Back to school update for Jane

This post was written by Emma Margraf, a foster parent and advocate.

Tonight the most important question I have to ask will be: is it appropriate to wear my t-shirt that has hip-hop stars on the side of Mt. Rushmore to the evening for new Upper School students and their parents at the fancy private school Jane will start this week? I can’t decide.

Yes, she was accepted to the private school. It was a pretty long admission process as the school wanted to be sure she had at least some idea of what she was in for. She starts this week. We were so lucky to find a way to pay for it—neither the agency with which I am licensed nor I have $22,000 lying around for one year of her education. In fact, when the check came in to the agency to cover the cost one of the administrators didn’t know what it was for and nearly had a heart attack. It was a letdown for him to realize it was already spent. (When I told a lawyer friend this story he said, “You know, one of the partners I work with said the other day that you can give a non-profit $5 to do $20 worth of work” – but that’s neither here nor there).

Her books cost $525—and most of them were used. When she saw the pile of them, she immediately took a picture to send to people so that they could be thoroughly impressed. There are TWO math books. The English books are on a wide range of topics, and she has already written a paper on her summer reading book. She didn’t write a paper all of last year.

What’s more, there is an English teacher from the school who has been voluntarily tutoring her this summer. She has been to several sessions, and is incorporating his feedback as she goes. We had a meeting with the advisor, the learning specialist, Jane’s caseworker, and my friend who works at the school already, tonight is the first of several back to school meetings. All the meetings include dinner.

It’s a good thing that there’s been so much preparation, because Jane’s got the summer doldrums. She’s been working as a counselor in training for the summer, and it’s not exactly what I hoped. All of the other kids from the Middle—that area of public school where kids get dropped off and left to their own devices –seem to be in this program too. The point of the program seems to be to have youth who are stuck in mediocre programs all through the school year teach younger kid how to be ready exactly for that too when they get older.

Jane’s interpretation of her job is to make sure the kids cross the street within the lines, that they are quiet, that they don’t rough house in the pool. None of the activities are memorable, but she has told me numerous times how important it seems to be to not bring peanuts in her lunch. There are so many campers, they need some extra help to keep track of them, and they seem to use the Counselors In Training as a second set of eyes to make sure kids aren’t misbehaving. When she gets home every day, she’s done so little actual thinking that she is super hyper all evening, asking me a billion questions while I try and push her out the door for a bike ride before the sun goes down.

When I was young I went to Shakespeare Camp. We performed comedies for four summers, and while I was there I learned to juggle, hang a spoon on my nose, and sing Elizabethan songs. After those years I worked as a junior counselor in a program that focused on wellness in combination with fairy tales of the outdoors that led to all of the junior counselors writing clues that were left throughout hiking trails for the kids to follow on an adventure.

The senior counselors in that program were directed to take us under their wing, and mine gave me The Prophet by Kahil Gibran and Johnathan Livingston Seagull while trying to convince me to write short stories and read them a loud on camp overnights.

The summer after my junior year in high school I was sent to math camp at Mt. Holyoke – a rebellious girls only program to aimed at ending the math divide between girls and boys. I made life-long friends there, and it gave me an opportunity to visit Fenway Park for the first time.

All things are possible. My parents never had a lot, and I honestly don’t know how I managed to get all of those opportunities. Nor should I have. It was their job to figure it out, and now it’s mine for Jane. I screwed this summer up, but have now learned my lesson. I know the kids at her new school aren’t working at keeping younger kids following the rules and only the rules this summer—at least I think they aren’t. I have visions of them serving as crew on sailing trips to Europe and learning to become trapeze artists. Next summer we’ll do a better job; there’s got to be some equivalent of learning to juggle or visiting Fenway Park.

In the meantime, I have Upper School New Student Night, Tenth Grade Outdoor Education Night, and I have to figure out what to wear to each while getting ready to be the youngest parent in the room again. If I had given birth to Jane I would have been 21 when she was born, which is much more common at public school than it is in the private ones I have been around.

Jane’s first day is Wednesday. Two of her teachers have PhDs. One is a retired military veteran who has lived all over the world. She’s hoping to be in the fall play.

