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Department of Education Releases Final Guidelines for Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge
posted by: Alix | August 25, 2011, 03:40 PM   

Following 2010's federal Race to the Top competitive grant program, the Department of Education has once again flagged an estimated $700 million for an additional round of state-level grants. This year, the Obama administration plans to focus the majority of the funds on the nation's youngest students with their Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. The final guidelines of the program were released Tuesday.

The funding will be issued based on individual state-based plans to implement five key early education reforms including:

  • Establishing Successful State Systems
  • Defining High-Quality, Accountable Programs
  • Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children
  • Supporting A Great Early Childhood Education Workforce
  • Measuring Outcomes and Progress
One of the more controversial reform ideas is the Obama administration's commitment to encouraging states to spearhead "kindergarten entry assessments," as outlined by both the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

While the prospect of creating tests for pre-school aged children may seem complicated and perhaps unrealistic, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasized that the assessments will not be comparable to classic standardized tests. In an interview this week, Duncan elaborated, "We will never ask 3-year-olds to take bubble tests. That would just be ludicrous."

Instead, the assessments will focus on preparing young children for kindergarten and insuring they step into the classroom with a means to succeed. "We're talking about assessment in the broad context," said Department of Education Early Learning Specialist Jacqueline Jones. "We want to make a distinction between specific tests and an assessment process, which is an ongoing process of collecting information about children's behavior."

While some early learning advocates are calling the program a step in the right direction for preparing young children for learning and the classroom environment, others see the focus on measurements of any kind too extreme. Executive Director of National Head Start Association Yasmina Vinci stressed that "children develop at very different rates, young children especially." Other experts argue that while collecting data and information on child development is critical, assessments should not be used to classify children at such early ages.

Despite the controversy, states eager for funding are expected to apply for the funds via lengthy proposals aimed at outlining their early childhood plans and their state's track record and prior commitments to early learning. The proposals are due October 19, and the winners will be announced sometime in December.

Do you agree with the Department of Education's focus on early learning?
Comment below.

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Liz Brown, September 04, 2011

Child develpment begins at birth and there should be a deliberate focus on appropriate child development milestones and tracking with health professinals on progress. It is too late for many low income children to wait until 3 or 4yrs old! Suggest widespread implementation of Ages and Stages tool to measure milestones and a true partnership among parents, health professionals, school districts and intervention specialists that assist parents in child development. A major focus should be on oral language development a key indicator of school sucess. I write as the former Director Legislative Director for the CT Commission on Children and bring years of research and policy expertise to this discussion. This is a low cost solution with a major focus on building capacity to current systerms of health and early learning. My concern is that we will target resources on new systems to measure child development that ignore the first 3 years of a child's life. This will not work!

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