • Improving alignment, collaboration and transitions between early learning programs that serve children from birth to age three, in preschools and in kindergarten through third grade.


Temple University’s EXCELL-E project was the one early learning application that did not earn a competitive priority point (based on peer reviewers' score sheets). Temple’s project won a development grant that it will use to bring to the web its current early learning professional development tools for teachers who work with high-poverty students. One reviewer stated, “The applicant did not provide innovative strategies that would enhance the increasing (sic) the quality of early experiences.” Even though Temple did not earn “early learning extra credit,” it is still a worthy project with the potential to positively impact the pre-K through first grade teachers who participate.


Among the other early learning winners, the Regents of the University of Minnesota won a validation grant for expansion of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers, and three winners received smaller development grants. (For more on grant descriptions read this post.) Three winners will focus on professional development initiatives, one with a web-based approach, and Success for All will develop a multimedia literacy program for pre-K and kindergarten.


Each of these projects must conduct an independent evaluation whose results will provide valuable evidence about which early learning strategies are most effective at improving children’s learning outcomes.


Around the Corner: A Technology-Enhanced Approach to Early Literacy

Success for All Foundation (SFA)

Success for All won a development grant to create interactive, multimedia components for its existing programs Curiosity Corner (pre-K) and Kinder Corner (kindergarten) in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Illinois and Kentucky school districts. The new components will include computer activities, video and print materials for children to use at home, and interactive, video-enhanced professional development models.


Curiosity Corner and Kinder Corner teachers will have access to pictures and video clips for the purpose of illustrating “real-world” concepts. A pre-K teacher, for example, could show her class how seeds develop into plants. Some children’s literature will also be presented electronically with video enhancements to illustrate vocabulary and story themes. Kinder Corner teachers will also use interactive activities and video content adapted from SFAs first grade programs, Reading Reels and Between the Lions.


SFA also plans to develop professional development tools that use multimedia simulations to help teachers learn how to use new technology, including video clips of teachers implementing Around the Corner effectively.


The Midwest Expansion of the Child-Parent Center Education Program

Regents of the University of Minnesota

Child-Parent Centers (CPC) are part of the Chicago Public Schools’ effort to provide comprehensive education and family support services, for children in pre-K through third grade. Using Title I funds, CPCs provide up to two years of preschool, beginning at age 3, in which children are taught by certified teachers, and benefit from programs to ease the transition for families into kindergarten. CPC pre-K through third grade programs have demonstrated positive outcomes on school readiness, third grade achievement and high school graduation, as well as lower rates of school mobility in later grades. Children who participate are also less likely to need remedial education.


With funding from i3, this project will expand the CPC model to other districts. New centers will be established in 33 schools in six school districts serving high-need children. The new CPC sites will implement the following strategies:

1.    High-quality preschool for up to two years, in small classes taught by certified teachers.

2.    Curricula and instructional practices that emphasize language, literacy and math skills.

3.    Comprehensive family services (based on the needs of families in each school) led by parent resource teachers and school-community representatives.

4.    A leadership team headed up by a “head teacher” in collaboration with the school’s principal.

5.    Kindergarten and school-age continuity through co-located or close-by centers, small classes with teacher aides and alignment of instruction.

6.    On-going professional development delivered by school coordinators to support teachers and principals in implementing and aligning evidence-based curricula and instructional practices.


Additionally, the grant will allow certain program features to reestablish in 10 Chicago sites and expand to five additional sites. These features include smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade, teacher aides and school-community representatives.


Project leaders will make certain modifications to the CPC program at the new sites. At sites that serve less than 80 preschool children, the head teacher position will be responsible for two sites instead of one. The project will also examine how parent involvement is influenced by the presence of “parent resource rooms” at preschool facilities. (If space is an issue, the site will not be required to have a parent resource room.)  The professional development model will also be enhanced. Pre-K through third grade school coordinators from the Erickson Institute will implement workshops on curriculum alignment, vertical grouping (across grade level) of students, family involvement and formative assessment; learning labs focused on evidence-based curricula and assessment systems; in-class coaching; and support for cross-grade-level collaboration.


Ounce Professional Development Initiative (PDI)

Ounce of Prevention

The Ounce’s proposal builds on the existing professional development approach used in its Educare programs, birth through five, implementing it in four community-based early learning programs in Chicago that serve high-need students from birth to age five, and receive Chicago Public Schools Community Partnership Program and Early Head Start or Head Start funding. Approximately 67 infant, toddler and preschool teachers and 40 leaders and supervisors will participate over the cover of the three year initiative, helping to improve kindergarten-readiness outcomes for about 912 students.


The PD model will use three strategies: training labs, coaching and “reflective practice groups.” The monthly training labs for early childhood teachers and leaders are designed to help develop educators’ understanding of how to work effectively with young children. The on-site coaching component will be used to help teachers and leaders implement what they’ve learned in training labs. Coaching will be delivered in an organized, content-based, individualized manner that focuses on improving teacher-child interactions. The coach and teacher will plan together before the observation and then discuss how successful the lesson was. Over time, individualized coaching sessions will be replaced with video-based observation and group-study so teachers can learn to provide feedback on each other’s teaching. The reflective practice groups provide a place for teachers and leaders to come together and share ideas. In their first year teachers will only meet with other teachers in their cohort. In the second year, half of the groups will meet across age spans, providing teachers of infants, toddlers and preschoolers with the opportunity to meet together and work on alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessments from birth through the kindergarten Common Core Standards. Leaders will meet for all three years with other leaders across the four schools.


Responding Effectively to Assessments with Curriculum and Teaching (REACT)

Del Norte Unified School District

The REACT project will partner with the California First Five Commission to hire and train an early childhood teacher as a data coach to assist other teachers in collecting and displaying student data, with the goal of improving children’s kindergarten readiness. The project intends to help change the way early childhood teachers provide instruction through the sharing of ongoing assessments, lessons and intervention strategies.



Funding for this second i3 grant round ($150 million) was significantly less than funding for the first round ($650 million). Nevertheless, we would have liked to see more winning projects focus on early learning. We would have also liked to see more program ideas that would benefit children during the full early learning continuum up through third grade. Our analysis showed that only the expansion of Chicago’s Child-Parent-Centers met that goal.


Despite these shortcomings, the i3 competition provides an important opportunity to evaluate pre-K through third grade and birth through third grade initiatives, and measure how much they benefit children. The Foundation for Child Development* has shared research on some of these initiativesacross the country, and it looks promising. But to date, only two pre-K through third grade projects have actually been funded by i3.


The Department of Education has released the application for a third round of i3 funding, and once again early learning is included as a competitive priority. The requirements remain the same. In the 2012 round, we hope applicants will more deeply address the competition’s third requirement for the early learning priority: “improving alignment, collaboration and transitions between early learning programs that serve children from birth to age 3, in preschools, and in kindergarten through third grade.”


Development grant applications for the third round are due April 9. Yesterday the department announced that 2012 scale-up and validation grant applications are due on May 29. Nearly $150 million is available.


* Full disclosure: the Foundation for Child Development is a funder of the Early Education Initiative.


Read other posts from Early Ed Watch here.

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