The Journey Out of Not-So-Special Education

This blog post was written by Emma Margraf, a foster parent and advocate

My first parent teacher conference was two and a half years ago, at a public junior high across town from my house. Jane is my teenage foster daughter, and she had been placed at my house for a couple of weeks, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Jane had never learned most of what she was supposed to; after ten years with neglectful parents and three years and 7 placements in foster care she didn’t know how to count money, measure time, or do her multiplication tables. She was in the resource room all day with all of the other children they didn’t know what to do with. I knew so little – but it was surprising to me because my first experience with Jane something they didn’t seem to see — hearing her recount every plot point in the Twilight series and falling in love with the movie Wall E. Say what you like about the vampire novels, but this version of her seemed so incongruous with the one I saw at school, where the only concerns they had were for her discipline. The conversation was about all of the things they were asking her not to do – and there was a very long list.

Over the course of the next six months she got suspended more times than I can recount; some of the suspensions meant she was sent home, and some were in school. When she got suspended in school she was set down in a room by herself and allowed to read Harry Potter books – her very favorite thing—all day. What seemed obvious to me – that whenever she was lost in uncertainty she did something disruptive so she could go read books – was not so clear to them.

A few weeks after my first parent teacher conference I asked Jane what she wanted most in her life. She said that she wanted out of special education, and she wanted to get off of medication. When I started bringing these goals up with teachers, principals, and school psychologists I got the same reaction from all of them – a mix of pity and condescension. They knew it was hard to see a child with so many limitations, and it was hard, they knew. But medication was complicated, you see, and there were these test scores to prove that she was exactly where she was supposed to be. And my favorite response: we could test her again, but we know what the outcome will be already.

The thing is, I ask questions until I get an answer that seems to make sense. It’s my nature. I kept asking why she was on these medications, and no one knew for sure. I kept asking what they were doing for her, and no one had a way to evaluate that. I kept asking what progress she could make academically and how we could go about that, and they said she would likely never learn her multiplication tables and that she didn’t need to. None of this made any sense to me – in my regular every day life multiplication tables are the one form of math I need constantly – to be a person in the world. They said she couldn’t learn.

Meanwhile, I was teaching her. I taught her to measure time and count money. I signed her up for private swim lessons and within three months her teacher said she was skilled enough to pass the swim test at camp and survive if she fell off of a boat (my father is a sailor, this has always been his measurement of swimming education success). She learned to manage her own schedule and get herself on the bus in the morning. At school, I couldn’t figure out what, if anything, they were doing. They didn’t give her homework, and she seemed to have free unsupervised time on a regular basis where she would get online and instant message me.

I emailed her teacher/special education case manager one day in total exasperation, asking him to give Jane some positive reasons to participate. He wrote back saying that he does say positive things to her everyday – but couldn’t provide any examples right then. What he could provide was a list of the negative things he needed me to support them on today. I remember the day I got that email very clearly – it was the straw that broke my back and all I could think was “This. Is. Impossible.”

So I started looking into private schools. I asked a lot of people a lot of questions. On the suggestion of a friend of the family I found an alternative school in a rural part of town in a beautiful old building with thirteen kids in the class she’d be in and an arts program that was integrated into the rest of the curriculum. When we pulled up in front of the school for a visit Jane said, “I can go to school here?”

She could, and she did. She had an amazing year there. She learned about buoyancy and displacement, built contraptions that conducted electric current, and memorized 68 lines of Shakespeare for the class play. She went on a class trip that included hiking in the Grand Canyon and a visit to the missions of Santa Barbara. When she called me from California the first thing she said was: “Mom, do you KNOW how FUN it is to swim in the ocean?!”

After the year ended, the options for private school seemed too limited, and so Jane followed many members of her class to the local public high school. Early on we discovered that she had jumped seven grade levels in reading in the last year. (When I mentioned this to her teacher from the private school he kind of cocked his head to one side and said, “Huh. I’m not really sure what that means, but it sounds great.”) She tested out of two of the three areas of her Independent Education Plan. This was phenomenal, I thought. If she can do that in a year, what else could she do?

I really should know better. In the first conference to set up her high school schedule, they told me that community college would be a great option for her, or maybe a vocational program? I said, “She’s in the 9th grade. Let’s not make that decision today. If she isn’t able to go to a four year school, that’s ok, but we’re going to give her the opportunity to try.”

