Understanding Each Child, Our Future: Early Learning and Literacy (Strategies 8-9)
Each Child, Our Future is Ohio’s five-year strategic plan to ensure each student enjoys a bright future thanks to an excellent preK-12 education experience. More than 150 Ohio-based partners helped develop Each Child, Our Future, along with feedback from 1,200 Ohio parents, caregivers, preK-12 and postsecondary educators, employers, business leaders, community members, state legislators and students.
This is the tenth in an 11-part series that walks EdConnection readers through the plan. Last week, we covered strategy 7, which deals with integrated student supports and school climate and culture. This week, we take a close look at strategies 8 and 9, centered on early learning and literacy. These make up one of five key elements of a high-quality education. Find these strategies on pages 21 and 22 of the plan, which appears in its entirety here.
Each child must have access to early learning experiences that are rooted in brain-development research and lead to kindergarten readiness. Prenatal through third-grade experiences profoundly shape brain development. Without the ability to master fundamental language concepts, students are likely to struggle in other learning areas. Literacy skills also must be a focal point throughout each child’s academic experience — from birth to high school graduation.
Strategy 8: Promote the importance of early learning and expand access to quality early learning experiences.
Basic structures already are in place to promote program collaboration, expand services as resources become available and ensure quality through the state’s Step Up To Quality program. At the same time, Ohio’s education system needs to better communicate the importance of expanding quality early learning experiences, supporting parents and caregivers, and streamlining regulatory and service systems.
Strategy 8 has three prongs:
- Promoting clear, consistent messages: The Ohio Department of Education is well-positioned to work with the other five state agencies and other partners that serve young children and their families to develop clear, common, research-based and culturally sensitive messages. These messages should communicate the importance of brain development, social-emotional learning, language development and foundational learning skills. All these partners should be mutually accountable for ensuring this message is consistent and has a positive impact on parents and caregivers.
- Streamlining regulatory functions: Six state agencies and the federal government, through Head Start, serve Ohio’s young children and their families. Each embraces a similar goal: to improve outcomes for children from birth through third grade so they are on track for a life filled with learning. However, the agencies apply a variety of requirements and approaches when serving Ohio’s children and families. Parents and caregivers could be better informed if these state agencies coordinate, align and implement programs consistently.
- Coordinating early learning research and information: To bolster the message and share relevant, evidence-based resources, the Ohio Department of Education can create an accessible clearinghouse for early childhood research, resources, evidence-based strategies and data. The clearinghouse will need to customize information specific to parents and caregivers, learning providers, libraries, community organizations and faith-based organizations. This clearinghouse should catalogue and disseminate resources aligned to Ohio’s Birth through Kindergarten Early Learning and Development Standards, Ohio’s Learning Standards K-3, Ohio’s Learning Standards for English Language Arts and Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement.
The clearinghouse can support program and school-based birth to third-grade teachers, support specialists and administrators by providing universal, targeted instruction and resources for educators and families based on effective early learning, language and literacy development practices.
Strategy 9: Develop literacy skills across all ages, grades and subjects.
Too many students in Ohio lack the literacy skills needed to advance and graduate. Ohio must continue to support its youngest learners, simultaneously launching targeted supports for middle and high school students, when necessary. Building on Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement, this strategy pushes Ohio to help each child master essential literacy skills.
Professional development and technical assistance tied to research-based language and literacy development instructional practices are key to building capacity. Also, literacy skills development needs to be a shared responsibility and cut across all grade levels and subject areas. In other words, teachers of key academic subjects, for example, science and social studies, should be equipped to help students develop content-specific vocabulary and comprehension skills in those subject classes. Even our youngest students should receive support for literacy achievement through context-related experiences that build content-based vocabulary and other subject knowledge.
Strategy 9 has a single, major thrust:
- Building capacity for effective literacy instruction: To do this, the state must help build the capacity of educators, as well as other partners like parents and caregivers, after-school programs and community organizations, to implement research-supported language and literacy development instructional practices. Again, this work should build on Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement.
In the next EdConnection, we’ll explore strategy 10, which addresses high school success and postsecondary connections.