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CLASS Included: Head Start Exemplars

21 Mar 2019 by Amy Stephens Cubbage

On a hot summer day in July 2016, I had the good fortune of being the one not on vacation on our small policy and research team. Instead, I went to DC to serve as Teachstone’s representative for a convening of policymakers, researchers, and ECE practitioners. They were gathering to discuss if and how exemplary Head Start grantees might be identified for Leading by Exemplar, an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Bellwether Education Partners.

As we sought to identify the ways in which exemplary programs could be identified, the relationships between the teachers and the children in Head Start classrooms bubbled up repeatedly in our small group discussions of quality factors to consider.  

Strong, healthy relationships with children, effectuated through discrete, identifiable interactions between the teachers and children, are at the core of great teaching, and no one in that convening raised any question about that. One need not be a CLASS advocate to find it difficult to imagine an exemplary ECE program without an explicit focus on high-quality teacher-child interactions!

Following the convening, Bellwether reviewed Head Start “exemplars,” meaning those programs with significant learning gains for the children served. Five of these were selected for more in-depth study of their design and practice: Acelero, CAP Tulsa, Educare Miami-Dade, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Utah Community Action.

These Head Start grantees, like all grantees, are familiar with the CLASS as their classroom quality is monitored with it. However, as you will read in the briefs linked below, each of the exemplars integrates the CLASS in their professional development, going beyond the use of CLASS only as a monitoring tool, and linking CLASS data to powerful professional development!

I’m thrilled that Bellwether has published four reports reviewing the methodology, analysis, and program highlights of the Leading by Exemplar initiative:

A few takeaways from my initial reading:

  • Integration and alignment: The report bolsters the necessity of this and fuels our desire to look for ways to better communicate the importance of and value of the CLASS as a tool for alignment, including in teacher prep and PD, across curricula, and age levels.
  • Parallel process and consistency across an ECE organization: We must not forget we all need effective interactions, and organizations only succeed when they put their people first. When we are attending to adult-adult interactions, and empowering and supporting teachers and administrators, powerful things happen for children, too.
  • Maintain a focus on continuous quality improvement through cycles of assessment and targeted professional development, usually in the form of coaching – I found the description of Utah Community Action’s program to be particularly detailed about the individualization of PD.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that while the core focus on teacher-child interactions as measured by the CLASS does not vary in these exemplary Head Start programs, the implementation may look different, and we must continue to support programs as they determine the best practices for their specific program and setting.

I’d love to know what you find in your reading of these comprehensive briefs!