And so I’m in another year of struggle. Conversations that were easy last year are like rolling a giant rock up a mountain. I switched her out of the English class that is designed to instill a love of reading – that goal has been met. I’m trying to get her out of a health class that’s not teaching her to be healthy. I took her to see the Picasso exhibit in Seattle and when she told her teachers about it they just shrugged their shoulders – a moment that was upsetting to me only because she’d been inspired by her day at the museum, listening to the audio commentary, picking out her favorite piece, and deciding that maybe Picasso was a little too moody for her.

Her teacher from last year came to the house last month for a party we had. He asked Jane and some of the other kids about school, and they said they were reading a Steinbeck novel and that it was boring. “Boring?” he asked. “You can say a lot about that story, but it’s not boring!” And then he drew them into a conversation about it, and within five minutes, their attitude was totally turned around – talking about Steinbeck became fun.

There are so many fights. Everyone one is digging in their heels: schools are great or they are hopeless. The problem is poverty, class sizes, teacher salaries, standardized testing… whatever it is, whoever is speaking insists that the problem they’ve identified is the one that needs to be fixed first. In the meantime, the clock is ticking on my child’s life and education, and I feel this incredible pressure, every day, to give her the help she’s asking me for. All I want is that five minutes where the conversation turns around and becomes what it could be, a discussion that’s fun to have.

Parent-teacher dialogue, from a foster parent’s point of view

This post was written by Emma Margraf, a foster parent and advocate.

I am a foster parent to a teenage girl who goes to public school. I’ve had her for two years, and in the time I’ve had her I have attended what feels like approximately 9 million parent teacher conferences, school meetings, back to school nights, etc. I have the access code for the online system where you can see what classes your kid has been late to and what assignments they’ve missed. I supervise homework time and answer the questions I can and challenge her with extra books and encourage her to ask for extra credit, extra help, and extra time.

The other day I read something by Kelly Munn, LEV’s State Field Director, that really struck home with me–in a post she wrote called the Blame Game. Why, in the education world, is everyone having a monologue with themselves? I, like Kelly, am that parent in the video satirizing parent teacher conferences. I give. That’s totally me. I’m sure a number of teachers dread my presence and hate my emails. That reaction – the one where you go on a tirade of all of the reasons why your child can’t do this, is a human response the veritable brick wall you run into when you go into a school and say: this isn’t working. A partnership is possible.

Now here’s where I am tempted to say something completely silly, like some of my best friends are teachers. They are. I believe they deserve higher pay, smaller class sizes, and extra breaks. My step-father is a college professor, my mother is a retired elementary school teacher, and for years I kept in touch with my high school English teacher who, when she discovered I’d already read Macbeth several times gave me leave from class and assigned me Julius Ceasar and Romeo and Juliet, without any intervention from my parents. Mrs. Barnett taught me to write. Her method is the one I’m still using in this article, except I buried my thesis at the end of the second paragraph.

I’m often told that teachers have 140 students, and that if they allowed for the concerns of every student they’d never get anywhere. And yet: concessions are made all of the time. Kids leave class for sports events and get make up time, kids leave sex ed because their parents have moral quandaries, kids do alternative biology assignments because their family doesn’t agree that evolution was how we ended up here. How is that different than when I ask for my child to be let out of a unit on mental health issues because of her background? How is that different than when I ask teachers to let her do extra credit to make up for an area where she’s deficient as a result of previous negligence? These are just two of my current concerns, on which I am in the middle of my 5,000th email. Partnerships are possible.

In the comments to Kelly’s post, there were some great responses, and one of them asked why we can’t get syllabi at the beginning of the year. That was a great suggestion. If assignments were available ahead of time then we’d know what we were dealing with. Technology has become fairly advanced, why can’t we plug in the assignments ahead of time instead of the missed assignments after the fact?

What if parent teacher conferences were actually student centered? What if they started and ended with the student expressing their concerns about the particular class, and making a suggestion for what they think they can do to improve their work? What if that conversation between my child and my child’s teacher was really only witnessed by me, and driven by my child? I’m not sure about all of you, but in that scenario, if mine felt heard, she’d pay a lot more attention. It wouldn’t have to be a long conference; it’s the quality of the conversation that matters, and if she heard something other than follow the rules or else, she would listen.

I understand the argument about teaching children to survive in a big world. However, if something isn’t working it isn’t working, and my kid needs to see that there are solutions to problems that seem insurmountable, because there always, always are. Conversations have been a prized tool for answering the profound questions of the world for thousands of years. Let’s have a conversation to see if we can figure this one out.

