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Ted’s Talk: Partnerships for Early Learners

Over 100,000 young Hoosier children  birth to age 5 spend their days outside of their homes — in schools, centers, ministries or homes. Many of these children are learning and thriving in wonderful places under the guidance of talented teachers. But there aren’t enough of these places. And there aren’t enough of these teachers. And too many families simply can’t find or afford them.

  • Only 35% of young children enrolled in a child care or preschool program are in a quality setting
  • Only 5% of lead teachers of young children have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood
  • The average cost of tuition is between $7,000 and $12,000 — or even more for top quality.

Given what we know about the impact of high-quality early childhood education – and the lack of quality, accessibility and affordability – we should not be surprised that our children are showing up unprepared for school and struggling when they get there. And it’s not just about school readiness. Without a strong early childhood system, we cannot thrive as a state. Parents can’t go to work and certainly can’t be productive. The current and future workforce will suffer. And so will our state.

Believe it or not, we’re a lot better off than we used to be. Indiana’s Paths to QUALITY rating system has raised the bar for hundreds of programs statewide. New child care laws will be enacted tomorrow that raise the standards for child care providers receiving public funding. A new state preschool pilot and Indianapolis program is enabling over 2,000 children to access quality preschool.

We still lag behind other states when it comes to educating our youngest, but there is hope. Research on the business case for early learning has encouraged leaders from PNC, Eli Lilly, Cummins, and many others to advocate for their communities and their employees. State policymakers are seeing early learning in action in their hometowns and are beginning to move our legislature in the right direction. United Way is a leading voice and contributor locally and statewide. The Early Learning Advisory Council is pushing Indiana toward policies that improve the state’s system of care and education.

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We are excited to be part of this movement. For over 100 years, Early Learning Indiana has delivered high-quality early childhood education and helped others do the same. Our eleven Day Early Learning centers serve more than 1,300 children per year. We are the largest On My Way Pre-K provider in Indianapolis. Our team of child care resource and referral experts at Child Care Answers helps other practitioners and families provide and access quality. A new Early Head Start partnership begins serving families with infants and toddlers this month.  Our experience is deep and wide. We have a strong history of partnerships across Central Indiana.

Now, with the help of the Lilly Endowment, we have the opportunity to build on that history and partner with our friends and colleagues around the state to push Indiana forward. We have the opportunity to capitalize on this momentum here and in every Hoosier community to ensure every child has access to a high-quality early education. A growing body of research. Historic private and public investments. Support from the business community. Emerging partnerships. This is a perfect storm of opportunity for the children and families of Indiana.

We intend to seize these opportunities on their behalf. We will work with partners around the state to improve levels of quality in early childhood programs and build capacity in those programs to serve more children in high-need communities. We will strengthen the skills of early childhood professionals to teach effectively, as well as engage families as their child’s first teachers. We will partner with like-minded organizations that want to innovate and tackle big systemic challenges. Ultimately, we need to take a much bigger step than the one we took this past year. The leaders in our state will need to make early childhood education a top priority and invest more in our kids.

Every Hoosier child deserves a high-quality early childhood education. The means in which children receive their early education is different for every child. Some children can spend their days at home with loving parents. Some children are in early childhood programs to receive an education and so their parents can work. This campaign is focused on ensuring those programs are they best they can be for children. Our goal is ambitious but achievable. We will work with and through our partners to assure that at least 75% of children in Indiana’s early childhood programs are receiving quality care and education. If we are successful, 50,000 children each year will be better cared for, better educated and better prepared for school.

We need to start with a focus on quality improvement. Our biggest investment will be in raising the level of quality in existing early childhood programs. Less than 900 of early childhood programs statewide are rated at the highest levels of quality. We want to increase that by over 40% by helping 400 programs improve.

This begins by helping programs participate and succeed in the state’s Paths to QUALITY rating system. We support “cohorts” of early childhood education providers, like child care ministries, schools and child care homes with investments in their programs and professional development. We’ll work to ensure every program has good access to a coach that will give them the help they need to improve. We’ll take a closer look at what it takes to get the child outcomes we need.

Paths to QUALITY ensures the necessary ingredients are on the menu in an early childhood program. However, we know that all of those ingredients need to be baked just right by strong teachers and leaders in these programs. This is why we will support efforts that go above and beyond Paths to QUALITY. Quality teaching makes all the difference for children of all ages.

Indiana’s 900 quality programs (and counting) will need our support to sustain their programming and serve more children. That is why we are investing in capacity-building efforts that will helps strengthen these programs so that they grow to serve more children and keep serving them for years to come.
We want to create at least 1,000 new seats in quality programs. We’ve already begun by investing $150,000 in On My Way Pre-K providers in three counties to create new seats for young children.

