I had the recent pleasure of working on FSG’s recently released report Markers that Matter: Success Indicators for Early Learning and Education. (We previewed some highlights from the report on a webinar in May, and have published a series of blog posts following the webinar.)
Our research focused on distilling a set of indicators for the early learning field — what was most interesting to me about this work was not what those indicators are, but how they are used. I was inspired to learn about several early childhood efforts where indicators are helping to inform and improve efforts to support the healthy development of young children. In the report, we highlight the value of indicators coming from their potential for use, and the role they can play in fostering different forms of collaboration, including collective impact. Indicators can help to support conversations and actions among the range of actors (parents and families, education and care providers, health professionals, social service agencies – the list goes on!) affecting the healthy development of young children. Among a wide ranging set of actors, indicators can serve as a common language and provide a platform of collaboration to support positive outcomes for kids.
In the report, we highlight two examples of how indicators are being used in this way. Thrive in 5, a collective impact initiative focused on getting all Boston children school ready by 2018, has used indicators to guide and refine progress and coordinate the actions of a wide range of stakeholders working toward a common goal. Part of the Thrive in 5 initiative is to invest in Boston communities that are home to children most likely to be affected by the achievement gap. This effort, called Boston Children Thrive (BCT), aims to support young children by working with parents, families, and caregivers in their role as advocates for their children’s school readiness and healthy development and as leaders in their community’s school readiness efforts. Each BCT community has a hub agency that regularly looks at key indicators of parent engagement to help guide their efforts. The hub agencies have outreach targets for enrolling families in BCT, track data to understand their reach into priority demographic groups, and learn from this information about how to better work with parents. For example, the East Boston BCT initiative used family engagement data to see that they were penetrating one corner of the neighborhood but missing a housing development where there were many families with young children. As a result, the housing development became a target area for subsequent outreach and engagement efforts.
The second example is a system-building effort in Bremerton, Washington. In Bremerton, the school district and its community partners are working to align pre-K and K-3 efforts to create a P-3 system. In this effort, indicators have helped to inform the district and its community partners of how children are developing across the P-3 continuum and how to better meet their needs and support their healthy development. For example, indicators of early literacy showed the 4 percent of Bremerton kindergartners demonstrated important pre-reading skills, such as recognizing letters, using an expanding vocabulary, speaking clearly, and using conventional grammar. Looking at data on these indicators prompted the district and its partners to bring new focus to early literacy skills. The district organized professional development and learning opportunities for teachers and pre-K partners to understand the needs of the children they are serving, and share ideas and strategies on how to best support them. Children demonstrating early literacy skills has since increased to 52% (63% at its highest) and looking at indicators and data has been a cornerstone of this community-based collaboration. Bremerton’s work has gained wide recognition – including two state awards for closing the achievement gap – and the district has helped 35 other districts across the state to build P-3 systems.
The Boston and Bremerton experiences are just two examples of how indicators and data can be used to foster understanding, communication, and collaboration among the wide variety of actors that affect outcomes for young children. Defining indicators is only the first step – transforming them into “markers that matter” happens when stakeholders come together to use them to make a real difference for kids.