Korsmo’s education news round up

Friday again. Is it my imagination or are they getting colder?

We are in the final stretch for this election cycle – anyone else not quite ready to give up those political ads? Didn’t think so – Lots of education issues playing out on the ballot and in the rhetoric, between Seattle’s supplemental levy (other districts have similar levies on the ballot as well), Initiative 1098 the income tax on the wealthiest Washingtonians which would fund education, R-52 , the bond measure that would retrofit schools with “green” building systems or Patty Murray’s ads featuring her education credentials the you’d think we make education a priority here. Remember to vote – and help your friends do the same.

Nationwide, races are tightening and one to watch is the Colorado Senate race where former Denver Superintendent and current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is locked in a dead heat with GOP candidate, Ken Buck who has some, er, “interesting” perspectives. Bennet has been at the forefront of education reform and folks are wondering just what this election means for the Obama agenda moving forward.

There has been a fair amount of attention given to for-profit institutions of higher learning lately, but at least one opinionator believes that the focus has been misplaced. These schools are full of low income students – disproportionately so – who graduate at very low rates and therefore don’t improve their social mobility.

Wondering what D.C. Schools will look like in the aftermath of the Mayoral election and the shake up at Chancellor? WaPo lays down the five things to watch for.

That’s it for this week. I’m off to the national Race and Pedagogy Conference in Tacoma. This year’s conference theme: Teaching and Learning for Justice: Danger and Opportunity in our Critical Moment. Have a great weekend, all.

A motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom

This blog post is written by Connie Gerlitz, one of LEV’s key activists and longtime education reform leader and activist, in response to the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday.

We cannot confuse our love and respect for good teachers with the fact that their efforts are not universally replicated in our classrooms, and our children are suffering the consequences as evidenced by their inability to pass required standardized tests, graduate from high school, or take a college-level course.

Teachers and school communities need our help and support – collaboration time, clean and safe classrooms, continued monetary incentives, mentorships, remediation plans, praise and heart-felt thanks.

But students need so much more and one of those things (please notice that I said “one of those things”) is a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, and effective teacher in every one of their classrooms. We can’t fix ineffective parents. We can’t fix severe disabilities. We can’t fix poverty. We can, however, move toward providing them with teachers that prove that they have the ability to educate them. One of the ways (please note that I said “one of the ways”) is to measure student progress and use that progress as a means (please note that I said “a means”) of determining whether a teacher is effective or not.

I for one have really had it with the rhetoric that says that unless we are in a classroom we don’t understand what good teaching is. It is like saying that unless we are the chef in a restaurant we don’t understand what good food is or that unless we can wield the scalpel ourselves that we don’t know whether our appendix was removed successfully or not. Our food is nutritious and tasty. We no longer are the owners of an infected appendix. Our kids can read.

I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.

Here is a quick story: My mother taught school for 40 years and one of her first students was a blind child (also a neighbor). Blind children were not allowed at the time to be in normal public classrooms in the Franklin Pierce School District, but the parents really wanted him to be in my mom’s classroom. First she learned how to Braille. Then she went to the school board and petitioned to allow his entry into her class. When that was allowed, she brailled all of his needed reading material for 10 years. She opened the classroom doors in that district for blind children. He is, to this day, a highly respected and productive member of our community. That was not a part of her contract, by the way. I could go for days with the countless students our daughter has mentored in and out of foster homes, out of gangs, out of drugs, out of lethargy, out of anger management problems. Her kids move along and she would not have a problem with a test that proves it. She would welcome any help she could get if the test showed she was making no progress.

When I complained once to my mom about not liking to teach students who didn’t care about learning, she took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, get out of teaching. They are the ones that need your help. The others will do it on their own.”

We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.

And, I have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher’s effectiveness should not be judged on the actual educational progress of her students. What is it we don’t understand about a test that tells us what a child knows at the beginning of the year and what a child knows at the end of the year? Do teachers not give students tests to figure out if they learned a subject? Is there not a test that can tell us, in part, (please note that I said “in part””) if a teacher is successfully imparting the substance of a subject to his/her students?

