Policy Priorities

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Promising Approaches

Research has shown that the early years of a child’s life lay the foundation for learning and success, and that investments in early learning programs are vital to ensuring the future well-being of our children and communities. However, positive outcomes from early learning programs depend on the quality of these experiences. The following “promising practices” offer children and families quality early education and care, and serve as models of the types of early learning programs which we must seek to replicate. Our nation simply can’t afford not to significantly increase investments in early learning programs like these, or to keep leaving so many poor babies and toddlers behind.

Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) - Mississippi

Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) is an initiative of the WK Kellogg Foundation that has made a significant impact on early education practices in Mississippi. The program is being implemented by the Southern Regional Office of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), and provides support for local communities to act on issues of quality, transition, and alignment of the early education communities, helping to lay a foundation from which an early learning system can evolve. After seven years of operating in 5 rural communities in Mississippi, the analysis of data collected over that period reveals:

  • The scores on the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT) administered in the third grade of the 610 children remaining in the SPARK cohorts who are in the public schools were compared to non-SPARK children in the same schools. Of the SPARK children, 6.9% scored in the Advanced level in Language Arts compared to 6.1% of the comparison group.
  • In the language arts section, 39% of SPARK children scored proficient as compared to 22.9% of the comparison group.
  • In the Mathematics section of the MCT, a higher percentage of the SPARK cohort (6.9%) scored in the Advanced level than the comparison group (2.3%).
  • Nearly half (48.4%) of the SPARK students scored proficient as compared to 24.4% of the comparison students in mathematics

The SPARK program provided a variety of supports to participating families:

  • Books and other learning materials;
  • A learning advocate who made home visits for the purpose of assisting family members in supporting their children in the transition to school from their early learning program.
  • Technical assistance to early care and education programs serving SPARK children, which includes an on-site evaluation of the learning environment based on the results of the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale.

The benefits of SPARK to the communities, children and families involved are greater than just the measurable scores recorded. The institutional changes that have occurred as a result of the program will positively affect the trajectory of many lives in the years to come

The Harlem Children’s Zone Project

Established in 1997, the Harlem Children’s Zone Project (HCZ) provides educational and community-based services to low-income families living in Harlem, New York. Today, the Harlem Children’s Zone Project serves over 20,000 children and adults across a 100 block area in central Harlem with the goal of improving educational outcomes for children so that they will earn a college degree and achieve economic self-sufficiency in adulthood. In 2009, 100% of third graders at HCZ’s Promise Academies tested at or above grade level on the math exam, outperforming their peers in New York State, New York City, District 5, and Black and White students throughout the state.

One of the cornerstones of the Harlem Children’s Zone Project is its comprehensive array of early childhood services. These include:

  • Baby College, which offers a nine-week parenting course for expectant parents and those with a child up to three years of age. The curriculum emphasizes the importance of reading to children, as well as the benefits associated with the use of verbal discipline rather than corporal punishment. In 2009, Baby College graduated 371 expecting or new parents.
  • The Three Year Old Journey, a program which assists parents of children who have won the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy charter school lottery. These parents are provided with information about childhood development and parenting skills.
  • Get Ready for Pre-K, a six-week summer program for children entering the Harlem Gems program the following school year. This program helps children adjust to their new schedule and prepares them for the pre-kindergarten program.
  • Harlem Gems, an all-day pre-kindergarten program that prepares children for kindergarten. Programming is offered in English, Spanish, and French and classes have a 4:1 child-adult ratio.

Visit The Harlem Children’s Zone Project website.

Bright Beginnings Head Start/Early Head Start

Bright Beginnings Child Care is a comprehensive Early Head Start and Head Start Program focused on serving the needs of homeless families and children. The program offers an accredited early childhood program, health screening and on-site therapeutic services, job training in early childhood care for parents, transition services when children enter kindergarten, and evening and night-time care services for children whose parents work non-traditional hours. The program serves about 190 children annually whose families are living in crisis shelters or transitional housing and takes a holistic approach to meeting their special needs.

In 2013, more than 1,800 children under the age of 5 were registered as homeless in Washington D.C., and Bright Beginnings offers this population of children comprehensive education, health, and nutrition. Bright Beginnings is in the less than seven percent of all early childhood programs that are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. As the economic recession has imposed additional challenges for low-income and homeless families in Washington, D.C., Bright Beginnings has adjusted its programming to fit the needs of its parents by offering and fatherhood initiatives, teen parent¬ing workshops, stress management classes, and job readi¬ness forums.

Visit the Bright Beginnings Head Start/Early Head Start website.

Save the Children - Early Steps to School Success

Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program provides high quality early childhood development services for children and their families from birth to age 5. Early Steps to School Success assists children with language skills, social and emotional development, equips parents with the skills and knowledge to successfully support their child’s growth, and develops strong home-school connections. The program aims to build a strong foundation for parenting and school readiness and serve as a significant catalyst in helping children achieve a lifetime of learning. During the 2012-2013 school year, Early Steps to School Success served more than 7,600 children in America's poorest communities and 80 percent of the 3-year-olds in the program scored at or above the normal range for vocabulary acquisition.

Visit the Save the Children website.