Louisiana is leading in the way in making improvements in the lives of their students and teachers. In this episode, Marnetta meets with Nasha Patel, managing director of Watershed Advisors, and Sarintha Stricklin, early education consultant for the Jefferson Network. They discuss how leaders at the state and local level in Louisiana used CLASS® to build their QRIS and improve quality.
Marnetta: Hello, listeners. I'm Marnetta Larrimer, host of Impacting the Classroom, the podcast where we like to talk about the broader challenges and trends facing the early education field. I am in my own backyard this episode. Filming with wonderful people in Louisiana. I'm joined by Nasha Patel. Nasha, can you please introduce yourself?
Nasha: Hi, my name is Nasha Patel. I'm a managing director with Watershed Advisors, a small consulting company. In a former life, I worked for the Louisiana Department of Education and Early Childhood.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Welcome. Good seeing you again.
Nasha: Good to see you.
Marnetta: We're also joined with Sarintha Stricklin. Ms. Sarintha, welcome.
Sarintha: Hi, thanks so much for having me. I'm Sarintha Stricklin. I'm a consultant in early education and I spend most of my consulting time with the Jefferson Parish Ready Start Network. I serve, in essence, as the Executive Director for the Jefferson Network.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Again, I am looking forward to this conversation, especially like I said, just right in my backyard. I've known you guys in my previous life when I worked at NSU Child and Family Network. Good connection with you guys again. Both of you have worked together to support the state of Louisiana as they work to define quality early education throughout the state and their local parishes.
Again, Nasha currently serves as the Managing Director at Watershed Advisors and Sarintha is the Executive Director at Jefferson Ready Start Network in the Jefferson Parish of Louisiana. Let's get to the meat.
On one of our last episodes last season, we talked about the shift in quality rating and improvement system away from emphasizing the rating and putting more of a focus on creating a culture of continuous improvement. Nasha, can you tell us about your upcoming publication on QRIS that you've been working on with Watershed Advisors?
Nasha: Yeah, absolutely, and thanks for asking the question. In Watershed, we've been thinking a lot with the different states that we're working with, but also in the national context and what we did in Louisiana around QRIS and where there are opportunities to pull out the parts of the system that made the most sense and that could be most replicable in other places.
We've worked with a number of states that are dissatisfied with the way their QRIS system is working now and are contemplating some kind of shift, whether it's smaller in terms of what they're measuring, how they're measuring it, or what they're paying the most attention to, to the larger sort of like do we start over and think about this differently?
To help states and other folks who are helping states, whether they are policymakers, or nonprofits, advocacy groups, or different folks who are thinking about and putting brain power towards what could an effective QRIS look like in our state, we've put together a white paper that we think tries to identify some of the common pitfalls of a typical QRIS and some of the direction that we took in Louisiana as well as in other states that we see sort of promising best practices doing to address that.
Thinking about QRIS, quality rating and improvement, as a whole system as something that should be reaching scale, that should include all providers, but especially those that are accepting public funds, and that should be truly measuring the experiences that children are having that help parents, providers, teachers, everyone who's a stakeholder in that understand and help drive improvement, as you said, every day in those classrooms and those centers.
Marnetta: Wonderful. You were talking about some of those pitfalls. I love what we did in Louisiana. It's really become a model for a lot of states across the country. Groundbreaking stuff happened. What were some of the pitfalls that you identified in your white paper?
Nasha: Yeah, and I think too that what Louisiana did was really different at the moment that it happened. Many states have made changes towards what Louisiana did, but I don't know that it's necessarily a copy and paste type approach. Every state is going to have different things that they want to think about when they design their QRIS. What we wanted to do in this white paper is talk about the things that mattered the most to us.
Number one, we wanted to make sure we were measuring the right things. We wanted to make sure that our QRIS was focused on exactly what we thought mattered most to improving outcomes for kids and for their families. With that, we focused on CLASS® and that is 100% of our quality rating and improvement system. It is the interactions that children are having in the classrooms.
We report on other metrics. We provide transparency around teacher credentials, curriculum use, and ratios, other things that we know really matter to the child's experience. The number one thing that we're rating and focusing improvement resources on are those interactions.
Then we designed our system to really support improvement on that thing. We focused our system to help make sure that when we were putting out professional development resources, when we were putting out curriculum resources, when we were putting out grants to help centers acquire more materials or do training, we were bringing it back to that core component, adult-child interactions.
We both wanted to make sure we were measuring and then supporting that thing. What you'll see in our white paper is that exact note, focus on measuring the thing that matters the most—make sure that it's uncomplicated when you're describing it in your QRIS, in your rating, and then make sure that those improvement systems and the funds that you're trying to those improvement systems support that focus, are deeply aligned to that and can't, in essence, drive improvement towards the thing that you are saying matters the most in your rating.
Another thing that we lifted up in our white paper is the need to make sure that your QRIS is providing meaningful information to families. In other words, this rating that centers are working so hard to get, that teachers, providers, directors, TA staff, and all these resources and states are being put towards getting and improving actually means something to the families who are looking at it when they're making decisions about where to send their children.
Another thing that we lifted up in our white paper is the need to make sure that your QRIS is providing meaningful information to families.
It needs to be able to communicate to families a difference. A one-star should mean something different from a two-star than a three-star or whatever rating you're using and that should be clear when a family looks at it.
Too often, QRIS can jump from one level to the next. If you don't understand the difference between a two-star and a three-star, you may think it's the same as the difference between a one and a two-star and that's not always the case or maybe all prep programs are included in that rating system and families are left to figure out what that means and why. Just make sure that you're thinking about when a family looks at these ratings, what does it mean and what decisions should they be making based on that?
Then the last point is when you are tying funding to that rating and into that improvement system, that it's not in any way going to exacerbate inequities and reduce opportunities to improve quality. Oftentimes reimbursements or other incentives can be tied to QRIS and that's a good thing. We know that quality costs and we should be funding it, but it should not in any way be so high stakes—that funding that's attached to that rating—such that families can't use their subsidy at a lower-rated QRIS center, even if that's the only one that's in their community because it doesn't cover the cost.
When you are tying funding to that rating and into that improvement system, [you need to ensure] that it's not in any way going to exacerbate inequities and reduce opportunities to improve quality.
Just be thoughtful about how funding is being tied to a QRIS. Again, these are decisions different states are going to make in their own context. There's no one-size-fits-all here. That's certainly not what I'm advocating, but just to think about as you are setting up the system, as you are trying to bring it to scale, what will it mean for families who are using your subsidy? What will it mean for providers who are trying to improve day in and day out? What will it mean for the teachers in that system? The goal is to make sure every center can reach the level of quality that's articulated in your focused QRIS.
Marnetta: Yeah, and all those pieces have to work together in order to have the outcomes that we want. They're not separate siloed pieces. They all are interconnected and it has to work like a well-oiled machine together. If you focus on the foundation of the interactions and the importance of those interactions and how it impacts children, that foundation is very important to those outcomes. Leaning into that, all those other pieces fall into place and really give us a clear picture of what's happening.
Nasha: Yeah, and in hindsight, we can look back and say, oh, having this focus really worked well. It was a hypothesis to start with and the work that Sarintha and others in Louisiana did to say okay, the state is giving us a focused QRIS, what does that mean for our work? How are we spending our time and our resources, which are limited especially in states like Louisiana? What does that mean for what we do?
That really transformed the system in Louisiana and made it such that when we said, this is the focused quality rating and improvement system, this is what we're targeting, this is what we're aligning all of our resources to, it meant that teachers across our system—Head Start, childcare, and preschool teachers—could know, learn, and understand what exactly we were talking about when we said quality because of the work of Sarintha and others to make that real in their communities.
Marnetta: It was so beneficial for the children. First of all, I want to say that when that initiative happened, it was great to connect those different entities like childcare, Head Start, and public schools. We all had the same goal, but we were all very separated. We created this common language and this common vision, this common trajectory for our students. It didn't matter when they left, there was no dropping the ball and picking back up. It was just this continuity that it created for the children, which I think elevated that experience and the success of the state as well.
Sarintha: I could jump in here. It certainly did, but as we think about the rollout and we think about that initial work, it's hard to remember because Louisiana has been doing this for many years now, but that initial rollout was not so simple and smooth. To continue to use the CLASS analogies or parallels is that initial rule out—at least in Jefferson and what I know about many other parishes in Louisiana and I think other states who are considering such a rollout—have to think about the time and attention to building relationships.
