Coalition of Education Providers Aims to Help Over 700 ‘High Need’ Children in Alexandria

The city of Alexandria, in conjunction with a coalition of education providers in the city, is investing in a new initiative to enhance the delivery of effective early education to low income families across the city. The ‘Quality Collaborative Early Education Professional Development pilot’ aims to ensure that over 700 high need children are ready for kindergarten with a focus on strengthening the quality of teachers social and instructional interactions with young children.

Jessica WhittakerThe Quality Collaborative is a coalition of Alexandria Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI), Alexandria City Public Schools Early Childhood Special Education, and Head Start early education providers. These organizations are collaborating on a best practice professional development pilot to support improved teaching in early childhood classrooms that are serving low-income families in the city.

The pilot will be focused around the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), a research-based tool developed by the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the University of Virginia. The CLASS helps identify the elements of teachers’ daily interactions with children that support learning and development. These interactions then become the focus of targeted and intensive professional development.

The collaboration in Alexandria is a unique one, says Jessica Whittaker, Research Assistant Professor at CASTL.

‘’It’s an innovative project that seeks collaboration across multiple providers of early care and education. Typically public schools and Head Start early education providers do not collaborate in seeking improvements in education practices and professional development for teachers. In this case, they are partners in a unified program across a whole city. Because of this collaborative effort, the project has the potential to impact as many as half of the incoming kindergartners entering Alexandria public schools, particularly those with the highest needs. That’s very exciting.’’

Whittaker and her colleagues at CASTL are tasked with evaluating the professional development that is offered to teachers within the project.  During the first year of the program, teachers participate in one of two types of professional development – each focused on the interactions assessed by CLASS. . One group of teachers will participate in MyTeachingPartner (MTP) Coaching, a rigorous, video-based coaching program focused on the improvement of teacher-child interactions. The second group of teachers will participate in the Making the Most of Classroom Interactions (MMCI) course that provides targeted professional development to teachers around improving classroom interaction with children. These professional development models have demonstrated impact on teachers practice in rigorous research studies as well as when used at-scale in other locations, such as within Georgia Pre-k.  The Quality Collaborative is partnering with Teachstone, a national organization who provides professional development related to the CLASS, to deliver professional development to teachers.

In this first year pilot, CASTL researchers will examine teachers’ engagement in and satisfaction with the professional development. They will also examine the initial effects of the professional development on teachers’ knowledge, skills and practice. Whittaker: ‘’Our findings will be used at the end of the first year to refine the program for subsequent years, to ensure that the approach is meeting the goal of strengthening classroom interactions, and ultimately improving children’s school readiness.’’