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Press Release

University of Chicago Urban Education Institute and Ounce of Prevention Fund Demonstrate Model for Practitioners and Policymakers Interested in Bridging Divide Between Early Education and K-12 to Close Achievement Gap

The newest in a planned series of case studies on building a Birth-to-College Model of Education released by the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) and the Ounce of Prevention Fund outlines how to create Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) of teachers, administrators and family support staff spanning the early childhood to K-12 spectrum. The intent of the PLCs is to create environments where practitioners take the lead in collaboratively studying and piloting effective, developmentally informed practices that prepare children for college, beginning at birth.

The partnership launched PLCs of teachers and family support staff from three participating locations: the Ounce’s Educare School (serving children ages 6 weeks to 5 years) and the University of Chicago Charter School Donoghue and North Kenwood/Oakland Campuses (preK-5th grade).  Members represent expertise in teaching or supporting families at each developmental or grade level from infancy to grade three. The case study illustrates the evolutionary process of PLC development and how it impacted the relationships, mindset and practice of the educators involved.

“Our birth-to-college model is anchored by teachers and leaders who share their work and best practices, use common tools, and collaborate to create a tightly aligned educational experience for children and the families they serve,” said Tim Knowles, the John Dewey Director of the Urban Education Institute. “The fundamental promise of this work is to make education a much more powerful antidote to school failure for the children and families who depend on it the most.”

“Professional Learning Communities have been essential to closing the divides between policies in the early education and K-12 worlds,” said Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund. “As staff from Educare and the University of Chicago Charter School shared their expertise and learned from each other, they began to see the differences and similarities in their work. That foundational knowledge the learning communities established was essential to moving the partnership forward and implementing new plans that will better serve our children and families.”

A preliminary analysis of the responses by Professional Learning Community participants to an online survey issued in late May 2012 shows that 82 percent of the members who responded to the survey indicated that their PLC involvement had impacted their thinking about their practices in the classroom and with families. 45 percent said they had changed their practices. Virtually all believed that children and families would benefit far into the future due to the PLC work.

The Birth-to-College Collaborative, formalized in 2010 and supported by grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the Foundation for Child Development, strives to develop a model of public education for vulnerable children and families on the South Side of Chicago that begins at birth and leads to success in school, college and life. It is hoped that this model can be replicated nationwide to help bridge the divide that often exists between early education and K-12 so that education systems can further the goal of closing the achievement gap for underserved children.

“Research is unambiguous about the value of high-quality early childhood education in preparing young children for later school success,” Rauner said. “It is exciting to see how our ambitious vision for a seamless education experience from birth to third grade to high school and beyond will accelerate children’s development and learning.”

”We are convinced that we can significantly extend the value of quality early learning and quality K-12 education by creating a coherent pathway that circulates between these two systems,” Knowles said.

This case study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development. View the partnership’s case studies, teaching notes and learning videos.