Transforming the Early Childhood Education Workforce

May 24, 2016

The 2015 Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s (IOM & NRC) Transforming the Workforce report highlights the state’s role in creating a pathway for early care and education (ECE) teachers to acquire education and professional development to meet the demands of their important role. Research shows that ECE teachers’ skills and competencies are predictive of child outcomes, and that education with specialization in early childhood development is correlated with positive child outcomes. The IOM & NRC recommend that policymakers craft a coherent blueprint for improving ECE teachers’ education and wages, thereby improving ECE quality.

Northeastern Children's Center-79State policy makers are considering choices in light of their important role in designing and implementing policies that can address the recommendation articulated by the IOM & NRC. Yet, questions exist about what options are available, including what approaches states are currently employing and what the research has found about the efficacy of different policy options.

To address this need, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) recently released a report that reviews published research on ECE teachers’ education and credentials, on the current status of ECE wages, recruitment and retention challenges, and on promising practices. It summarizes trends in state requirements regarding bachelor-degreed ECE teachers and specialized certification, licensure, or endorsements of ECE teachers and concludes with eight recommendations for state ECE policymakers.

  1. Create a coherent set of policies and actions designed to ensure a stable and educated ECE workforce rather than viewing policy options as trade-offs. State policymakers should carefully consider the ramifications of viewing policies in isolation rather than through a coherent policy lens. A policy that focuses simply on increasing the number of degreed teachers that does not take into account the pertinence and quality of the higher education coursework, the compensation of teachers, and the overall quality and conditions within the ECE setting, could lead to public dollars supporting coursework that does not lead to a more knowledgeable, competent and skilled ECE workforce.
  2. Take into account the existing levels of education of early childhood educators working with children of different ages and in different settings. Policies requiring ECE teachers to increase their education should take into account the current status of education across settings, set realistic goals, and fund coursework and supports at an appropriate level.
  3. Ensure funding is available for both coursework and adequate compensation. States should explore all possible funding streams to finance coursework (and background work to create articulation agreements and courses that meet ECE teachers’ needs), as well as compensation for ECE teachers who have upgraded their qualifications.
  4. Craft state policy that enables and supports cost sharing among ECE funding streams and at the same time supports full enrollment. Only a few states are currently supporting shared services agreements, partnership among providers, cost sharing, or other strategies to maximize funding at the provider level. These are important actions to maximize funding at the provider-level. Yet, in isolation, such actions will not provide the funding that is needed to retain an educated ECE workforce and therefore this step should be taken in conjunction with the other recommendations.
  5. Take steps to secure sustainable public funding for ECE teachers. Interviews with national experts and state stakeholders, as well as reviews of existing research, reveal that the state funding formula can be a stable funding source. Some recommended that legislation supporting the use of school funding formula dollars for ECE include language that requires all existing funding sources—including child care subsidies, Head Start funding, and local tax dollars—be used first and ECE dollars be used to augment quality and teacher wages.
  6. Review existing legislation, regulations, administrative rules, and policies to guide the development of new policies. By reviewing promising practices from states that have achieved the goal of increasing the education levels of ECE teachers and retaining educated ECE teachers, state policymakers can learn from one another.
  7. Support greater collaboration among institutions of higher education to make a coherent pathway toward a bachelor’s degree easier for ECE teachers. To ensure that coursework is accessible to existing ECE teachers, it is important that higher education institutions develop articulation agreements and consider developing stackable certificates. State stakeholders who have developed the agreements and certificates report that these efforts pay off when it comes to increasing access to bachelor’s level coursework for ECE teachers.
  8. Consider the overall quality and improved conditions that can attract ECE teachers. To retain educated ECE teachers, it is important that the overall quality of ECE is high, and policymakers should consider regulations regarding ratios, group sizes, and overall working conditions as well as ECE licensing.

Strategies and promising policies adopted by ECE and K–12 policymakers alike point to possible solutions to enhance the recruitment and retention of educated and credentialed ECE teachers. The recently released CEELO report summarizes key strategies employed by selected states and provides policymakers with research links to guide their decision-making process.
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–Diane Schilder, Senior Research Scientist, EDC


Finishing the job we started: the next best step in early childhood education

December 16, 2015

By Valora Washington and Jeffrey Gross. Valora Washington is the Founder and Director of the CAYL Institute (www.cayl.org) and CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition (www.cdacouncil.org). Jeffrey Gross is Director of the New Americans Integration Institute at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition (www.miracoalition.org).

