Washington state is halfway through its federal Race to the Top work, and it’s on pace to finish strong, even after hitting a few bumps.
When Washington won its $60 million federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant two years ago it set ambitious goals for its quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), kindergarten readiness and training. At the midpoint, the state had signed up 90 percent of child care providers in its QRIS, now called Early Achievers, called for in its grant application. And its kindergarten assessment-readiness program covered nearly half of all kindergarteners.
Architects of the plan are generally pleased with the state of the work funded by the grant. Perhaps more important, there has not been a buzz in federal or education circles about Washington’s grant work falling short, something that has occurred in other competitive granting efforts.
Along the way, the grant team hit a few bumps that, in turn, led them to create new tools. One of the most innovative is a consortium of shared services for family- and home-based child care. Often, smaller child care programs can struggle with costs of participating in quality initiatives. The consortium allows them to band together and share costs, by holding joint training sessions, hiring one curriculum specialist for multiple programs, or splitting administrative expenditures.
The federal grant also supported a series of Early Achievers Institutes, where educators gathered for group training.
Home- and family-based providers are among the slowest to enroll in Early Achievers; Washington enrolled only 80 percent of the total number of programs set out in its application. But, these new tools should help.
“Family child care are not going to be able to go it alone,” said Juliet Morrison, who is in charge of implementing the grant for the Department of Early Learning.
In the second year of its grant work, Washington faced another big hurdle: moving child care programs from simply enrolling in Early Achievers to actually receiving ratings. So far, the program has moved 70 percent of its enrolled programs into the rating stage.
“We are doing pretty well. I would like us to do a little better,” Morrison added.
Washington’s Race to the Top continues to build a better and wider bridge between early education and kindergarten by expanding the scope of its Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) initiaive. But, progress is being held back by the percentage of full-day kindergarten classes.
Professional development work is a bit harder to track, but Washington is making progress. It is, for example, creating a new career lattice for educators and will develop a career portal for providers this year, according to the annual update released this month.
Overall, Washington is setting a healthy pace in its race. Its work also positioned the state for a competitive run in the next early learning Race to the Top. Check out details on Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog.