Knowing that strong early learning can boost later classroom success, the University of Washington’s College of Education will take the lead in a new, five-year, $40 million national Head Start grant to improve young children’s readiness for school.
The grant, which the UW will share with six partner institutions, will be used to create the new National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, based at the UW. The center’s five-year mission, starting January 2011, will be to discover and share best practices in teaching and learning for Head Start teachers and others.
“The evidence is clear that early learning can make a lifetime of difference,” said Tom Stritikus, dean of the UW College of Education. “The center will allow the college — together with our collaborators across the country — to bring to scale the best practices that we’ve collectively learned through years of research. It’s a big project for us, with a big payoff for the children.”
Head Start is a federal program serving needs of children from 3 to 5 years old, recognizing that the early years are crucial to children’s growth and development. Head Start programs promote school readiness by enhancing children’s social and cognitive development as well as parent and family engagement with literacy and learning.
The UW will operate the new center in collaboration with the University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, Iowa State University, University of Southern Florida, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
UW faculty leading the work at the new National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning will be Susan Sandall, associate professor of special education; and Gail Joseph, assistant professor of educational psychology.
Sandall and Joseph, both former classroom teachers and teacher trainers, feel the grant presents a “monumental” opportunity to improve the classroom setting for the nation’s youngest learners.
“This has all the resources to put teachers into every classroom who create an excitement about early learning — who take advantage of the children’s enthusiasm, who create environments where children are excited about new ideas and talk about them in different ways,” said Joseph. “And there’s no reason why every child can’t have that opportunity.”
Sandall added that the center will seek to improve every-day teaching practices in Head Start “so that children when they go to school sustain the gains they made in Head Start programs.”
This team of collaborators will include experts in early childhood care and education, special education and early intervention. The researchers also plan to create a “Head Start University” concept to engage leaders in the field and develop research-based college courses for would-be Head Start instructors and staff.
“One of the goals of the center will be to develop and implement a coaching and mentoring system to help Head Start teachers implement evidence-based practices related to teaching and learning,” said Mary Louise Hemmeter, associate professor of special education and the lead Vanderbilt researcher on the project.
Sandall said the existing system of mentoring has lacked “quality assurance, if you will, about the content that’d being delivered. That’s where we would hope to have a real impact — on the system that supports the teacher in the classroom.”
The UW has long practical experience in early childhood education with the Haring Center, begun in 1965, and its affiliated school, the Experimental Education Unit, which serves children with and without disabilities from birth through kindergarten.
Researchers at the new center will:
• Gather, review and catalog research-based practices in early childhood assessment, curriculum and instruction.
• Put proven-effective practices into daily use through professional development of Head Start staff, and establish a system to sustain the use of these practices.
• Gather and review data to measure improved quality and student learning in Head Start classrooms.
• Build connections among parents, teachers, pre-K staff and kindergarten staff to help Head Start students make a smooth transition to elementary school.
The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning is one of four new centers created by the Office of Head Start in September. The centers are part of the redesigned Training and Technical Assistance system, which aims to provide Head Start teachers and program staff with the knowledge and skill to use best practices/evidence-based practices through a system of training and technical assistance providers, early childhood specialists and consultants.
For more information about Head Start nationally, visit online here.