Category Archives: Early Childhood Education

Teacher Residencies in the Early Childhood Space: A Q&A With Kelly Riling of AppleTree Early Learning Teacher Residency

Last summer, Justin Trinidad and I published a paper exploring the role that teacher residencies can play as a promising pathway into the classroom. We found that while interest in residencies is exploding across the field, residencies face substantial policy and practical barriers in their efforts to expand.

To better understand these barriers, I spoke to Kelly Riling, who manages the AppleTree Early Learning Teacher Residency in Washington, D.C. In our paper, we profiled AppleTree’s unique residency model, which exclusively prepares early educators; you can read more about it on page 30 here. In this conversation, I asked Kelly for more details about how they’re dealing with the common challenges that residencies face.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What are the barriers that you face in expanding the AppleTree residency?

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have a limited bench of mentor teachers. All of our residents work with a mentor teacher in the classroom. We need to make sure that the mentor teacher is highly effective and will provide a good model for the resident. We’re expanding the residency program, but we don’t have enough mentor teachers to keep up with the increased enrollment. Our hope is that people who are currently in the program will eventually be mentors, but until then, our solution is to build the capacity of current mentors by developing their leadership skills.

We also struggle with raising awareness of the program and making sure we’re recruiting the highest quality candidates to serve within our schools. 

And then finally — but maybe most obviously — we face challenges with funding. We leverage the available funding as best we can, but we need to balance funding the residency program against other AppleTree priorities. Because public funding isn’t enough to provide a high-quality program, we’re constantly making the case to philanthropists that investing in the teacher pipeline is worthwhile. We’ve had to make difficult tradeoffs: We prioritize providing a salary and benefits for our residents, as well as subsidizing tuition for their master’s degree. But in order to do that, we have a very lean administrative team actually running the program, which comes with its own challenges. Continue reading

The Perry Preschoolers are All Grown Up and Their Experiences Continue to Guide the Field

If you’ve ever sat through a presentation on education research or early childhood education, you’ve likely heard of the Perry Preschool project. This seminal research study examined 123 preschool children in Ypsilanti, Michigan who were at risk for school failure. The kids were randomly divided into two groups: One group attended a high-quality preschool program and the comparison group received no preschool education. The participants were tracked throughout their lifetimes.

The widely studied long-term positive results of attending the preschool included higher rates of graduating high school, higher employment rates, higher earnings, and fewer teen pregnancies and criminal behavior. As one of the only randomized control trials in early childhood education, the Perry Project remains widely cited.

Even though fifty years have passed since the Perry Preschool program actively served children, the results still offer lessons for the early childhood education field.

Current discussions of early childhood interventions often focus on whether pre-K programs raise children’s readiness for kindergarten or their elementary school test scores. But new research from Nobel prize winning economist James Heckman and co-author Ganesh Karapakula — the first analysis of Perry Preschool participants through mid-life — illustrates the short-sightedness of this approach. Their report demonstrates that high-quality early childhood interventions can have a dramatic impact not only on program participants’ life outcomes but also the life outcomes of their future offspring. Some of their findings: Continue reading

Media: “Full-day, not part-day, programs should be the default for Head Start” in The Hill

In late March, with little to no public attention, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services proposed new regulations that would undo a major component of Obama-era rules that improved quality in Head Start programs. As I argue in a new piece at The Hill today, this is a bad idea:

A few weeks ago, as President Trump tweeted attacks on “failed” media coverage of the Russia investigation, his administration quietly proposed new regulations that would undermine learning for low-income preschoolers…The Trump administration claims its proposal would give programs flexibility to meet local needs, and prevent reductions in Head Start slots. Both these explanations are incorrect.

A little bit of background: Continue reading

Is Idris Elba the Reason You Can’t Find Affordable Child Care?

Idris Elba should be the next James Bond. But even as the “sexiest man aliveteased that prospect in recent appearances, his latest role — as a failed DJ who becomes a nanny for his successful friend’s daughter in Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie — seems an odd choice for a prospective 007.

actor Idris Elba

Actor Idris Elba

Or maybe not: There’s a surprisingly robust history of movies featuring action stars playing comedic roles as caregivers of young children: Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby, Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny, Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care, and Vin Diesel in the Pacifier. (Even Sean Connery worked as a “babysitter” in real life before hitting it big.)

When you think about it, the prevalence of movies built around the premise of tough guys taking care of little kids is actually pretty weird. I can’t help but wonder what that says about how our culture values and views the work of caring for young children. Continue reading

Walking While Chewing Gum: Why Curriculum and Quality Teaching Are Both Crucial To Improving Children’s Learning

Are high-quality teachers the key to improving student learning? Or is curriculum more important? Early in the last decade, reformers, persuaded by research that “teachers are the most important factor in a student’s school experience,” pushed for teacher evaluation, performance pay, and other teacher-focused reforms. As these reforms have fallen out of favor, however, a growing contingent of education leaders argue that curriculum, rather than teacher quality, should be the focus of improvement efforts.

It shouldn’t be either-or. In our new paper, Ashley LiBetti and I argue that the real key to improving children’s learning may lie not in curriculum or teacher quality alone, but in how schools or early childhood programs integrate curriculum with supports for quality teaching to deliver high-quality learning experiences for children.

logos of five Head Start programs profiled in Bellwether Education Partners' case studies

Earlier this week, as a part of the new report package, we released our study of five Head Start programs that produce significant learning gains for children they serve. We identified cross-cutting themes and common practices across the five programs that contribute to their impressive results. What we found underscores the importance of both teachers and curriculum for success.

All of these programs place a high priority on quality teaching. They hire teachers with more training than Head Start requires, pay them more than the typical preschool program, and support them with coaching and professional development. At the same time, they also pay careful attention to curriculum by adopting evidence-based curricula, adapting it to their needs and communities, supporting teachers to implement it with fidelity, and regularly testing and or piloting new curricula or enhancements in an effort to further boost children’s learning and results. And they constantly use data — including ongoing formative assessments of children’s learning — to improve teaching practices and differentiate learning for individual children. These practices related to curricula, assessment, and teacher quality and support offer models that other early childhood programs can learn from.

The  real “secret sauce,” however, isn’t in these programs’ approaches to teaching or curricula on their own, but the way they carefully and intentionally integrate these components. We call this careful integration of curriculum, expectations for what quality teaching looks like, and support for teachers an “integrated instructional model” — and it’s the key to these programs’ success.

This intentional, integrated approach isn’t as sexy as “silver bullet” solutions. It requires skilled, thoughtful leadership willing to constantly reassess and refine practice, and a lot of work from teachers, the coaches who support them, and program leaders. That makes it much harder to replicate or scale than curriculum or teacher credential requirements. But it’s crucial to improving learning results, particularly for the most at-risk students.

Rather than continuing to debate whether teacher quality or curriculum matters more for improving educational results, education leaders should take a page from these exemplary Head Start programs and focus on how to help more schools develop and implement integrated models of curriculum, assessment, and supports for quality instruction.