One thing that's unique that Louisiana did is to create networks at the local level with a lead agency or point of entity that served as the point of contact to roll the system out. There was a lot of time and attention that had to go to building the relationships because of the diversity of the landscape. As we know when we look across the country that programs are so different and generally speaking, our private childcare isn't necessarily collaborating with Early Head Start, Head Start, or school systems.
What might be somewhat unique in Louisiana is a whole system of parochial schools that have publicly funded seats as well. We spent a lot of energy and put a lot of work into building those relationships because those programs initially saw one another as the competition.
Sarintha: Either they thought they were competing for children. Oftentimes they were competing for teachers and we saw all that system whereas teachers got more credentials, they moved from working in childcare often to Head Start and then into the school system.
We had to be very creative in how we pulled these vastly different groups together and had to have a lot of data to show they were not competing for the same children because even to this day, many years later, we're serving very small percentages of our children in publicly funded or publicly subsidized seats. That relationship building was key just like it is when we think about experiences for children in classrooms.
Relationship building was key just like it is when we think about experiences for children in classrooms.
Nasha: I really want to highlight that point just really quickly. The state had a vision for a unified QRIS. The state had a vision for what it meant to align resources to that QRIS, but the state also knew that we couldn't do this work from Baton Rouge. It took leaders like Sarintha, it took leaders like the folks in North Louisiana and even in our most rural parishes in every part of the state.
It took leadership. It took folks stepping to the table and saying, I believe in this, this is a lot of hard work and I'm the person, I'm the face, I'm the one who's going to pull these folks together on behalf of kids and families in my community and turn this vision into something that's actually real and workable.
One of the things that are maybe not as reflected in this paper, but is a deep, deep belief of mine is that states have to turn to localities and empower, believe in, and invest in local leadership to really drive outcomes for kids and families because they are the ones who know and understand their community, who are able to build and foster those relationships, and who are ultimately going to come up with the ideas and the plans that make this work the most successful.
A deep, deep belief of mine is that states have to turn to localities and empower, believe in, and invest in local leadership to really drive outcomes for kids and families because they are the ones who know and understand their community.
Some of the best strategies that we're already starting to cross at Louisiana are adapting now came from the early years of the pilot where the state said, what are your best ideas for this to happen? Community leaders were the ones who said this is what we think has to happen to drive towards a seven on class across the board. This is what we need to do and put our resources towards. They tested it and they proved that they were right and we were able to find opportunities to scale.
That didn't come from the state, that came from local leadership. I just want to emphasize or highlight Sarintha's point that the state can only do so much and ultimately it really falls to making sure that you're building, investing, and supporting whatever your local leadership structure is to carry out the plans.
Be a sounding board or a thought partner to them. Raise examples of what's happening in other places in the state or even nationally and make sure that you're providing them the information, the data, and ultimately the resources they need to make their plan successful.
Marnetta: Yeah, thank you for that. I was talking about this parallel process. We talk about CLASS, building relationships, and that educator child importance, this adult. Those interactions are just as important and mirroring that in your interactions across the state, as you said, empowering local leadership who are visible, but also accessible and relatable helps to make it much easier, much more digestible.
Nasha: Of course successful, it was not going to be successful if I tried to do it from Baton Rouge in every corner of the state.
Sarintha: I think it also would not have been successful if we hadn't really collaborated with and built capacity at the childcare owner or leader level. When I reflect on what we did years ago, I think our biggest success or the biggest factor in our overall success was the support and getting the buy-in of those local childcare owners.
I think our biggest success or the biggest factor in our overall success was the support and getting the buy-in of those local childcare owners.
They are predominantly women-owned small businesses. At least in my parish, they're predominantly women of color and they were passionate about what they were doing. They had been in business for many years and they had seen different QRIS systems come and go. We really had to work with them to focus on, as you guys said, what really matters most and that's those interactions in the classroom.
It's at the owner and leadership level of child care that we saw the least amount of turnover and thus that opportunity. We had to build their capacity to learn about class, to actually be able to complete and even if it wasn't an official formal observation on CLASS, it was an observation of their own teachers to be able to support their teachers buy in, and as Nasha said, to really have a laser focus on what is important. Huge investment in those childcare owners and leaders to be able to increase quality within their own classrooms.
