As promised, here is Team FFYF’s quick recap of what we just heard from the early learning policy gurus in DC about the contours of the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge.

First, get ready to refresh http://www.ed.gov/early-learning tomorrow morning, when a draft summary of the competition will be released.

  • Comment period. The Departments will be accepting comments on that draft until July 11. To state the obvious, that’s not much time. We’ll be working on our analysis of the draft as soon as we have it in our hot little hands.
  • Timeline. The application will be released in mid-August and will be due in October.
  • Grant size. Grants will range from $50 to $100 million, depending on the size of the state’s population of children living in poverty under age five (with some possible discretion to ensure rural states are represented too).
  • Grant period. Grants will be awarded for four years, from December 31, 2011 through December 2015.

So what are they actually asking states to do? Here’s a rundown of the absolute, competitive, and invitational priorities

  • Absolute Priorities. (States must address these.).
    • Use early learning and development standards and kindergarten entry assessments to promote school readiness..
    • Use a tiered quality rating and improvement system to promote school readiness..
  • Competitive Priority. (States that address this will earn extra points.).
    • Include all early learning and development programs in the tiered rating and improvement system..
  • Invitational Priorities. (The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services care about these things and hope states do too.).
    • Sustain program effects into the early elementary grades..
    • Encourage private sector support.

And they even said a little bit about how they hope states will get this done and articulated four key levers for change:

  • Aligned Systems—aligning all programs under a common set of standards, focused on quality and outcomes
  • Promote Early Learning and Development Outcomes—by setting high-quality standards, using comprehensive assessments across a broad range of domains, and providing supports for their implementation, while also encompassing healthy development and family engagement
  • High-Quality, Accountable Programs—developing a robust QRIS system with tiered standards, as well as promoting participation in the system and validating its effectiveness
  • Effective Workforce—Developing the knowledge, competencies, and progression of credentials that ensure a qualified, effective, and supported workforce (including partnerships with higher education)

Thanks for joining this edition of “we listen so you don’t have to.” Look for more information and analyses from us in coming days.