Oregon has more than 108,000 at-risk children under the age of six, and fewer than half of them get the nutrition, health care, or pre-school support they need to ensure they are ready for kindergarten. Further, early childhood programs often lack coordination and accountability, and are not integrated with the K-12 system. Oregon pays the price down the road, with an elevated high school drop-out rate and increased costs for counseling, remediation, social dependency, and corrections.
—Governor Kitzhaber, arguing on behalf of realigned early learning services
Oregon Bets on Early Learning
There is a growing consensus among researchers, practitioners, and policy makers that children’s earliest development—their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical growth from birth to five—largely determines their success in the school years that follow. Oregon believes it can give young children a better shot at academic success and postsecondary achievement if it does a better job of supporting their readiness for kindergarten and then, from that springboard, have far more of them reading well at the third grade.
This is especially true of children at risk, who comprise a large part of the 40 percent of Oregon preschoolers who now arrive at kindergarten unprepared—without a sufficient beginning grasp of letters, words, numbers, social behavior, and other indicators of readiness. Their young lives may be marked by poverty, family instability, inadequate housing, or developmental deficits; or they may not speak English as a first language.
The state began to reshape early learning in 2011. The Legislature established the Early Learning Council to assist in unifying early childhood services and learning, and it committed the state to expand from half-day to free full-day kindergarten starting in the 2015-16 school year.
Hubs Align Child Care, Health Care, and Family Support for Children at Risk
In 2012, the Legislature vested early learning service coordination in the Early Learning Council and charged the Council to create a statewide early learning system made up of regional “accountability hubs.” These are collaborative service arrangements among local government and non-government providers of services in early childhood care, health, education, and family support.
Hubs are based on a collective impact theory of action. Different service providers share a common agenda and measurement system, reinforce one another’s efforts, continuously communicate to learn, adapt, and improve outcomes, and are bolstered by an independent staff that maintains and supports the vision and strategy..
In 2013, with additional Early Learning Council recommendations in hand, the Legislature adopted a more comprehensive and detailed vision for developing regional hubs and their outcomes. It called for the development of up to 16 hubs statewide by July 2014. A companion bill designated support for these services under one state office by creating the Early Learning Division in the Oregon Department of Education.
As of July 2014 six regions had formed early learning hubs and the state was processing applications for eight more. The Children’s Institute has an account of its recent visit with two of them, the Frontier Oregon Hub in Grant and Harney counties, and the Lane Early Learning Alliance in Lane County.
The 2013 Legislature also allocated $4 million to an early learning innovation fund to promote stronger connections between community programs and schools serving children in the transition from pre-school through kindergarten and early grades. In May of 2014 the Early Learning Council awarded grants to 16 school-community partnerships serving more than 20,000 young children at risk.
State Preparing for Full-Day Kindergarten
Since more than two years ago Oregon has been preparing for the transition to full-day kindergarten in the fall of 2015. It has piloted and revised its Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. State education officials, school leaders, and early learning advocates have been preparing guidelines and recommendations for implementing the full-day program. See these recommendations from the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and Oregon Association of School Executives, and these resource documents from the Oregon Department of Education.
For more on these and related issues, please visit the Early Learning System website.