The Early Learning Alliance: Working to Ensure All Tarrant County Children Are Ready for Kindergarten
Nationally, only 1 in 4 kids are ready for kindergarten. In Fort Worth, just over half of our kindergarteners enter school ready to learn. Since 2013, a quiet but powerful movement has been afoot in Tarrant County to combat these statistics. The Early Learning Alliance (ELA) is focused on ensuring all children are given the strong early start they need to succeed in school and in life.
Why a Focus on Birth to Five?
85% of brain development occurs by a child’s fifth birthday. Additionally, research shows that an investment in quality education during these first five years can have a lifetime of impact – yielding up to a $13 return on every one dollar spent through better education, economic, health, and social outcomes.
Specifically, children exposed to high-quality early learning programs are:
- MORE LIKELY to graduate high school, be physically and emotionally healthy, and have a higher earning potential later in life.
- LESS LIKELY to be incarcerated, experience teen pregnancy, or drop out of school.
The ROI of quality early interventions is calculated through short- and long-term societal benefits including:
- Reduced need for education remediation and social services
- Better health outcomes
- Lower criminal justice costs, and
- Increased family self-sufficiency.
A focus on the first five years sets the trajectory for successful students, families, citizens, and communities. That is why the more than 50 entities of the ELA – including nonprofits, businesses, foundations, and government leaders – joined together to improve and align local systems and practices to help our most at-risk children grow, learn, and thrive.
How ELA Is Moving the Needle
Four years after its inception, the ELA is steadily (and successfully) tackling high-level change in order to expand access to high-quality early learning and provide the opportunity for all Tarrant County children to have healthy, on-track development starting at birth.
In its 2017 report, “The Next 1,000 Days,” the ELA outlined in specificity its near-term priorities and projects contributing to kindergarten readiness for all Tarrant County children.
ELA’s current priority areas include:
1) Elevating Early Childhood PROFESSIONAL QUALITY
- Professional Development Registry Campaign: Helping local early education teachers and child care center directors track and maintain their credentials, garner regular quality professional development opportunities, and gain incentives for advancing on a quality continuum.
- Career Pathway: Developing stackable trainings and credit-bearing professional development opportunities for early education professionals to progress on a career pathway.
- Instructional Quality Initiative: Rolling out a public-private partnership with local school districts, charter schools, nonprofits and researchers to improve the quality of classroom instruction, mentoring and coaching by using a uniform assessment tool.
2) Elevating Early Childhood PROGRAM QUALITY
- Texas Rising Star: Increasing the number of early care and education programs in the Texas Rising Star (TRS) quality rating system and moving current TRS programs into higher ratings.
- Pre-K and Kindergarten Assessments: Helping to identify and deploy common Pre-K Progress Monitoring and Kindergarten Reading and Multidimensional Assessment Tools to use across programs to ensure consistent measurement.
- Early Childhood Data System: Assisting early learning programs and informing parents on the benefits of the Texas Early Childhood Data System.
3) Engaging with FAMILIES
- Infant/Toddler Developmental Screening Tool: Working with families and programs to ensure children, from birth to age five, are developmentally screened in Tarrant County to identify developmental delays and referrals.
- Family Forums: Convening families through family forums to bring families’ voices to the forefront in order to inform local early education strategies.
- Organizational Frameworks for Family Engagement: Developing processes for local organizations to assess how they engage families to support stronger family and community engagement.
4) Sharing DATA and RESEARCH
- Results-Based Accountability: Creating a data platform for community tracking and reporting on early learning outcomes across early care and education providers.
- Early Development Instrument: Presenting results of a school readiness tool to community stakeholders and developing action plans for collective impact.
- Research Roundtables: Convening roundtables for researchers and practitioners to discuss the realities of applying research to practice, in turn providing a stronger support to young children and their families.
Mobilizing a Movement
The ELA is not an organization or nonprofit. By contrast, it has declared itself to be a 10-year movement focused on improving child outcomes across Tarrant County. This movement requires urgency, action, and collaboration to achieve its desired goals. Each engaged member of the ELA brings to the table unique talents and experience that are strategically leveraged across priority areas to maintain momentum and accountability.
As a cohesive collective, the ELA intersects seamlessly with other community early education initiatives, and lends its support and expertise to other efforts aligned toward improving early child development and elevating academic achievement.
One of these key initiatives includes the Fort Worth Literacy Partnership (FWLP), a local effort launched by Mayor Betsy Price, BNSF Railway Chairman Matt Rose, and Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner in the fall of 2016. With a clearly defined goal of ensuring 100% of 3rd grade students read on grade level by 2025, the FWLP is providing critical data insights to the community to help bolster existing efforts and align resources to dramatically improve 3rd grade reading scores across the District.
With kindergarten readiness as one of the key contributing factors to 3rd grade reading success, the ELA is leading the charge for the FWLP’s early learning Collaborative Action Network. Through this network, the FWLP will help lift up “what’s working” in the early education community in order to more effectively and efficiently scale successful strategies.
The Fort Worth ISD has already seen encouraging trends over the last two years since Dr. Kent Scribner joined on as Superintendent in October 2015. Most notably:
- Reduced IR Schools - The District has reduced the number of its chronically low-performing “Improvement Required” schools by 36 percent over the last year.
- Improved 3rd Grade Reading Scores - 34% of the District’s third-graders met the “mastery” level on this year’s state exam, as compared to 30% the previous year.
The ELA, in collaboration with FWLP and other key local and state partners, will continue to build on community-wide momentum and diverse stakeholder support to help usher in the change that is needed to help all Tarrant County children thrive.
To learn more about the ELA, visit http://www.earlylearningntx.org.