Preparing Delaware’s Youngest Learners for Success
We are publishing a blog series about themes to be discussed at the upcoming Vision 2015 conference on Delaware public education to be held on October 9. Every Friday leading up to the event, we will feature a blog post authored by a different conference panelist. Today is the first day of the series, with this post written by Harriet Dichter, Director of the Delaware Office of Early Learning.
It’s an exciting time for education in Delaware. As the implementation of Vision 2015, which aims to transform Delaware’s education system by elevating it from the middle of the pack to a national leader continues, the Office of Early Learning is working hard to prepare our youngest learners for success.
Quality early learning for children birth to age 5 is a critical component of the Vision 2015 plan. To have world-class schools for every Delaware student, we must first ensure quality early childhood learning for all children in our state. If students are not prepared to learn on the first day of kindergarten, our quest for world-class schools cannot be realized.
The foresight and commitment of Delaware Governor Jack Markell and the General Assembly, as well as the award of the federal Early Learning Challenge Grant, have enabled the First State to develop and implement early learning programs and standards built on myriad scientific facts and evidence about brain development and early learning, as well as powerful economic data.
Based on the data, Delaware has developed a road map to guide us as we work to improve the quality and availability of quality early learning for our youngest students.
Health: Unidentified developmental delays are a major obstacle for thousands of young children in Delaware. Our office is focused on working with healthcare professionals and programs to increase early childhood developmental screenings that identify physical and behavioral health concerns and result in appropriate referral and follow-up services.
Learning environment: Our ratings system—Delaware Stars—has clear metrics to help educate families and provide a guide to finding quality early learning programs for their children. Programs are ranked as Delaware Star 2 through 5 (the highest rating), based on evaluation of the curriculum, teacher qualifications and professional development and a program’s family and community partnerships. The ratings system levels the playing field by providing higher-rated programs more state aid to support enrollment of disadvantaged children who have historically attended lower-rated programs, making quality programs available to children who need them the most. No young child should go without a quality early learning program due to economic reasons.
Connection with K-12: To improve school readiness, we are working with kindergarten teachers across the state to implement the Delaware Early Learner Survey, an observation-based assessment conducted by the teachers during the first 30 days of Kindergarten which covers all domains of early learning. Now in its second year, the survey serves as a key indicator to inform individualized instruction and, over time, will build data to inform improvement at the system level.
This year Delaware also launched a new community-based initiative—Delaware Readiness Teams—made up of school and community leaders, early childhood program leaders and families, to build partnerships that assure its young children have the critical resources and supports to enter kindergarten ready to learn and achieve early school success. Teams receive up to three years of financial support, complete a community-based needs assessment and prioritize action steps to directly address the needs of families, schools, and early childhood learning programs, as well as technical assistance, resources, and professional development to support their community’s unique needs.
Working with our committed partners, we are realizing our big vision for our youngest learners. We’ve made great progress, but still have much work to do.