I love and admire good teachers and I want to pay them and help them and honor them in every way possible and have spent almost 40 years working to improve the lot of teachers so they could properly educate our kids. The system is not working. Our kids are failing. We need change and we need it now but not the change that says that we will install an accountability system that has no teeth. Why, please tell me why, the union is not in favor of finding a way to reward effective teachers and get rid of the also-rans with a system that has some teeth – a test is just one tooth but it is one of the front ones and is noticeable and harmful when missing.

Rainier Scholar joins LEV for hands-on learning

For the third summer in a row, LEV is excited to host a Rainier Scholar. Each year, the Rainier Scholars program invites 60 fifth-grade students of color in the Seattle Public School District to embark on an 11-year journey to prepare them for success in school, college and life. This year, we’re hosting Laura Del Villar-Fox, a rising-senior, who will get to experience activism and politics in action. Below, Laura writes about the Rainier Scholars program and why it has been an important part of her life.

For the past 6 years or so, I have been involved in a program called Rainier Scholars. Never heard of it? Unfortunately, not a lot of people have. Rainier Scholars was jump started by Mr. Bob Hurlbut about eight years ago in hopes of replicating a similar program called Prep for Prep in New York. Rainier Scholars aims to

“cultivate the academic potential of talented and motivated young scholars from ethnic minority backgrounds. By offering access to exceptional educational opportunities and ongoing comprehensive support…”

Each year, after looking through fourth grade WASL scores, Rainier Scholars invites students of color who have passed the reading portion to apply to the program.

After receiving my letter, I was asked to go through several rounds of interviews as well as write an essay or two before being accepted as a Scholar. But once this process had been completed, and I was officially accepted, the real work began.

The summer before my 6th and 7th grade year was spent in class, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, for 6 weeks. This extra schooling was also continued throughout my 6th grade year, but was only on Wednesdays and all day Saturday. Altogether, this added up to be more than 500 additional hours of homework and was an equivalent of 120 days of school. This intensive academic portion is meant to prepare the scholars for a college-like environment, as well as provide them with the extra-schooling necessary to be accepted into the competitive independent schools throughout Seattle.

Once the academic portion is completed, the program requires us to attend about two leadership retreats per year where we are able to study significant leaders throughout history as well as discover important traits that each leader possessed (including ourselves). Along with these retreats, Rainier Scholars assists Scholars by matching them with internships each summer at businesses and organizations such as local law firms, medical clinics, and non-profit organizations (such as LEV).

On top of all of this, Rainier Scholars provides college support throughout each Scholar’s high school career by providing counselors that meet up with students monthly and SAT prep courses and by working closely with each of our schools to help insure the goal and promise of their program—to send each and every one of us to college.

Luckily, I already knew what I was getting myself into when I applied since my older brother had been one of the first to go through the program. My parents encouraged me to apply because it enabled him to attend Lakeside, one of the top private schools in the state. Also, my parents, at the time, had recently gone back to school to receive their bachelors at the UW (and had been the first in either of their families to earn a college degree).

Realizing the importance of education, my parents wanted to set an example for their children by showing the great effect education can have on your career options as well as your quality of life; and they managed to show me this first-hand by working themselves up from being janitors, to becoming a lawyer and an administrator at the Department of Social and Health Services. Growing up around such inspiring people has helped mold me into a hard-working individual—prepared for a program such as Rainier Scholars.

PreK Now. It’s Basic!

Today LEV Foundation board member Janet Levinger testified in support of HB 2731 – including preschool for at-risk 3- and 4-year olds in basic education. I have pasted it below. Janet was joined by 20 parents, providers, sheriffs (yes, there were two!) and child advocates who also testified in support of including preschool in basic education. At least 15 people also signed in to support 2731 without testifying.

Thank you Janet for standing up for Washington’s youngest learners.

Good afternoon. For the record, my name is Janet Levinger. I am here today as a community volunteer and child advocate. I currently serve on the boards of United Way of King County, Social Venture Partners, the League of Education Voters, Child Care Resources, and the Bellevue Schools Foundation. I am also on the advancement and communications committees of Thrive by Five Washington.

I am here today to speak in support of HB 2731 and applaud your vision to include PreK in basic education. I also like the mention of infant toddler programs in HB 2867.