Nasha: Sarintha is being modest, but this was actually a huge innovation that came out of Jefferson Parish where she started really investing resources in training and turning childcare directors into experts in CLASS. Some of the most expert folks in CLASS in Louisiana are directors in Jefferson, New Orleans, Rapides, and other parts of the state. They use that lens not just when it comes to coaching their teachers or observing their teachers, but also in hiring and making other strategic decisions about quality in their centers and their programs.
This is not just a childcare director component, but also in some of our most rural parts of the state where we don't have that much child care. This was also a really helpful tool to get principals invested in the early learning classrooms in their school systems and a really effective way for them to see this is what a quality preschool classroom looks like. Here is what I'm supporting my teachers, the coaches, and others in my school building to help achieve.
Marnetta: Wonderful. I think when we rolled this out, it was 2012 so it's been 10 years.
Nasha: That was when the law passed and then it took until about 2015 to fully get to scaled statewide implementation. We have been piloting it for a few years.
Marnetta: Just seeing the empowerment for childcare facilities who really felt on the outskirts of the work that they did and this system really empowered them. It made them knowledgeable. It leveled the playing field for them. They really elevated their sense of professionalism, not just as a facility, but also as their teachers.
It was so much more than that. There's this pride. They weren't leaving for Head Start anymore because they saw the value and the quality and where they were. It had so much more of an impact than what it initially rolled out to do. Yes, the child care facilities and that buy in from the directors and just using them as the resources that they are was integral just like Sarintha said.
Sarintha: We're continuing to look at them as resources as we begin to think about how to increase access to quality. You mentioned, in the beginning, there were some really innovative things that Louisiana ruled out and there are always challenges.
One of the challenges is that we're working with those programs that are publicly funded. How do we increase publicly funded programs? How do we get buy-in now from programs that are not accepting or using public dollars? How do we increase that access so that more of our children, higher percentages of our eligible children, can access quality?
One of the things we are looking at in the upcoming year or two is partnering with some of our faith-based programs that maybe aren't publicly funded. We're also really looking harder and beginning to partner with family child care. Our childcare directors who are experts on CLASS, who are trained to be trainers in CLASS, who are trained in making the most of classroom interactions. I always use the old term sorry, but that CLASS is coaching that they're all trained and certified in as well.
Thinking about that expertise and using that expertise as we think about this new phase of how we increase access. They are our experts and we have an upcoming session where we're convening our Latino serving organizations because we realize we have to build access for our Spanish-speaking children and families. Our child care experts are part of that initiative to really think about how we increase access across our parish now that we've looked harder at where we have gaps in access to quality.
Nasha: I love that because so much of what you're saying is amazing. Also, what you're saying is that that focus on adult-child interactions is going to drive the next phase of the work. We're not just going to bring on new providers. We're not just going to add new initiatives. As we're thinking about what's next, what's next, and what's next, we're returning to that focused QRIS and saying we know what matters is adult-child interaction so as we're increasing access. As we're adding more spots, more providers, and partnering differently, we're still going to rely on that expertise that we built and make sure that it's part of whatever sustainable change comes next.
Marnetta: Lots of great things continue to happen in Louisiana. You guys said so much. I feel like this could be a couple of sessions because there's just so much wealth of knowledge for you to share with people who are trying to move their systems into a more equitable evaluation system. From what happened in Louisiana, what lessons would you want to share out to anybody thinking about making this shift to their QRIS systems?
Nasha: I think we've talked about a number of lessons, but the one thing I want to make sure on top of what we started with and what's in the white paper, one thing I want to make sure to emphasize is that we refined the system without changing its focus multiple times. That came from saying, we're trying something new, we're piloting it. You all are our partners in implementation. Tell us what's working and what's not and how we can make this better.
It came from feedback, but it also came from looking at our data. We made sure that as part of implementing and scaling, we had real-time easy access to data about the number of classrooms, the number of observations, and the reliability of those observations. We were running analytics on that daily. We were providing that information back to the field and we were asking lots of questions about that data to help us make sure whenever we took the next steps and the next steps, we were doing it really intentionally and being responsive to building a better system each time.
I'm not saying we changed the system year after year, the bedrock was there, but we made it better, we made it tighter. We made it something that people could have more and more confidence in the ratings and what they were doing with their money as a result of the rating.