Massachusetts has often been on the cutting edge of early child care and education reform. Both political parties, a generation of educators, and business leaders across the Commonwealth have affirmed that investing in young children matters a great deal to the state’s economic vitality and social progress.

The progress we have made will be sustained to the extent that we stay abreast of changing economic and demographic realities, even as we continue to push for higher standards and quality improvements. Those new realities include the fact that both our young children and the early childhood workforce that supports them are increasingly English language learners.

Child listening to bookThese two new realities are not changes on the margin. They must be central to our thinking about how we sustain our place as a national leader in early childhood education. One out of four young children in Massachusetts now speaks a language other than English at home. In Massachusetts, and nationally, the immigrant share of early childhood workers has tripled since 1990 and is now 20 percent of the workforce. During this time, the state’s early childhood workforce has also grown by about two-thirds, from 27,000 to 45,000—nearly 40 percent of that growth from immigrant workers. Most of these early educators are women, over age 40 and working in family or home-based child care.

Just 13 percent of all early educators in Massachusetts are considered English language learners. Among immigrants, this figure grows to 55 percent, most of them speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, or Chinese. Immigrant workers are also three times more likely than their native-born peers to lack a high school degree and almost twice as likely to lack a bachelor’s degree—the aspirational standard for early educators in Massachusetts.

What is at stake here? We must recognize that no matter how motivated, English language learners in our child care workforce face steep odds navigating a career pathway to the bachelor’s degree increasingly required for early education teachers. This growing workforce is often segregated in same-language communities and low-skilled positions, robbing young dual language learner children of linguistic and cultural supports that can help them succeed. The potential gains for these children—in terms of improved health, a decreased achievement gap, and stronger long-term outcomes—stand to benefit all of us.

These changing realities represent a challenge and an opportunity for the Commonwealth. We are no strangers to change: we created the Department of Early Education and Care, the first such agency in the nation, and pioneered the roll-out of model language standards for English language learners in early childhood. Looking to the future, both the CAYL Institute and MIRA’s partners at the Migration Policy Institute have independently issued reports that call attention to these new realities—and ways Massachusetts can work to address them. Based on extensive research and lessons learned in other states, we know there are effective ways to create stronger educational and career pathways for these early childhood educators.

Implementing these strategies starts with the commitment of political and higher education leaders. Collaborative work across many Massachusetts agencies is needed to mine local and regional data, target outreach initiatives, offer comprehensive supports, and create flexible higher education teaching and learning options. Regardless of what language these educators speak, we all must realize that they touch the lives of tens of thousands of children growing up here—children whose school readiness we all have a stake in.

Given the complexity and cross-departmental nature of the challenge—and how much is at stake for the future of both our children and the early education workforce—we call on Governor Baker to convene a task force to better realize the aspirations that he and many others have set forth: a highly qualified and competent early care and education workforce that can provide the best possible start in life for all children. Let’s finish the job we started, face current realities, and create the synergy that will keep Massachusetts a leader.

 


Empty windows of opportunity?

October 26, 2015

John T. Bruer, Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow, Economic StudiesCenter on Children and Families, recently wrote about the seductive appeal of brain science in assuring optimal brain development and life-long wellbeing. He noted that “The advocacy literature tends to tell only half of the story about the effects of experience on synapse formation. The full story raises doubts as to how much specific guidance neuroscience can provide policy makers about what should go into those windows of opportunity.”

We often hear that brain science has established the importance of early windows of opportunity during brain development that can be exploited to assure optimal, life-long development. Although neuroscience has established the existence of a few such windows, it is largely silent about what we should put in them. The relevant brain research does not provide much specific guidance to policy makers and educators.

Policymakers should be aware that (i) brain science might tell us that windows of opportunity exist, but it cannot now tell us what to put in them and (ii) windows of opportunity are at best only half of the developmental story.

The neuroscience is summarized in the figure below. Between birth and adolescence, depending on the brain area, the number of synapses grow in excess of adult levels, then are eliminated, until synaptic densities settle at mature levels. Critical or sensitive periods tend to occur during these periods of synaptic excess. These are the windows of opportunity nature provides.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 5.07.23 PM

 

Some presentations of the science (e.g., The National Research Council–Institute of Medicine’s From Neurons to Neighborhoods) provide a highly qualified discussion: the human data are limited; most data derives from studying animal sensory systems; the finding may not be generalizable to all brain development; sensitive periods are largely unexplored in humans.