Ever since I joined to Child Care Resources board – 13 years ago this month – my husband and I have focused our philanthropy and volunteer time on improving outcomes for all children by ensuring they have a strong state in life. Here’s why:

Imagine yourself as a 5-year-old. It’s your first day at school. You have a new lunch box and a new backpack and you’re all excited. But when you get to school, you have a hard time. You have trouble sitting still to listen to a story. You fight with other kids over a toy. You get in trouble with the teacher because you can’t wait until the end of circle time to play with the blocks. Other kids laugh at you when you don’t know how to write your name and have trouble holding onto a pencil. By the end of the week, the teacher now that you are one of the kids who is not ready for school and she can guess that you are one of the kids who will not graduate from high school.

Imagine yourself as a 5-year old – and you are already projected to fail.

My husband and I invest in quality early education because is shows that it makes a huge difference for kids.

Kids in quality programs enter kindergarten with a solid foundation of social skills and learning skills. They are less likely to repeat a grade, to be placed in special education, to commit a crime, or to become pregnant as a teen.

My husband and I invest in quality early education because it is a good investment for our community.

Research from prominent economists has shows that for every dollar invested in high quality PreK saves taxpayers up to $7 later. Not only are there savings from remedial and juvenile justice programs, but over the long-term, these kids are more likely to graduate from high school, gain stable employment, and contribute positively to our community.

Protecting PreK under basic education would ensure that the program could not be cut and that all eligible children would be served.

I grew up in Iowa and when I was 10-years old, my family moved to a new house. We were one of the first in a new development. My mother planted all sorts of trees – but they were scrawny twigs when she put them in no bigger than I was. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was planting trees so we would have shade from the sun, apples to pick in the summer, and privacy from our neighbors. I remember looking around from our prairie hilltop and noticing that we did not have any neighbors and I thought she was crazy. But of course she was right. Over time, the small plants she carefully watered and pruned sheltered us from the sun, gave us fruit, and offered us privacy from the neighbors who did move in.

I know it’s hard to think 5, 12, or 20 years ahead. But I hope you will be like my mother and have the foresight to know that caring for our children now will bring many benefits in the future. Imagine that 5-year old – we can offer her a hopeful future instead of failure.

Including a program of early learning in Basic Education will guarantee that our limited resources are focused where the can make the most difference in the life of every child, and to our community.

Thank you.

What our early learning town hall meetings accomplished

In the past two weeks hundreds of parents in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and Kirkland met with Bette Hyde, Director of the Department of Early Learning, Nina Auerbach, President of Thrive by Five Washington, and Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn to talk about the challenges they face as they care for and educate their young children. You may have heard about the early learning town halls as a member of LEV or  MomsRising or the other great groups who made these meetings happen (Foundation for Early Learning, local PTAs, Children’s Alliance, CCR&R, and Washington Head Start/ECEAP Association).

So, why did parents brave the rain and cold?

Their feedback will help shape early learning recommendations for the 2010 Legislative Session and a ten-year early learning plan to be delivered to Governor Gregoire next month. These parents wanted to make sure that Washington’s Early Learning Plan will help their children succeed in school and life.

Did our input make a difference?

Access and affordability. We heard you loud and clear – but will the Early Learning Plan reflect that? Our discussion made a big difference on many levels, but we’re far from finished. While the 2010 recommendations are not final, the Department of Early Learning released preliminary recommendations to Gov. Gregoire and much of the feedback has been incorporated in these thoughts. The full document is available on the Department of Early Learning’s website, and here is a short summary:

  1. Birth through 3 Continuum. Build and fund an aligned, integrated continuum of supports, services and programs for all children birth to age 3, and their families. Ensuring that infants and toddlers have good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences will lay the foundation for success throughout their lives. Because this is also a critical period for meaningful intervention for children at‐risk, and with special needs, a first focus will be on early invention programs and services, such as: developmental screening; home visitation; programs consistent with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C; Family, Friend and Neighbors support; and Early Head Start.
  2. Voluntary Universal Prekindergarten for 4‐year olds implemented in mixed‐delivery system. Prekindergarten programs for 4‐year olds aim to promote the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are associated with success in elementary school. “Universal” means that the program is universally available (or nearly so) but that parents are free to enroll their children or not as they see fit.  Create voluntary universal preschool program for 4‐year‐olds as part of basic education; phase in to serve highest poverty communities first. Integrate and coordinate phase‐in of all‐day K with phase‐in of universal preschool for 4‐year‐olds.
  3. State‐Funded Full‐Day Kindergarten Enhancing Equity, Continuity and Quality Based on research, the Legislature prioritized full‐day kindergarten funding for schools with the highest percentage of students living in poverty (as measured by the number of students eligible for free and reduced‐price lunch). Full‐day kindergarten gives young children, particularly those living in poverty, the time to learn the foundational skills and knowledge that is so important to future school success.
  4. Early Literacy. Promote early literacy and reading success in school for children birth through 3rd grade in the context of whole child development.
  5. Early Learning Educator/Provider Supports. Continue to implement and expand a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) so that early learning and school‐age providers have the support and resources necessary to improve the quality of their programs and environments and so that families have the necessary consumer education to choose high quality programs for their children. Ensure that licensing is the foundation of QRIS, and that all licensed early learning programs participate. As QRIS is implemented, ensure that it is: tied to child care subsidy (e.g. tiered reimbursement); and integrated within the Professional Development Consortium’s recommendations for a comprehensive professional development system that focuses on achieving high‐quality, and that promotes a qualified and well compensated early learning workforce.
  6. Enhance/Strengthen the Early Learning System Infrastructure. Continue to develop, strengthen and resource infrastructure elements needed to support the early learning system so that it functions effectively and with quality.
  7. Strengthen Partnerships with Families and Communities. Promote and support parenting education and information. Engage parents, families, caregivers, and communities in shaping policies and systems.
  8. Health Insurance and Medical Home. All children have health insurance and a medical home.

We are far from finished.

If you weren’t able to attend a meeting or if you did and have concerns about the list of priorities, there is still time to weigh in! The Drafting Team will be completing their recommendations in the next week and delivering them to Gov. Gregoire on December 1st. Please continue to weigh in on the Department of Early Learning survey or email me at

For more information on the 2010 Legislative Recommendations and the Early Learning Plan, you can visit the Department of Early Learning website.

The House passes the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act!


Thanks to your hard work, the House of Representatives has passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act by a vote of 253-171!

Struggling to come up with the cash for college? House leadership, with the Obama administration’s support, wants to cut out the middle man from federal student loan programs and give students the chance to borrow directly from the federal government. Middlemen are ex$pensive – so the bill creates $92 BILLION in cost savings! Part of the savings would be spent on an Early Learning Challenge Fund to make sure all children have a quality education from the very start!

College student? Here’s how the SAFRA will help you:

For the past 35 years, the federal government has subsidized loans made by private banks to students through the Federal Family Education Loan program, guaranteeing loans up to 97 percent and allowing lenders to reap the profits. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act – touted as the largest investment in higher education ever – shuts down that program, replacing it with a direct loan program run by the Education Department. The income-based payment plan eases the strain for graduates paying off loans.

Smartypants early learner (who can already read)? Here is how the SAFRA will help you:

Ensure young children enter kindergarten ready to succeed by creating an Early Learning Challenge Fund to provide states with $8 billion in competitive grants over 8 years. This investment would improve outcomes for all children and especially at-risk children-resulting in higher graduation rates, higher rates of college attendance, and higher earnings at work.

Everyone else?

This bill creates $92 billion in cost savings that will be spent on programs we know will save money and promote economic growth.  That’s a big hooray for everyone.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement today after the House voted 253 to 171 this afternoon to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act:

“Education is the best investment individuals can make in themselves, it is the best investment parents can make in their children, and it is the best investment a nation can make in their citizens. With that in mind, today the House passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, the single largest investment in making college more affordable in the history of our nation.

“This legislation means that more students will enter college; that they will graduate with less debt; that the federal loan initiatives that they and their families depend upon are strengthened for decades to come; and that taxpayers will save money. It is fiscally responsible, following the strict standards of pay-as-you-go spending.

“This legislation seizes the opportunity to strengthen our nation by making a historic commitment to our students and a landmark investment in our future.”


Why I love The New School at South Shore.

They’ve read the research and they’re using it to create change for real kids, right now. Early learning gains are the foundation for learning. Fade-out is not a factor at South Shore because grades K-3 are equally high-quality and pre-K – grade 3 teachers work together.

Lucky me, I’ve seen their model in action. I’ve met the kids. I’ve seen the results. You should stop by and check it out. In the meantime, check out this short video showing how their pre-K – grade 3 model works.

PRE-KINDERGARTEN — 3RD GRADE A New Beginning for American Education from Brian Quist on Vimeo.