From October 24th through 26th, Early Edge California hosted a delegation of Early Learning champions and leaders from California for its 2023 Educational Early Learning Tour. The tour was a cross-state learning experience in Boston and New Jersey to learn about how districts in those localities are successfully providing universal preschool within a mixed-delivery system. The delegation included State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Assembly members Kevin McCarty, Al Muratsuchi, and Luz Rivas, representatives from the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Education, and California Department of Social Services, labor representatives from the California Teachers Association, California School Employees Association, and SEIU Local 99, representatives from Heising-Simons Foundation, First 5 LA, and CSULA, and Early Learning and Care advocates from Child Care Resource Center, Learning Policy Institute, and UNITE-LA.
This 3-day event featured visits to high-quality programs. In Boston, attendees visited two community-based preschool programs contracted with Boston Public Schools to learn about the district’s strong mixed-delivery partnerships as well as a school-based preschool program with inclusion classrooms and English as a second language supports. In New Jersey, the group visited school-based and community-based preschool programs within Rahway Public Schools. The site visits showcased how these school districts are implementing high-quality curriculum for three- and four-year-olds, providing educators with professional development and coaching to ensure consistent supports, and aligning programs across different settings, including parochial schools, child care centers, and public schools. Early Learning Tour participants were able to observe the classroom environments, including child-adult interactions, play-based learning, and the different facilities set-ups required by different localities. Participants were able to reflect upon the differences between California’s practices, what is working well, and what could be improved upon by learning from other states.
Attendees also had opportunities to meet and learn from local officials and experts through panel discussions which highlighted successes, challenges, and lessons learned in Boston Public Schools and Rahway City School District. In Boston, the panel had rich discussions about the City’s original reasons for prioritizing universal access to preschool, why it was so important to achieve it through a mixed-delivery system, and how it changed its cost modeling to support its programming. The City went from a per-pupil spending model to a classroom-based funding model, which has helped grow and sustain its programming across community-based programs. Another unique feature of Boston’s universal preschool program is that it expanded to include Family Child Care (FCC) providers this year. Participants were able to learn more about the process Boston underwent to expand to include FCCs and how they support providers in meeting the program standards and requirements.
In New Jersey, participants heard from two different panels. The first panel provided a statewide perspective on the history and implementation of New Jersey’s universal preschool programs and was made up of representatives from the New Jersey Department of Education, policymakers, and longtime research and Early Learning and Care Advocates, including NIEER and Advocates for the Children of New Jersey. The second panel provided insight on the district-level experience of implementation and included leadership, instructional staff, and community partners from Rahway City School District. This panel dove into how the school district has implemented a high-quality program over the past six years, how it builds partnerships and aligns quality and supports across program settings, and what elements of implementation the district is still working to grow and improve upon.
“We started the Educational Early Learning Tours a few years ago, and I have been fortunate to lead three of these amazing learning experiences. I have learned so much from interacting with young learners, staff, and local experts in other states. It was our honor to have so many passionate Early Learning champions join us for this year’s tour. We all are working towards providing the best start for our young children, and it was so inspiring to learn alongside them all,” said Patricia Lozano, Executive Director of Early Edge California.
The tour, sponsored by the Heising-Simons Foundation and First 5 LA, was a special opportunity for our state’s leaders to build their knowledge, and reinforced their commitment to strengthening the Early Learning experiences of children in our state.
Thank you to event photographers in Boston and New Jersey: Mike Ritter and Advocates for Children of NJ’s team.
Reflections from our participants on the Early Learning Tour:
“I had the privilege of visiting Boston schools and witnessing firsthand the remarkable work they are doing in the field of early childhood education with their Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program. I commend the outstanding efforts of Early Edge California in advancing policy changes and investments that will expand high-quality Early Learning programs for children. I’m proud to have sponsored the legislation that created Universal TK in California and then leading California’s UPK efforts to ensuring more children have access to high-quality preschool learning experiences. We have substantial research and experience to affirm that the early years play a pivotal role in supporting a child’s learning and development. When our children have access to high-quality PreK, it significantly enhances their likelihood of graduating, pursuing post-secondary education, and staying in school.” – Tony Thurmond, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction
“Thank you, Early Edge, for inviting me on the Early Learning Tour in Boston and New Jersey. As California continues to expand education for our youngest learners, it is important we see how other districts are making education more accessible. I had a great time talking with teachers and students, and I’m looking forward to taking what I learned and applying it here in California”
– Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).
“As Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, I really appreciated Early Edge California’s study tour that focused on best practices in early childhood education. California is working toward universal transitional kindergarten. We need to continue to invest in high quality early learning to close the opportunity gap for all California kids.” – Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance).
“Students deserve high-quality access to education. While I toured Boston public schools and public school-based preschool programs, I noticed how each school prioritized each student’s future by meeting high-quality education with social and emotional learning, community, and family. The success of their programs ensures their students are challenged and given the support needed to prepare them to be globally competitive in the future.” – Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley)
“What was most striking about the UPK Educational Learning Tours to Boston and New Jersey were the genuine connections and iterative conversations across each local UPK Mixed Delivery system to make it work for all children and families. The transparent and public process of blending and braiding local, state and federal funding was the secret sauce to support the full implementation UPK. The UPK Mixed Delivery partnerships in these two models were unique and customized for each local community. It is here where I saw an action-centered commitment to invest in quality via educator pay parity, professional development supports (coaching, mentoring, inclusion resources), curriculum alignment that can be adapted to across various early learning settings and environments that reflect the demographics of the children and families. I continue to sit in a seat of curiosity regarding California’s UPK Mixed Delivery system considering our large geography, various community context, vast funding streams. I wonder, how do we authentically create a seamless UPK Mixed Delivery system that functions as a whole for children and families and leaves no one behind regardless of their point of entry and access.” – LaWanda Wesley, Child Care Resource Center
“[I] came home enlightened and energized to deepen collaborations with partners throughout California to apply lessons learned regarding implementing high-quality universal preschool programs in a mixed-delivery system!” – Alysia Bell, UNITE-LA
“The Early Learning Tour was a phenomenal experience. It was inspiring to get into the classrooms and see the incredible work that educators and children are doing together, and then to learn from experts about the systems that make this work possible.” – Hanna Melnick, Learning Policy Institute