One big thing that I will say we did that was a real shift for the system is we had started with preschool and toddler CLASS and we increasingly started hearing from directors and from infant teachers, teachers of infant classrooms, we want to be part of this too. We want to be getting this feedback. We want to be able to get the same kind of professional development and incentives. We want to know what we're doing right and where we can improve.
Really the drive to get to adding infinite classrooms in our quality rating and improvement system metric like this came from folks who wanted to be part of a quality rating and improvement system.
We did a pilot, we looked at our data, we figured out what works implementation-wise and not, and then we added it system-wise. All of the things that I said previously about looking at data, getting feedback, and being able to have a responsive system are really necessary, regardless of what you define as your north star of quality. Define it and then make sure you're working year over year to make your system to get to that north star better.
We did a pilot, we looked at our data, we figured out what works implementation-wise and not, and then we added it system-wise.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Did you want to add anything, Sarintha?
Sarintha: I think the other big piece is once states that have defined that north star and has that laser focus on what quality looks like. How do we measure it, how do we improve it, and how do we direct all resources to it? I think the other big piece of that is thinking about, as Nasha previously said, actually addressing it and implementing it at some kind of local or regional level. Not simply from the state level.
It’s defining it, what it should look like, and then partnering with either a local or regional network of entities so that there is that local buy-in, that local individualizing. Not that you're changing the system, but you're giving locals the opportunity to figure out how to roll it out in a way that makes sense. As we've said, people may not know, but Jefferson Parish basically surrounds Orleans and New Orleans. We're predominantly small cities or suburbs.
We look very different, of course, than some of the rural parishes even ten minutes away. All of those parishes or all the counties and states have that unique geography, unique makeup. All those factors that make them unique are the reason that they need some kind of local control for rollout and some kind of local control on where resources are designated. Still laser-focused on interactions, what matters most in classrooms, but lots of flexibility in how to make it happen with local leadership and local control.
Nasha: I would say it's a balance. There are some things you need to define at the state level to give everyone confidence that the rating in Jefferson is the same as the rating in Rapides, is the same as the rating in Madison, in any part of the state.
There are some things that we have to build into our rules around what do you need to be an observer? How are you reporting this information? How are you doing checks to make sure that these observers are reliable? How are you using your funding to make this happen?
At the same time not being overly prescriptive from the state for a model that people ultimately don't have flexibility as Sarintha said to say, this is what the state's defining as the north star. This is what they're saying we have to do to get there. These are the things we have to meet. What are we going to do? Who are we going to pull? What are our best ways to use our relationships, the structures that we have in our part of the state?
As we all know, Head Start guarantees vary from different parts of the state and partnerships look different. What a school system is or is not taking on or is responsible for will look different. What resources are available from nonprofits or other community partners will look different.
How folks are able to pull those resources, put together the best plan, identify the right messengers and the right process, stakes, and calendars that matters. It matters so much for the success of the work and it ultimately leads to more, not less, innovation in the state.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Thank you. Sarintha, I'm going to come back to you, boots on the ground. Talk more in depth for our listeners about what the move to a state local partnership in the Louisiana QRIS meant for your parish. Just talk to us about how that roll out went.
Sarintha: I like to think that we're still rolling things out. In early care and education, the landscape is always changing. We always have work to do, but we're always committed to that work and excited about new features and new components.
We always have work to do, but we're always committed to that work and excited about new features and new components.
I do think the initial roll out, what we spent a lot of time on, were the relationships and it was about building trust. Trusting one another, trusting that funds were going to be allocated in ways that made the most sense for our parish.
It was difficult in the beginning because, as I mentioned, it was a diverse group of programs who thought they were competing with one another. We all know it's still challenging in early care and education. We're still working on appropriate compensation for our childcare teachers so that we can reduce turnover, but it is worth the time, it is worth the effort, it's worth the energy, it's worth the attention needed and people just can't skip that important first step about building those relationships.
I think you said that things fell into place after that. It didn't feel like they ever would, but we really had to work on those relationships and really remind one another that we were all in this for children and families. Ultimately, what we see is increased access to high quality early care and education across all of our different partner types. We see exceptional quality in childcare. We see it in early Head Start. Head Start, we see it in our parochial schools and we see it in our public school system’s programs.
We are continuing that work to increase that access to high quality. We are looking at our childcare deserts. We're looking at, especially those places, and let's be brutally honest, there are still some places that after these many years have been resistant and they have not increased in quality.
