Massachusetts has submitted its application for the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, due in Washington, D.C. today. (Read a summary of the components of the $500 million competitive grant program.) Massachusetts is eligible for up to $50 million over four years. Today, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville issued a news release (Massachusetts Submits Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Proposal) summarizing the commonwealth’s application and calling it “a blueprint for the next phase of early learning and development efforts across the state.”
The following statement is from Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children:
“The application Massachusetts submitted for the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge is, as the Patrick administration’s news release states, ‘a blueprint for the next phase of early learning and development efforts across the state.’ Since the creation of the nation’s first consolidated Department of Early Education and Care in 2005, Massachusetts has made important progress in creating the infrastructure of a statewide system of high-quality early education and care. The strategies outlined in the commonwealth’s Early Learning Challenge application would build on this foundation in significant and exciting ways. We believe Massachusetts is in a competitive position to win an award, but whether or not the state secures a grant, the commonwealth must move forward with implementing the ‘blueprint.’ Decades of research demonstrate that the achievement gap is evident long before kindergarten and that high-quality early education, particularly for low-income children, is a cost-effective investment not only in their future but in the commonwealth’s future prosperity and civic vitality. Leading economists, including Nobel laureate James Heckman, estimate a 10-16% in returns on investing in high-quality early education for low-income children. Yet, according to a recent analysis by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, state funding for the Department of Early Education and Care has fallen $104.3 million in inflation-adjusted dollars since fiscal 2009. Whatever the result of the Early Learning Challenge competition, it is long past time for the commonwealth to act on the compelling evidence and invest in the education and healthy development of young children.”
According to the news release from the Department of Education, key strategies outlined in the application include:
- Enhance the quality of all early education programs in the state by securing universal participation in the Massachusetts tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), a definition of quality and standards designed to elevate the quality of care in state early care and education systems and to ensure growth as children develop.
- Implement early learning and development standards, including the creation of English Language Development standards for birth to age five.
- Create the Massachusetts Early Learning and Development Assessment System (MELD) from birth to grade three by expanding screening for children and developing a common tool for a kindergarten entry assessment (in its first year, 17,500 kindergarten students or 26% of statewide enrollment could be assessed by an estimated 874 teachers or 29% of the kindergarten workforce).
- Increase culturally and linguistically appropriate engagement with parents, families, and community members regarding literacy, universal child screening, and other statewide priorities.
- Provide essential support to early educators and enhance their effectiveness (especially for educators whose home language is not English) by providing educational opportunities and targeted professional development opportunities.
- Create greater alignment between early education and grades K-3 to promote healthy development.
“Massachusetts’ Early Learning Plan is an aggressive action agenda that builds upon the strong foundation of our statewide early education and care system and will result in greater integration of state and local resources that supports the growth of high needs children starting at birth through age five,” Department of Early Education and Care Commissioner Sherri Killins said in the news release. “By strengthening successful activities including workforce development and scaling up new promising initiatives such as the Massachusetts Early Learning and Development Assessment System, we will help to build a more prosperous future for the Commonwealth and our nation. Massachusetts has made significant progress so far, and the RTTT-ELC program will give us the chance to expand and accelerate our work.”
The application is expected to be posted online tomorrow.