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Preschool Matters Today

Improving State Early Childhood Teaching and Learning Policy: Reflections and Recommendations


March 8, 2018

BUILD Initiative and the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes recently released A Learning Table to Improve State Early Childhood Teaching and Learning Policy: Reflections and Recommendations After Three Years of Implementation, sharing both lessons learned and recommendations related to providing technical assistance on state early education practices.

From 2014-2017, BUILD Initiative and CEELO co-facilitated several State Policy Learning Tables including representatives from more than three states to support state leaders in their efforts to strengthen policy focused on early childhood teaching and learning. Both BUILD Initiative and CEELO shared a mission to help policymakers create more effective state early learning systems.

Mariana Florit from BUILD Initiative sat down with Debi Mathias, Director, QRIS National Learning Network at BUILD Initiative and Lori Connors-Tadros, Ph.D., Senior Project Director at CEELO to find out how this Learning Table and the subsequent lessons learned can strengthen early childhood teaching and learning policy.

BUILD Initiative: What was the impetus behind this Learning Table?

Lori: When we started this work, we wanted to document the best practices or models of technical assistance (TA) for states that improve policy in early childhood teaching and learning. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding about which professional learning practices actually make an impact on state policy. This Learning Table began at a time when many research studies on different sectors of the early childhood workforce indicated how critical workforce development was to enhancing child outcomes. There were a lot of policies that were emerging (e.g. standards implementation, teacher evaluation) that were being implemented at the same time and many teachers and leaders felt an “initiative overload.”  This project helped states focus on determining the most powerful to move state policies forward.

Debi: When we started this Learning Table in 2014, we focused on improving policy that impacted the cross-sector nature of early childhood systems. When we think about how state policies are created, there are all kinds of bumps in the road because of unique governance structures and state contexts. Through this Learning Table, we wanted to help state leaders think about what they’re hearing from their colleagues both in their own and other states. We wanted to be able to apply the learnings in other states and understand the process that needs to happen as state leaders apply the practices in their own state context.

BUILD Initiative: What interesting lessons came out of the Learning Table?

Debi: There were a lot of concrete, as well as open-ended, lessons learned as we went through this process—and that underscores what an individualized process this is for states. We came away with a clear understanding of just how long it really takes to develop and implement policy change at the state level. Focusing on what it means to communicate about this work to stakeholders, and how we talk about and integrate racial equity into our policy improvements was a new experience for a lot of state teams. That exercise in itself was both helpful and imperative as we understand and focus more on racial equity in early childhood policy and practice.

Lori: Early childhood policy, by nature, is complicated and crosses a lot of agencies at the state level. This report lays out a roadmap for facilitating interactions and partnerships necessary for policy change. We include guidance on how to effectively bring state stakeholders into the policy conversation, based on the experiences of several states over a three-year period.

One of the keys, for me, was the notion that an understanding of systems change is critical to this work. It’s not just about the content of early childhood policy—it’s also about how you take your state through a process to engage and communicate with stakeholders and examine underlying system barriers that are needed to effectively implement policy. States need to be realistic to assess whether they have the capacity and willingness to do this work, since it takes time and persistence.

BUILD Initiative: Were there any surprises for you, as facilitators?

Lori: Debi, Kate Tarrant, Jana Martella, Aisha Ray and I worked as co-creators throughout this Learning Table and we all came away from this experience as better facilitators because the work allowed us to build our own capacity. We not only respected each other’s perspectives, but we also brought new expertise into the fold with Aisha on issues of equity and Alexandra Figueras-Daniel on dual language learners, for example. This whole experience was a learning process—for participating states but also for us—and we want to keep learning.

Debi: We talked a lot about the content we needed to communicate during each cohort, based on state team needs, and we really focused on how to move teams along the policy trajectory. Our frequent meetings helped us adjust how we designed TA to support policy change. Even though we were facilitators in this work, we had a very important role as learners, too. I think we’re better TA providers as a consequence of this collective work and group reflection, and that is what I hope others will gain from our sharing this experience.