Archive for the ‘Early Learning’ Category

Delaware Still Lagging Behind in State-Supported Pre-K

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According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Delaware ranks 35th among states for pre-K enrollment, with only seven percent (845) of four-year olds enrolled in state-sponsored pre-K.

(To see more on pre-K enrollment across the country, check out NIEER’s State of Preschool Yearbook.)

Despite Delaware’s laudable progress in early childhood education, the fact remains that we’re below most other states when it comes to state-sponsored pre-K. Why is that figure important? As we’ve noted before, as we continue to align the pre-K and K-12 systems, we need to ensure as many kids as possible are coming to kindergarten with the skills they need to succeed. Right now, Delaware pre-K offerings are scattershot: Some providers are funded through the state, some are private businesses, while others receive a mix of private and public funding. There is little coordination or alignment between various programs.

In other states, government-funded pre-K typically carries higher standards than other childcare options when it comes to academics, staff (BAs for teachers and Child Development Associate degrees for assistants, as recommended by NIEER), and expectations on the students.

A 2002 study showed that children in Delaware participating in state-sponsored pre-K performed at a higher rate than their peers on 3rd and 5th grade state tests. Meanwhile, district-level initiatives like Project V.I.L.L.A.G.E. (Verbally Intensive Literacy and Learning Activities for Growth in Education) in Indian River School District have proven successful at providing comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, and quality early childhood programming for economically challenged families in Delaware.

The stark reality is nearly half of Delaware students are entering kindergarten behind the curve, signaling the need to increase access and quality of state-sponsored pre-K—and all early learning environments that support young people from birth.

In Delaware, pre-K for four-year-olds takes many forms:

  • Delaware’s state-funded pre-K for four-year-olds is the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP), which was established in 1994 and has not been expanded since. It currently serves 845 four-year-olds with a program that is three and a half hours a day for nine months a year in district, Headstart, and early childcare settings
  • Headstart (federally funded)
  • District programs (funded by Title I, Purchase of Care, 21st Century funds)
  • Community-based programs (family pay, Purchase of Care)

As Delaware considers expanding and improving pre-K in the years to come, some principles we would suggest:

  • Maintaining and increasing quality, including staff qualifications, meaningful dose and duration, curriculum, and assessment
  • A mixed delivery system (of district and community settings)
  • Alignment with K-12 standards and expectations

In order to consider expanding, we may need to better understand our current performance standards, staff qualification requirements, and funding available—and needed—for these programs.

As we’ve said many times on this blog, investments in quality early learning yield enormous returns, for students, families, and society as a whole. And Delawareans agree that getting our students off to a great start is crucial.

The 2016 Vision Coalition of Delaware Statewide Survey of Public Opinion on Education in Delaware showed that a majority of Delawareans believe in the power of quality early learning.

New Data about Delaware’s Earliest Learners Reveal Need and Opportunity

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In Delaware, we’ve known for years the importance of getting off to a great start. By the time a child celebrates his or her fifth birthday, nearly 90 percent of intellect, personality, and social skills are already developed. And when children arrive to kindergarten ready to learn, their chances to thrive in school skyrockets.


Thanks to some key investments and programmatic support, the state’s early childhood education system has come a long way in recent years. One of the most helpful new tools at our disposal is the Delaware Early Learner Survey (DE-ELS)—a snapshot of kindergarten readiness that became available statewide this year for the first time ever.


With DE-ELS, kindergarten teachers observe and record children’s knowledge and skills at the beginning of the school year that lead to success in kindergarten and through life: language and literacy development; cognition; approaches toward learning; physical well-being and motor development; and social-emotional development.


So what did this new, important data tell us? For starters, we know that we still have much more work to do. Although incoming kindergarteners are strongest on literacy than other areas, only two-thirds are at the level that’s expected developmentally for five-year-olds. We know early literacy is a huge indicator of future success (in school and in life), and we are committed to doing more to support young learners.


And the needs are even greater in areas like cognition and language, which are building blocks for future learning. About half of Delaware children are already behind before they start kindergarten.


We are committed to leading the way and using this new information for its intended purposes:

  • Help teachers customize instruction to meet children’s developmental needs.
    • We now have a tool that is used by early learning providers (who serve children before they get to kindergarten) and elementary schools—they can now talk the same language and share information. And they are doing just that at the local level, thanks to the Readiness Team efforts. We must ensure it is used widely to share data, to improve instruction, and to support children.
    • Teachers need more support. Training is underway to support kindergarten teachers in how to use their students’ data to best meet their needs—and how to teach in ways that are appropriate for five-and six-year-olds, a group that has often been treated similarly to older students, who are in different phases of child development.


