Presidential 2016: Leveraging Data in Preschool to Erase the Achievement Gap Makes Perfect Sense

Thanks to the persistence of social innovators across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This ongoing blog series will highlight the voices of our Coalition of 70+ social innovators and their innovative solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems, as well as examples of how this powerful work can be transformed into national change. Today we will hear from Jack McCarthy, President and CEO of AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation and AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter Schools, about the Every Child Ready instructional model and the importance of collecting and leveraging data to individualize preschool instruction.

The following post was written by Jack McCarthy, President and CEO of AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation and AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter Schools.


According to researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley, children from disadvantaged families learn 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged peers by the time they are three years old, so every moment of every day in preschool is critical in ensuring vulnerable children enter kindergarten ready to thrive. That’s why the effect of every lesson and mastery of every standard is important, and why collecting data and using data to individualize instruction is an integral part of the Every Child Ready model, and a vital tool for our AppleTree teachers.

“Data” is not usually associated with preschool. But at AppleTree, we use a research-to-practice continuous improvement approach that measures nearly everything involved with teaching, learning and program improvement. In 2010, we won a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant for our Every Child Ready model to codify, document and develop an evidence-based, three-tiered response to intervention for preschool called Every Child Ready that improves school readiness outcomes by providing teachers of three and four year old children with what to teach, how to teach and how to know it’s working. Our easy-to-use progress monitoring tools for teachers to measure growth in key cognitive and social/emotional skills identified with school readiness, like language and literacy, numeracy and positive behaviors, or with soft skills, like attending to instruction, persisting when frustrated, taking turns, sharing, following directions, and solving problems with words. Every Child Ready is the basis of instruction for AppleTree preschools in the District of Columbia, which enroll 850 children – growing to 1200 this August – and nine other preschools and community-based organizations, which enroll 950 children. AppleTree continuously collects and analyses child outcome data and feedback from the teachers and instructional leaders using Every Child Ready to support teachers’ practice and to improve the instructional model and professional development.

One of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned from developing, implementing, and scaling Every Child Ready with a variety of schools is that children can learn much more if data provides teachers with the flexibility to group children who need more time, and if teachers are provided with good content and lessons with actionable next steps for instruction. Teaching is one of the most demanding professions, so providing teachers with valuable, easy-to-use methods of instructional approaches to the different ways young children learn is really important. If a child doesn’t make progress in a particular skill area, teachers need different strategies or approaches.

Robert Putnam, author of the New York Times bestseller Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, details how the promise of The American Dream – which maintains the central tenet that all children, regardless of their family and social background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life – is no longer “self-evident.” The families who are feeling left behind have found a strong voice in both political parties, and the next President should make it a priority to improve America’s highly-fragmented, low-quality, but substantial, $70 billion early care and education sector into one that more effectively provides parents and children with the support they need to succeed in school, careers and life. Economists who examine the cost of this growing “Opportunity Gap” recognize that greater investments in improving the education and outcomes of disadvantaged children, improve economic outcomes for everyone. Greater access to, and investments in, evidence-based early learning and quality preschool education is a tide that lifts all boats.

As an America Forward Coalition member, we’re proud to join in the effort to amplify the significant, positive achievements we attain through our evidence-based approach to early education. America Forward provides us with a valuable “voice” in the development of national education policy platforms, and the promotion of key early education policy priorities in their presidential briefing book, Moving America Forward, as well as through their presidential engagement efforts.

Read more about how social innovators in the America Forward Coalition, like AppleTree, are solving America’s biggest problems in communities across the country every day in our briefing book, Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential, and join the conversation. Follow @AppleTreeInst and @America_Forward, and tell us how you’re using data to improve early education programs using #AFPresidential16.

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