Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released significant revisions to the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. For the first time, the Department recommended including an Early Learning Intervention Model as an option for elementary schools struggling to meet state standards.
Today, FFYF submitted our formal comments on the proposal to the Department. We strongly support the inclusion of the Early Learning Intervention Model (ELIM) because research has shown time and time again that high-quality early learning programs help young children enter school ready to learn and give them the tools for academic success.
In addition to expressing our support for the ELIM, FFYF included the following recommendations to further strengthen this option for our nation’s schools and increase the likelihood of the program’s success:
- Ensure that educators are properly trained and supported to work with young children. School and district staff working with children birth-to-four must be fully trained and equipped to support their unique physical, social and emotional, cognitive and language development needs. Joint planning across grades should include collaboration and professional development designed to serve children across the full range of developmental domains.
- Recognize community providers as potential partners in implementing the ELIM in SIG schools. In many instances, existing early learning providers play a vital role in serving the neighborhoods where states target their SIG investments. Encouraging and fostering strong connections between high quality community programs and SIG schools will promote the ELIM’s implementation and enable more rapid and efficient use of the program’s resources, particularly in schools that need time to build the capacity of their leadership and teams to work with young children.
- Include home visiting programs to connect families with trained district, school, or community professionals who can help them through pregnancy and their children’s first years. Well-designed home visiting systems strengthen children and families by increasing parents’ ability to support their children’s development and success.
- Ensure ELIM is recognized as one element of a systemic improvement strategy and not an independent solution High-quality early learning opportunities are an important way for struggling schools to better serve students and their families, but early learning must be part of broader, long-term continuous improvement strategy and not the sole plan for success.
- Update the metrics used to evaluate school improvement initiatives The Department should use the new SIG regulations as an opportunity to establish appropriate metrics of school turnaround progress and success. We echo the Ounce of Prevention’s new recommendation calling for the adoption of metrics that can be used prior to third grade. Shifting the focus of measurement from standardized test scores to professional practice allows the success of turnaround to be measured starting in kindergarten or earlier, which allows schools to reap the benefit of early learning investment almost immediately. Continued over-reliance on 3rd grade test scores will discourage turnaround leaders from investing in ELIM or other early learning strategies.