We really need to look at and that's our current initiatives. Why have some places made great progress when it comes to moving the needle on quality as measured by class and other places have not? We need to figure out why. How do we provide different support? Because it worked in some places and it didn't work in others.
We know that existing early care and education providers that are of lower quality have to be a critical focus moving forward. We know how important it is for those children to be in places with better interactions on a day-to-day basis.
We still have a lot of work to do and we will probably be going back to those relationships. Did we not build sufficient relationships with those certain providers? If we didn't, why not? What do we need to do differently?
Marnetta: I love that and I love that you said that, because that's where I was going to go. I was going to be like Sarintha, you know what we have to look at first, those relationships. What are the barriers to that trust, what happened? You said exactly what it was. What is that resistance?
I could agree that what happened in Louisiana really moved the needle enough so that so many states are like, hey, what are they doing down there? It's become a model. Apparently way bigger success than you want to give. You're like yeah, we have so much to go. We've done a lot. People see it, across the country they see it, because it has been of interest what's happening down here because the shift is very obvious in what's happened in our early care networks here in Louisiana.
Nasha: Yeah, even the fact that Sarintha can sit here and tell you, here's what's going on in my Head Start versus my childcare versus my preschool, here's how many classrooms I have, here's how many kids they're serving, here's the areas of my very large parish where there are gaps and challenges, here's what we're doing to make a plan to address them. I think that extraordinary leadership is rare in the nation and being able to have that understanding of a community landscape and plan for what comes next is just really exceptional.
I think that extraordinary leadership is rare in the nation and being able to have that understanding of a community landscape and plan for what comes next is just really exceptional.
Marnetta: Yeah, absolutely. One of the other great by-products of all this. You found all these wonderful gyms across the state that may not have been recognized because what you're doing, Sarintha, is a skill. It's not something that everybody can do, especially successfully. It's been nice—I think, in my time—just identifying and seeing just all of these amazing people and all these skills that they brought to the work that we may not have been able to see otherwise.
I met so many great people who have been such amazing resources. Just wealth of knowledge, the things that they brought to the table and that they've shared with others, and I'm just like wow, we should have connected way before this, why is this [...]. I think in all of this and across all the networks, because it's not just the networks by locality, the networks all work together as well as a collective, it's not isolated. The state is really working as a whole together to make sure that our students get the best type of care across the whole state.
Sarintha: I never quite thought about it that way, but yes, the state has supported that we are a network of networks, so we do. The state supports network leaders coming together, learning from one another. A parish or county might look very different, but they have an idea. It sparks an idea and it might look different for us, but my goodness, I just got great ideas from a local network that looks very different from mine.
I tell you, as we move forward, because you talked about people having skills and building skills over time is where we're moving now is scary to a lot of us because we're thinking about being more in the community, working more with businesses. We really had to think about and particularly with the global pandemic, we have really seen how critical early care and education is not just as an education issue or a family issue, but it's really been clear of late that it is a workforce issue, which makes it an economic development issue.
We have really seen how critical early care and education is not just as an education issue or a family issue, but it's really been clear of late that it is a workforce issue...
Our network leaders are really moving more into other aspects of our community that we're not necessarily comfortable with. We're starting to push ourselves outside of our current comfort zone to the next level. If we're going to increase capacity for our most deserving children, we really have to think differently because we need other funding sources, we need other partnerships. We'll take new skills on our part, but the state's right, they are supporting our networks to do that different work.
Nasha: Ideally, learning. The amount that I have learned from Sarintha, from Cindy Rushing who was supposed to join us today, from other leaders in all of Louisiana doing the work day in and day out of what that means for the state system, it really should be multi-levels of learning and collaboration.
You talk so much about relationships, Sarintha, and building them. I agree with the point that the relationship building isn't just community level, it's also state level. From the state agency perspective, it should be with your local leadership. Almost everyone who worked on this work in Louisiana had my cell phone number, could call me, or reach me anytime they needed and I truly felt like I was a thought partner to them and really valued those opportunities and those relationships that I was able to build with folks who were the true leaders of this work.
Marnetta: Beautiful. The time has gone by so fast, but I still have one more question. As more states make the shift to focus on teacher child interactions as a key marker of quality, what do you hope that your impact will be for children educators?
