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Early Childhood and Early Learning

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO or the Council) is the only organization in the country that is led by and represents top officials and staff within every state education agency. CCSSO has an impressive depth of experience with providing high-quality technical assistance to state education agencies (SEAs) through its member chief state school officers, deputy chiefs and leading SEA staff. Using its power and authority to convene and broker cross-collaboration among states and leading partners and organizations in the field, CCSSO has successfully moved states to collaborate and co-develop reform policies and principles, adopt them, and implement them through their education systems. Moreover, through various consortia, networks and collaborative groups, CCSSO has been able to disseminate new information and skills to individuals and groups working in SEAs and those serving them directly in order to improve their performance in solving problems and meeting objectives. More importantly, CCSSO has investigated cross-collaboration among collaborative groups to insure that state reform initiatives are seen and implemented across various state sectors.

Focus on Early Childhood and Early Learning

Research clearly shows that achievement gaps start early, and chiefs are committed to identifying ways to invest in the youngest learners through quality pre-kindergarten and early elementary school programs. States are working to build on the accomplishments and lessons of Race to the Top, waivers to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top/Early Learning Challenge, Promise Neighborhoods, Evidence-Based Home Visiting, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership and the Preschool Development Grants programs. In addition, states continue to expand Pre-K programs, implement Grade Level Reading legislation and guide reform efforts in the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start/Early Head Start and the Office of Special Education Programs-funded early childhood programs. The Council is amplifying efforts to strengthen, expand and improve the quality of pre-kindergarten and early learning to ensure all students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to ensure they graduate college and career ready.

To provide clear focus and recommendations for action, the Council developed a policy statement, Equity Starts Early, to outline the leadership level actions and system changes that are imperative to increasing access to high quality early learning programs in states. With this paper, many chiefs have taken a more direct leadership role in identifying opportunities and programs that can increase success and foundational skill building in the early grades.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as a new version of the Preschool Development Grants Program, offers significant opportunities to target funding to expand access to high quality Pre-K programs, improve the early childhood workforce and build stronger connections between Pre-K and Kindergarten-Grade 3 standards, assessments, curricula, data systems, family engagement and professional development efforts. The Council is leading efforts with chiefs and their leadership team on ESSA implementation and will seize this opportunity to strengthen early learning programs.

The Council and its member chief state school officers are united in our commitment to leading new efforts to close opportunity and achievement gaps right from the start – in the early childhood years. Chief state school officers have the authority and responsibility for education reform within their state and must address the inequities that still exist within our public schools and our education system. Early childhood education is a critical component of any equity agenda and is a key strategy in the Council’s support to states. This work will draw on CCSSO’s proven abilities to:

  • Strengthen leadership by chiefs;
  • Build the capacity of SEAs to scale up and implement action plans that lead to innovative reform; and
  • Collaborate with many other partners to give voice to chiefs in influencing federal policies and investments.

We recognize the complexities of early learning systems that exist within our nation; however, we believe that in order to address the inequities in our education system, we must begin by ensuring high quality early learning opportunities are available for all children, in particular for our students for whom ESSA is intended to serve. Following is a description of our proposed scope of work, incorporating the three overarching strategies above, which we believe will raise the profile of early education, birth to third grade, as an equity-promoting component of the states’ education reform effort.

Increasing chiefs’ leadership and SEA capacity to implement one or more of the Equity Starts Early recommendations.

  • CCSSO’s Implementing College and Career Standards (ICCS) collaborative has created an Early Learning workgroup focused on pre-kindergarten through third grade to ensure students build the foundational knowledge and skills in the early grades necessary for future academic success.
  • The following states have joined this workgroup, committing to advancing policies to increase the effectiveness of early childhood and early learning in their states: Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Washington.
  • CCSSO has helped state teams conduct a self-assessment to identify strengths and challenges that can inform the development of an early learning specific problem of practice encompassing at least one of the five policy areas outlined in the Equity Starts Early paper:
    • School Readiness and Transition to Elementary School
    • Accelerating Improvement and Innovation in Early Learning Programs
      • Assessment, intervention, prevention of retention, instruction, and social/emotional learning
    • Building a Unified Early Education Workforce
    • Family and Community Engagement
    • Advocating for Expanded Access to High-Quality Early Childhood Programs

Generating and promoting a shared, research-based vision of equity-promoting teaching and learning in Pre-K programs and K to 3rd grade classrooms.