We have shown that when you expand a program in the right place at the right time with the right partner, you can build capacity very quickly. Thanks to a partnership with Eastern Star Church, a grant from United Way of Central Indiana, and new preschool scholarships in the hands of families; we started up a new Day Early Learning center on the east side of Indianapolis and have enrolled nearly 100 children in less than a month. Parent demand, good timing and good partners make a great combination for serving more children – a combination that we can replicate across the state.

To meet our big goal, we need a stronger workforce of teachers and teacher-leaders. Over 16,000 Hoosiers work in early childhood programs, but too few of these individuals have the necessary education and training to do their jobs effectively. They also need higher compensation to do the hard work that they do. We will partner with local universities and professional associations to support 300 new credentials in the field and explore strategies for attracting and retaining the great teachers.

To this end, we will work with existing efforts and engage in strategies to help build the early childhood workforce with new credential and degree programs such as a “transition to teaching” model for people with degrees in other fields but want to teach young children. We also intend to create a new “Master Teacher” credential that establishes a teacher-leader embedded in programs that model best practice and coach their teaching peers to improve and innovate. We must also tackle the issue of compensation. We will explore the feasibility of an Early Childhood Teachers Incentive Fund that models increased teacher compensation tied to education and performance.

All of these efforts will be piloted – this year – in Day Early Learning centers. The Day Early Learning centers will raise our own workforce standards and create leaps in attainment among our teachers. After learning from the pilots, we will roll out these opportunities statewide.

Perhaps the most important work we do will be with families. Families facilitate their children’s learning through decisions about early education and through the learning opportunities they create at home and in their communities. Over 300,000 families in this state have children under 5. Nearly half of these families live in poverty. They need and want support, and so do the programs that serve them.

We will engage with at least 7,000 families around the state to help them act and advocate for their children’s learning in enhancing the child care search process, reaching families through new platforms, and helping improve parent involvement in programs. Our first major project is to place full-time AmeriCorps volunteers in 15 early childhood programs in Ft. Wayne, Evansville and Indianapolis to help these programs reach families and engage them in their children’s early learning experiences.

Finally, we must take risks with new ideas and collaborations that will tackle big systemic challenges. To this end, we will invest in innovative partnerships that leverage public and private resources, creates new models for the future of the early childhood, and presents options to local communities and policymakers who are seeking solutions. To do this, we will look outside of our field. We will partner with public, private and nonprofit organizations that may or may not be early childhood “providers.” We need new approaches and ideas to achieve our big goals. The Lilly Endowment has empowered us not only to expand on what works, but to find new solutions.

This is just a brief overview of our intentions over the next few years. Our strategies will continue to evolve as we spend more time in communities around the state and learn more about what works and where to invest. Though this project will not be the solution on its own, it will help us take a big step. By 2020, we expect to achieve the following:

  • Expand quality with 400 early childhood programs,
  • Create 1,000 new high-quality seats,
  • Develop 300 new and better teachers,
  • Involve 7,000 families as their children’s first teachers,
  • Establish at least 12 partnerships to create systemic change, and…

Engage 151 state leaders – state representatives, state senators and our Governor – in education and advocacy for the families they serve. Our learning will continue to evolve about how to best implement these strategies in a state with very diverse communities, varying levels of progress in these areas, and different levels of resource to address these challenges. As we learn, we will be assertive with our state’s leadership about their agendas for the young children of Indiana and their families. Ultimately, our state’s success will require a greater commitment from state’s leaders.

Leadership extends beyond the statehouse. Great things are happening all over Indiana. The Community Education Coalition in Columbus. The Big Goal Collaborative in northeast Indiana. The By 5 Coalition in Muncie. The Horizon Education Alliance in Elkart. United Ways in Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Anderson, New Albany, Lake County, Central Indiana. The Welborn Baptist Foundation. The Foellinger Foundation. The Dekko Foundation. The Ball Brothers Foundation. The Department of Education and the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning. We have had the opportunity to witness leadership on this issue from every corner of the state.

There is great leadership here today. Many of the people in this room have been working on issues like these for decades. What is different now is momentum. Partners aligned from every sector. Making small investments of their time and resources that seem like a drop in the bucket but can turn quickly into a rainstorm. A perfect storm of opportunity. We know that together we can take another giant step forward. And another and another until together we build a system that is ready for and worthy of greater public investment so that all children have a great start to school and life. Thank you all for all that you have done and will do. We look forward to joining you and getting to work!
Note: This speech was given at the launch event for Early Learning Indiana’s new statewide campaign, Partnerships for Early Learners. View the press release here. More information is available at www.partnershipsforearlylearners.org.

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