These presentations also address the phenomenon of life-long, experience-dependent synaptic change (shown at the top of the figure) that allows us to learn throughout life. The policy literature tends to drop the qualifications and to ignore the implications of life-long neural change.

In contrast, scholarly treatments caution that we are largely ignorant of which specific experiences–and when–matter during development, and that we should not focus on sensitive periods at the expense of life-long learning. Thus, policymakers should be aware that (i) brain science might tell us that windows of opportunity exist, but it cannot now tell us what to put in them and (ii) windows of opportunity are at best only half of the developmental story.

To see the full paper, Windows of opportunity: Their seductive appeal, visit the Brookings website here.


The State of Preschool 2015: Please join the conversation

June 17, 2015

This year at the CEELO Roundtable in New Orleans, Steve Barnett talked about the findings reported in The State of Preschool 2014. He noted that we might be considered to be “on the sunny side of the street,” at the moment: quality is up in some states, Mississippi has a program, more children are enrolled. However: many states don’t have enough money to provide preschool at high standards, and the highest percentage of children are enrolled in states with lowest quality.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 4.28.06 PMThere is still tremendous variation across the states in pre-K—and we don’t see that variation in any other education area. Preschool has shown, however, what states can do in a short period of time. The biggest gain in the decade occurred in Vermont, which was not predicted—and added 82% of children to programs, going from 9% to 91%. Florida went to UPK, from no program. States that are very different can make really tremendous progress over a period of time.

As a national average we’re moving pretty slowly—we need a greater sense of urgency about early education. It would take 75 years to serve 50% of all 4-year-olds. To get to 70%, a figure some use to represent universal access, would take 150 years.

Quality standards are still a big issue, particularly teacher qualifications and pay. We use the examples of Perry and Abecedarian, but we invest on a lower-league scale, which won’t have the same results. Funding differences by state are really extreme; they would not be tolerated in K-12.

Expansion and development grants give us opportunities to build success, measure success. If we put evaluations into place we can have a body of evidence available to build support more quickly for the kind of success we’d like to see.

The State of Preschool is one useful tool to measure progress and improvement. As NIEER gears up to develop the next version and begin gathering data, we are asking for your input. Keep in mind the fact that we gather data from state administrators, who gather it from different sources within states themselves.

  • What kind of changes would you like to see in the Yearbook?
  • Any benchmarks to add? Drop?
  • What additional information would be useful to you?
  • Any variations on what we have?
  • Is there anything about the design and delivery of the Yearbook you would like to change?
  • If we could release the Yearbook any time of year, what would be optimal in terms of informing your state policy or budget processes?
  • We would like to add some special topics from year to year, and report out on findings: any suggestions for what topics would be most helpful to you?

Here are some topics that came up in the Roundtable Presentation discussion. Feel free to build on those or add your own and weigh in using Comments below. (Please note that comments are manually approved, so there may be a delay before your comments show on the site.)

  • More defined enrollment data; reducing duplication; including race, ethnicity, free lunch status, gender, home language
  • Some indicators of actual quality and outcomes
  • More clearly defined hours per day of service
  • Policies related to dual language learners
  • Information about teacher salaries and benefits; comparable to K-12?
  • Teacher retention
  • Evaluation results
    • Do you have an evaluation?
    • Does it show substantial impact?
    • What kind of evaluation? Required legislatively?
  • Child outcome measures and their use
  • QRIS information
  • Context and outcomes, linking to quality benchmarks.
  • Process quality measures (CLASS)
  • OSEP 619; report now, would like to approach that for all students.
  • Engagement of family in pre-K world and K
  • Clarifying funding streams: local schools, counties, Title 1, Head Start.
  • Leadership: Principals, coaching in classrooms
  • Public school pre-K facility licensing/approval
  • Kindergarten assessment
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Early learning standards alignment with K-2

Questions raised. Do you have any to add?

Can we pick one benchmark we should all embrace as states to emphasize or work on to move forward to move things faster?

Can you set a rubric on evaluation? Is the state looking at its results? Is it being used to make changes? How often to visit classrooms? What process measures to use? Which classrooms to visit?

