Summer Reading List: Bellwether’s Early Childhood Work

This week Eduwonk features guest posts from different members of Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership team who lead some of our most impactful work. The post below is by Ashley LiBetti Mitchel.

ICYMI: Bellwether’s early childhood team does really interesting work. Since I last wrote for this blog, we’ve further explored the potential alignment between charter schools and pre-k; developed a large (and growing) body of research on Head Start; and are currently working on a range of early childhood topics, such as coaching as teacher professional development and improving teacher preparation for early childhood professionals.

Our pre-k charter work started with a national survey of how hospitable state policy environments are for charter schools to serve preschoolers. Through that survey, we found that most states create barriers to charter pre-k programs — sometimes inadvertently — but in nearly every state, charters have managed to find a way to serve preschoolers anyway. To better understand what charter pre-k looks like in practice, we visited several charter pre-k programs across the country and shared what we learned in an article for Education Next. There’s also a podcast episode and a C-SPAN interview that review some of our research findings.black-and-white photo of a child in glasses reading a book

On Head Start, some of our work pushes for using quality data to improve grantee performance and better serve children and families. “Renewing Head Start’s Promise” highlights recent efforts to improve the oversight of Head Start grantees and recommends changes to further this type of progress. In “Moneyball for Head Start,” Bellwether worked with several other organizations to develop a vision for using data, evidence, and evaluation to improve Head Start outcomes. Similar to “Renewing Head Start’s Promise,” we make recommendations for improving federal oversight, but also recommend changes at the local grantee level and for researchers, philanthropists, and the private sector. We further explore a promising recommendation for local grantees – developing networked learning communities — in Chapter 7 of “16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President.”

Another recent Head Start piece is on the Head Start workforce. “The Best Teachers for Our Littlest Learners” traces the evolution of Head Start workforce policies over 50 years and details how shifts in the broader early childhood landscape, especially state-funded pre-k programs, have influenced these policies. The piece finds that while there have been increases in education and credential requirements for Head Start teachers, these requirements did not alleviate — and in fact may have exacerbated — other challenges related to recruiting, retaining, and compensating a high-quality Head Start workforce.

Finally, Bellwether’s early childhood team have capitalized on this deep knowledge base by exploring other factors that affect Head Start quality. Analyses of the Head Start performance standards — the rules that govern the operation of Head Start programs — are here and here. And in the Journal of Behavioral Science and Policy, we review the effect of policy initiatives that have sought to improve the quality of Head Start programs and make our own recommendations for doing so, including giving grantees the flexibility to “triage” services to the highest need children, shifting performance measures to focus on outcomes rather than compliance, and changing federal policies so grantees can more easily integrate with local and state early childhood initiatives.

In the coming months, our team will publish a number of other early childhood pieces. We partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes to develop a birth-through-3rd grade toolkit (available later this summer) to help state education agencies bring early grades into ESSA school improvement conversations. For a preview of that work, see here and here. We’re also doing more work on the early childhood workforce, extended beyond just Head Start to preparation pathways and research for all early childhood teachers. Our Head Start work is also continuing, with forthcoming publications on teacher coaching and an analysis of Head Start exemplars (grantees with evidence that they produce better-than-average impact on children’s learning outcomes).

And if that’s not enough early childhood reading, Sara Mead regularly writes on early childhood issues for US News and World Report — most recently, about how policymakers should be open to change in the early childhood space — and there’s always great early childhood-related content on the Bellwether blog, Ahead of the Heard.

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