Nasha: I'd like to see more focus in the early childhood system. I think that our system is so underfunded. There are not enough features, there are not enough directors, there are not enough spots, not enough centers. There's not enough money at any level of the system either to serve kids or to run a system.
When you think about it in that perspective, there's a million things we could tackle at any given moment. How do we start to build our focus, our sequence, and our set of steps? First we do this, then we do this, then we do this, and we're building to get to what our north star is. The first thing is that I would like for our system, as a whole, to focus so that we can make sure we're actually driving towards outcomes for kids. That the experience in the classroom, both for teachers and for children, is changing marketly year over year.
The second thing I would say is that I think so much of this conversation in early childhood is fragmented, driven by an extremely fragmented funding landscape. A three year old is a three year old thing that we say in Louisiana all the time. At the end of the day, children and families are so nervous or so worried about which funding stream is making their seat happen. They want to access a high quality seat. They want a teacher who cares about their kids. They want a director who's proud of the experience that they're offering to families.
So much of this conversation in early childhood is fragmented, driven by an extremely fragmented funding landscape.
It's our job as a system to take on the complexities of multiple funding streams with different eligibility requirements, different program requirements, quality definitions, and get to whatever the state has said is this is the experience we want to provide for every child at one, two, three, four before kindergarten if that family wants to spot.
Starting to move away from program, fiscal silos, and definitions of quality or definitions of experience by program or funding stream and instead moving towards we have an early childhood system. We use it to serve as many kids as one spot and as we can serve before kindergarten. Here's how we're using the different numbers of funding streams, or different amounts of funding, different partners, different resources or levers that we can pull to try to make that happen.
I think in Louisiana, that's one of the most powerful parts of this work, is that childcare Head Start public and non-public preschool is at the same table as part of the same conversation around what we're trying to make happen for kids, for families, for teachers, and providers and so on. I think that that's a really important part of the family experience that I don't want to leave out of any conversation of quality.
Marnetta: Thank you so much, Nasha. Sarintha?
Sarintha: Well, I just love listening to Nasha. She said it so beautifully. I'm sitting here thinking I'm not sure I have a lot to add, but just to maybe reiterate what she said, as states are thinking about using CLASS or interactions as the sole focus or whatever their north star is, the bigger picture of a system is so critical.
If we were able to talk to legislators at the national level, our federal folks, it's about how we create one system for all children. In Louisiana, I think we've done a good job of trying to make it look like one system for families. From the family perspective, we have one common enrollment system. You apply once and we know which program you might qualify for, but we're still piecing it together on the back end.
We are still working with this system who's got early Head Start funds, that system who's got Head Start funds, yet another system. We're trying to pull it together at a network level and I think states trying to figure it out would be helpful, but I know that it requires work at even a higher level. I think ultimately that's where we have to go as a system that is really focused on all children in our country.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Thank you guys so much for joining me today. I feel like we could talk for a couple more hours, but we only have a short amount of time for this podcast so don't be surprised if we actually come back at another time.
You can find today's episode and transcript on our website teachstone.com/impacting. As always, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together. Again, thank you guys so much.
Nasha: Thank you.
Sarintha: Thank you for having us.
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State policymakers have an exciting opportunity to level the playing field for early childhood education with thoughtful system design using the newly released Preschool Development Grant Birth to Five, also known as PDG B-5. This grant provides funding to State early childhood agencies’ to strengthen early childhood systems. In particular, a portion of PDG B-5 funding is targeted for Renewal Grants—24 out of 25 eligible states are expected to be awarded funding for PDG B-5 Renewal Grants. These Renewal Grants will provide three consecutive years of funding to support activities and implementation in each state.
Originally published Jan 23, 2020 by Allie Kallmann
A few years into teaching early childhood, I applied to work at a school that does incredible work in the local community. I was thrilled to get an interview but realized very quickly that, even though the environment was supportive and the students were wonderful young people, I was much too intimidated to work there.
Moving towards a post-pandemic world, early childhood education is still in a fractured state of recovery. Numerous headlines define the inequitable foundation early childhood system is built on that limits educators’ capacity to thrive and impact children’s lives. Yet demand for early learning remains steadfast as families get back to routines in communities everywhere. How do policymakers start to level the playing field for early childhood programs with equitable policies while increasing access for families in need of high-quality care?