Just in case your summer reading list was light on wonkiness, the U.S. Department of Education released last month its preliminary plan for the Race to the Top – District competition. The good news: there are real opportunities for districts to focus on early learning. Even better news: the Department is inviting comments to make the draft plan stronger. Less good news: unearthing the early learning-applicable portions sprinkled throughout the draft isn't the simplest task, and comments are due Friday, June 8, at 5:00 pm EDT.
We love a precise definition and urge the Department to explicitly say it means “birth through kindergarten entry” when it says “preschool,” and that it intends to be inclusive of the full range of community-based early learning settings when it refers to a “participating school. ”
Empower and encourage alignment and integration by making it clear that school leaders’ autonomy over their budgets includes the flexibility to create or support early learning programs—and by spelling out that districts’ policy and infrastructure reforms should include efforts to align early learning and early elementary policies and practices to form a true birth-to-third grade continuum.
- Allow districts to select metrics of success and annual goals that appropriately reflect how a project focused on preschool through third grade could demonstrate how it’s moving the needle for younger children. We know early learning is a driver of higher graduation rates and college- and career-readiness, but shorter-term metrics should focus both on what’s developmentally appropriate and what’s doable.