Funding adequacy—is there enough money here to provide a program of sufficient quality and intensity to achieve the goals we want for kids?

Is there a rubric for a continuous improvement process in place: how to structure for reliable scoring for states?

Follow up with early learning challenge grants: measure of how much progress is being made in these grants.

A rubric to assess state agency capacity; organizational model for P-3rd grade?

–Kirsty Clarke Brown


When Research and Emotions Collide

May 20, 2015

Certain practices evoke strong reactions among early educators. Kindergarten “red-shirting (Katz, 2000),” academic “hothousing” (Hills, 1987), and developmentally inappropriate practice raise ire, yet pale in comparison to the issue of retaining children early in their school careers. As an increasing number of states adopt policies supporting, even requiring retention, emotions run high among early educators, policymakers, and parents on the topic.

Retention has been common practice for many decades but is retention the right way to go? Everyone agrees that a student will be well served by possessing necessary skills to learn and apply new information, yet we recognize that not all children grasp new information and skills at the same level or at the same time. Thus, the debate over the merits and faults of retention persists.

So what does research have to say about retention? Among many in my generation, retention of young children was seen as bad practice and policy, shaped years ago by research conducted by Shepard and Smith (1987) and reinforced by Jimerson (2001) and others. But as a scientist I know research contributes to understanding, and I strive to let emerging research inform my opinion rather than the reverse. So I hit the journals to review the literature, learning the issue is more nuanced than one might imagine.

You can simply ask, “Does retention work?” but the answer may be hidden behind several doors, not all of which lead to the same conclusion. The answer you get depends on the questions you ask, such as:

  • Does the design of the research influence results?
  • What criteria are used by states and schools to base retention decisions on, and do different criteria yield different research findings?
  • What does research says about the short- and long-term academic and social/emotional/behavioral effects of retention?
  • Does the age or grade when retention occurs make a difference in students outcomes?
  • Is retention an effective educational strategy for young children below third grade?
  • Does retention affect certain groups of students differently?
  • Are there effective alternatives to retention?

These questions were among those examined by the Southeast Regional Comprehensive Center Early Childhood Community of Practice and CEELO, when early education leaders from several state departments of education were invited to explore retention as an effective education strategy for young children.

I’ll spare you the details of research shared in this “succinct” blog, but here are a couple of my research-informed takeaways about a practice which affects nearly 450,000 elementary school children annually, a quarter of whom are kindergartners and 60% boys. Both teacher- and test-based methods for determining retention are associated with short-term academic gains (typically restricted to literacy) that fade, even disappear, over several years. Research shows mixed results on the impact of retention on short-term social/emotional/behavioral development while there is evidence of adverse long-term effects, including school drop-out. Retained children are 20–30% more likely to drop out of school. The fairness of retention policy has been called into question, fueled by a recent report from the Office for Civil Rights, confirming that retention disproportionately affects children of color, those who are low-income, and those with diagnosed learning difficulties, with wide variation in rates across states. Additional research shared with the Community of Practice about retention’s complexities can be found here.

I came away further convinced that the decision to retain a young child, while well-intentioned, is an important, potentially life-changing event; one that should include consideration of multiple factors as to its advisability for a particular child. Inflexible policies based on a single point-in-time assessment, on a single topic or skill (e.g., literacy), may be politically popular, expedient, and, as some would argue, fair, but the research doesn’t convincingly support the practice to ensure intended short- and long-term outcomes for all students.

Further, costs associated with retention are typically absent from policy discussions. We know significant numbers of children are retained in the early years, including kindergarten (Table 1), and average K-12 student costs hover around $12,000 per year. The cost of retention and lack of comparison to less costly, effective alternatives such as remediation or peer tutoring should cause staunch proponents to rethink their position. Combined with long-term costs associated with drop-out, crime, and unemployment, retention makes little cents or sense when signs point to the supplemental interventions–not to sitting through another year in the same grade repeating every subject–as having great impact.

While some encouraging short-term results have been associated with retention, policymakers shouldn’t wave the checkered flag just yet. We would be wise to examine the full body of research evidence, considering both short- and long-term consequences and the critical importance of providing children, parents, and teachers with timely educational and emotional support throughout a student’s career. Layer in the evidence questioning retention as a cost-effective use of resources, and the caution flag should be brought out. When it comes to declaring victory through retention, too much contrary evidence exists and too many important questions remain to allow our emotions to set policy in stone.

