Educational Alignment for Young Children
Researchers, practitioners and policymakers increasingly believe that a more seamless pipeline that addresses a range of academic, behavioral, health and family issues can serve young children more effectively.
Children and their families interact with different systems and supports on a daily basis that often do not collaborate or communicate with one another. A child may be enrolled in Head Start, have a sibling attending a local public elementary school, and have a mother receiving the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and all three of those programs could have different requirements and no cross-communication among them, despite serving the same family.
Educational alignment works to align services and supports, improve communication among stakeholders, and foster collaboration to disallow duplication of services and increase quality.
Educational Alignment for Young Children (EAYC) initiative was launched in 2013, with the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This highly successful initiative, concluding in 2016, enabled six cities to help leaders establish best practices in aligning existing systems of early education, changing how they “do business” to promote early learning in their communities. More recently, new partnerships with the Bezos Family Foundation and the Foundation for Child Development enabled NLCI to establish new networks of cities committed to early learning and provide practical assistance to elected officials to improve and strengthen their capacity to “put all the pieces together at the local level.”
NLC and city officials worked together to align efforts on behalf of young children from birth to age eight that go well beyond the classroom to include strengthening connections within their communities and linking families to a broad range of supports and opportunities that help them thrive.
NLC provided technical assistance to six cities: Austin and Fort Worth, Texas; Hartford, Conn.; Longmont, Colo.; Richmond, Va.; and Rochester, N.Y.
NLC focused on three key elements of educational alignment:
- Formalizing partnerships or creating governance structures to develop common definitions and goals and take joint action to implement a high quality early childhood system;
- Enhancing professional development to support qualified teachers and administrators; and
- Transforming family engagement to develop shared educational goals for children, support parents in their role as a child’s first teacher and help children and parents gain access to a full range of services, including health and mental health services.
To tackle these issues, the cities developed cross-sector teams or working groups comprised of city staff and city council members, public library leaders, early childhood educators and administrators, representatives from the school district and local United Ways.
Over the course of 2013-2016, groups of community leaders from six cities interested in improving early childhood systems participated in an intensive technical assistance program through the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. While each city has a unique system of early childhood with its own bright spots and challenges, the teams of early childhood stakeholders all shared the same vision of a community with access to a seamless system of high-quality early childhood services from birth to age 8 for all children. Below are stories from each community revealing just one aspect of their journey on the path to achieving this vision.