  • Inform ongoing efforts to improve educational quality. The DE-ELS data will help us as a state:
    • Ensure the investments in quality—including Stars, scholarships for early childhood teachers, screenings, and other efforts—are as impactful as they can be. We now have child data that we have not had before, and we must analyze it to be sure we are maximizing the resources we have.
    • Ensure elementary schools are prepared to support the needs of incoming kindergarteners. We have heard the significance and growth of social and emotional needs for this age group, and now we know that 40 percent of these children need significant support.


The Rodel Foundation and United Way of Delaware have a long history of investment in and advocacy for efforts to improve outcomes for young children—including the Delaware Readiness Teams and Delaware STARS, among others. We know this important work will not bear fruit overnight, and we know we can do more—and must.


These data are a call to action: It’s time to ask hard questions. Are we serving our young children as well as we can?  How can we do more with the resources we have, and how can we be creative about leveraging other sources? Are our standards for early learning programs high enough—and is minimum wage what this important profession deserves?


We look forward to working with partners across the state to focus collective energy to these young learners who need our support.


Madeleine Bayard is the chair of the Delaware Early Childhood Council, and Michelle Taylor is the CEO and president of United Way of Delaware.

What Makes a “Ready” Kindergartener?

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In Delaware all kindergarten teachers—including ourselves—will complete an observational assessment called the Delaware Early Learning Survey (DE-ELS) during the first 30 days of school.


We are observing various objectives under six domains of developmental growth: physical, social-emotional, language, cognitive, literacy, and mathematics. You can read more about these domains here.


This tool gives us an understanding of how “ready” a child was for kindergarten—we know this is not a precise definition for a couple of reasons: (1) Delaware code states that children are ready for kindergarten if they turn five before August 31 and (2) children develop at their own pace and through a range of developmentally acceptable benchmarks that five-year-olds should be able to reach. In other words, this is not a multiple choice test. Nevertheless, the data gathered from the DE-ELS helps to plan grouping and instructional needs for students.


So what exactly are we observing? Let’s break down the six domains:


Social-emotional wellbeing. Here we look at how well a child can take care of his or her own needs, and regulate emotions. We also look at whether he or she plays and talks with other children appropriately.


Physical development. To check on motor skills development, we look for whether a child can use crayons, pencils, and scissors with control, can button or zip clothing, and how he or she runs and climbs around on the playground.


Language skills. We listen closely to how a child talks to his or her peers and responds to questions, and whether they can follow multi-step directions, and whether they can speak a second language.


Cognitive skills. Can a child try to put a puzzle together or use their imagination to pretend play? Can they sort and describe the use of various objects?


Literacy and mathematics. Here we check to see if a child can identify letters and sounds, and whether they display basic literacy skills in reading and writing. Likewise, we look at whether a child can count, identify shapes, and match quantities.


While all six domains are critical, we might give greater weight to the first four, since they are truly the most important indicators of a child’s readiness for kindergarten. As most teachers know, we spend a good portion of the kindergarten year focusing on literacy and mathematics. But in reality we really dig in on building students’ social-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive skills—since these skills are typically at a greater deficit. With increased socio-dramatic play opportunities, these skills will positively impact the rest of a child’s learning.


So if you have a child getting ready to start kindergarten, what can you do right now?


  • Make sure your child is registered.
  • Start having your child go to bed earlier, and getting up earlier.
  • Work on learning to tie shoes, and fasten/unfasten clothing.
  • When you get your class supply list, make sure you have extra supplies at home as school supplies are much cheaper now then later in the school year.
  • Visit your child’s school and classroom to help overcome both your worries about how to get there and what it looks like, even if you’ve already visited.
  • Most importantly, read to your child, discuss the story, and ask questions about the details. The more conversations and experiences you have with your child the more successful they will be in school!


Other suggested child activities can be found here.


Lori Nichols teaches kindergarten at Brandywine Springs School in the Red Clay Consolidated School District, and Michelle Wilson teaches kindergarten at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in the Capital School District. Both are members of the Rodel Teacher Council.

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