Initiatives to make high-quality early learning more available to the most vulnerable students in Washington State and across the nation are getting a boost from two significant awards to the University of Washington College of Education.
A $6.5 million contract with the Washington State Department of Early Learning will support the work of the UW Childcare Quality & Early Learning Center for Research and Professional Development (CQEL) in Washington, while a $6.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will strengthen the nation’s early education workforce by extending high-quality coursework for early learning teachers and leaders.
“A child’s first years create the foundation for success,” said Gail Joseph, associate professor of education and CQEL director. “If a child starts kindergarten behind, we know they are likely to stay behind. That’s why it’s so important to improve the early childhood care and education our children receive, no matter where they live.”
Together, Joseph said, the approximately $13 million in combined funding will help ensure more children get a strong and fair start.
The Department of Early Learning contract will support CQEL's continued work implementing the quality rating and improvement system—Early Achievers—it developed to assess and support the state’s early learning and care providers. Early Achievers started as a voluntary program and is in the process of scaling up to cover all providers in the state.
“CQEL has been instrumental in advancing the early learning system in Washington State,” said Nicole Rose, assistant director for quality practice and professional growth at the Department of Early Learning. “As we work to ensure 90 percent of children are kindergarten-ready by 2020, Gail and her team will be valuable partners in serving the children and families of Washington.”
Rose noted that CQEL is helping the state think about critical issues such as preschool expulsion and high-quality early learning settings. CQEL is also evaluating an expanded learning opportunity pilot that promotes high-quality experience in before and after school, as well as summer opportunities for poverty-impacted children.
During the past three years, approximately 3,400 early learning professionals in Washington have participated in professional development programs offered by CQEL, including sessions for Spanish and Somali speakers.
“We have seen the quality of care go up at providers who have participated in Early Achievers,” Joseph said. “We’re proud that we set the bar high and are bringing the highest quality care to the most vulnerable children in Washington.”
CQEL’s work is also guiding the development of current and future quality rating and improvement systems that are unfolding for early learning providers across the country.
“The work we are doing here in Washington is helping inform how resources can best be deployed to support our youngest learners while ensuring that their interests stay at the center of local, state and national policy initiatives,” Joseph said.
At the same time, the Gates Foundation grant will enable the UW College of Education to expand its EarlyEdU Alliance. Launched last year, EarlyEdU was created to open access to high-quality preparation for the nation’s early education workforce.
“For many people who are interested in or already working in early education, one of the biggest barriers they face is receiving their education at a time and place that works for them,” Joseph said. “And even more importantly, we need to make sure that what they’re learning is competency-based and relevant to what they need to do as highly-skilled early educators.”
Nearly 50 institutions of higher education, many of which serve poverty-impacted and underserved communities, are members of the EarlyEdU Alliance.
As members, the early education faculty at these institutions receive a wide range of professional development, resources and courses, including the Coaching Companion, an online platform that supports job-embedded coaching of students working on their bachelor’s degrees in early education.
“Our focus is making sure the coursework our early educators complete is very applied, competency-based, and brings theory and practice together,” Joseph said. “Coaching Companion gives students an opportunity to use these evidence-based practices to improve their skills and the quality of care they’re providing to young children in real time.”
Joseph noted that strengthening the nation’s early learning workforce can have a widespread impact on improving equity.
“We have an opportunity here to address two generations of inequity,” she said, “the children in our underserved communities who haven’t had access to high-quality early learning, and the early learning workforce itself, which is largely women.”
Co-principal investigators for the EarlyEdU Alliance grant are Joseph, Susan Sandall and Randi Shapiro. Co-principal investigators for the CQEL grant are Joseph, DeEtta Simmons, Soleil Boyd, Janet Soderberg and Molly Branson-Thayer.
Gail Joseph, Associate Professor of Education and Director, Childcare Quality and Early Learning Center for Research and Professional Development
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