 
All
American Indian/  Alaska 
Native
Asian
Native HI/ Other Pacific Islander
Black/ African American
Hispanic/ Latino of any race
Two or more races
White
US 4% 7% 2% 8% 5% 4% 5% 4%
AL 6% 8% 5% 14% 5% 9% 9% 5%
AK 4% 6% 4% 8% 2% 4% 3% 3%
AZ 3% 5% 2% 7% 4% 3% 3% 3%
AR 12% 11% 13% 14% 26% 13% 11% 8%
CA 3% 9% 2% 5% 5% 3% 4% 4%
CO 2% 5% 2% 4% 2% 2% 3% 2%
CT 5% 12% 3% 16% 8% 8% 8% 3%
DE 3% 5% 2% 0% 4% 4% 3% 2%
DC 3% 33% 2% 0% 4% 4% 3% 1%
FL 5% 9% 3% 4% 7% 5% 7% 4%
GA 6% 4% 3% 11% 5% 7% 8% 5%
HI 12% 21% 7% 13% 11% 14% 12% 13%
ID 2% 3% 3% 3% 1% 3% 1% 1%
IL 2% 2% 1% 2% 2% 1% 3% 2%
IN 5% 5% 3% 0% 6% 6% 6% 4%
IA 2% 11% 2% 3% 3% 4% 3% 2%
KS 2% 4% 2% 0% 2% 3% 2% 2%
KY 4% 8% 3% 5% 2% 5% 5% 4%
LA 4% 3% 2% 0% 5% 4% 4% 4%
ME 4% 5% 4% 14% 6% 5% 5% 4%
MD 2% 0% 2% 27% 3% 4% 2% 2%
MA 3% 5% 3% 8% 5% 5% 7% 2%
MI 7% 12% 5% 7% 6% 9% 11% 6%
MN 2% 7% 1% 11% 4% 3% 2% 2%
MS 8% 10% 7% 5% 8% 14% 1% 8%
MO 3% 5% 2% 6% 4% 4% 4% 3%
MT 4% 6% 0.0% 6% 4% 6% 4% 4%
NE 4% 9% 2% 19% 3% 4% 4% 3%
NC 5% 9% 3% 5% 6% 5% 6% 4%
ND 5% 8% 14% 27% 13% 10% 3% 4%
NV 2% 3% 1% 2% 4% 2% 1% 2%
NH 3% 0% 1% 0% 5% 5% 0% 3%
NJ 3% 6% 1% 3% 5% 4% 5% 2%
NM 4% 6% 2% 0% 5% 4% 3% 4%
NY 3% 4% 2% 4% 4% 3% 3% 2%
OH 4% 6% 5% 6% 7% 7% 7% 3%
OK 7% 9% 5% 8% 8% 8% 6% 7%
OR 2% 7% 1% 2% 2% 2% 2% 2%
PA 2% 0.0% 1% 0% 3% 2% 2% 2%
RI 2% 16% 1% 0% 4% 3% 5% 1%
SC 5% 6% 2% 3% 5% 5% 7% 4%
SD 4% 12% 4% 0% 6% 7% 5% 3%
TN 5% 3% 2% 15% 4% 5% 7% 5%
TX 4% 6% 3% 8% 3% 4% 7% 5%
UT 1% 1% 0.0% 1% 1% 1% 1% 1%
VT 3% 0% 2% 0% 6% 0% 1% 3%
VA 4% 4% 2% 4% 5% 5% 4% 3%
WA 2% 6% 1% 4% 2% 3% 2% 2%
WV 6% 0.0% 3% 0% 7% 7% 7% 6%
WI 2% 2% 2% 6% 3% 2% 2% 2%
WY 5% 10% 4% 33% 17% 7% 3% 4%

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011–12.

–Jim Squires, Senior Research Fellow


Common Core and DAP: Seeking clarity

April 20, 2015

April 20, 2015

Kyle Snow, Ph.D, Director, Center for Applied Research, National Association for the Education of Young Children, discusses Common Core State Standards and Developmentally Appropriate Practice.

The numerous, and diverse, entries in this series related to the Common Core State Standards is testimony to the complexity they present to early childhood education. The Common Core directly applies to young children (and teachers) in kindergarten and later, with implications for children (and their teachers) prior to kindergarten as well. In fall 2012, the National Association for the Education of Young Children released a brief outlining what were considered opportunities and concerns for early childhood education within the Common Core. Since then, we have heard far more about the concerns than the opportunities presented by the Common Core. The most typical of these is that the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate for young children, or some variation of this. Such a statement is indeed alarming, and may or may not turn out to be true. What is intriguing about it, however, is that it lacks specificity–what exactly is the concern being stated? If we can articulate the concern (or concerns) precisely, we can better formulate approaches to address it (or them).

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Having talked about the Common Core with teachers, researchers, and policy makers, there seem to be three central issues buried within the “Common Core is not developmentally appropriate” concern:

Is the content of the Common Core appropriate for young children?

  1. Will the Common Core affect teaching?
  2. Will the Common Core lead to inappropriate use of assessment?

Variations of these have been raised in this blog series. These are also discussed in a new brief on this page from NAEYC.

As this dialogue unfolds, it is important to consider how much the concerns noted above are the result of the Common Core, and how much they are driven by other or additional forces. In other words, where is the pressure coming from? It is critical to understand the origins of what have been ongoing trends in early childhood education to formulate effective responses to them.

It is also critical to distinguish between what may be considered real threats and what are perceived threats to early childhood education ideals. A critical starting point in doing so is to ensure that we are well versed in the complexities of implementing developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) as well as the details of what the Common Core standards say (and do not say). As has been noted in previous blogs, the Common Core standards describe the learning goals and expectations at each grade (the “what”) not the processes of supporting children to reach towards these goals (the “how”). It is important to explore the reasonableness of all children reaching these goals (that is, validate the “what”), as well as ensuring that we not narrow our educational focus.

At the same time, we must ensure that early educators are prepared and supported to bring DAP into their classrooms (that is, nurture the “how”).

This page was edited April 21 to include a link to the new brief from NAEYC.


We are all teachers and learners

April 17, 2015

This response on literacy standards, conversation, and the Common Core State Standards is from Sharon Ritchie, Ed.D., Senior Scientist, FPG Child Development Institute-UNC CH.

I am a strong supporter of the Common Core. From the outset let me qualify that by saying that it is by no means perfect, and that people have perfectly good reasons to question the Standards and to look for revision and improvement. There is no single thing that should not bear up under scrutiny and inquiry.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

The following quote from the Common Core: “Children are deep thinkers and it is the role of the teacher to capably guide and support them,” succinctly summarizes why I support and advocate for the Common Core Standards. The quote demonstrates real respect for both children and teachers, something that has been sadly lacking in an environment that has, for more than a decade, focused on isolated skill building, right answers, and prescribed curriculum. That environment has been even more strongly enforced for children of color and those who come from less advantaged homes, and put vulnerable children at an even greater disadvantage by depriving them of the use of their voice and their minds. Children need to know that what they care about, what they have to say, and how they feel is important. They need to move beyond basic knowledge to the application of their knowledge to problem solving, analysis, and creative development. They need to have multiple opportunities starting at a very young age to not only talk, but to listen, to participate in a community where everyone’s ideas are important and valued.

Two decades of data examining the minute-by-minute experiences of children indicate that on average there is about 28 minutes of meaningful conversation per day between the teacher and all the children in the classroom. There is about 24 minutes of meaningful collaboration between students. That is not enough. If children are getting less than an hour to express themselves, then teachers are using up more than their share of the space. If we are not hearing from children, how do we know what they understand, what confuses them, what they think? Part of children’s success depends upon their ability to engage in collaborative work. Regular opportunities to collaborate help children develop executive functions that support their ability to solve problems in multiple ways and to work with others to plan and organize. Children who are simply sitting and getting are not having adequate opportunities to develop executive functions.

In its best form, the Common Core advocates for classroom environments  where children feel safe to take risks and experiment with their thinking and have opportunities to communicate their ideas frequently and regularly. Specifically, the English Language Arts Standard requires that students have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner and the Standard for Math across K-3rd grade similarly  stipulates that children should be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

A talented kindergarten teacher describes her practice of letting her students know right from the beginning of the year that:

  • There are lots of different points of view and they are all important
  • Right answers are not as important to her as the students being able to figure out how to solve a problem
  • Everyone makes mistakes–they are natural and we can learn from them
  • Doing your best is the most important thing
  • We are all teachers and learners.

The Common Core supports that teacher. Don’t you wish all children had teachers like that? I do.


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