If PRE4CLE’s annual report is any indication, the road to kindergarten readiness for Cleveland youth is getting a lot smoother. Released yesterday, the report touted a 110 percent increase in the number of high-quality preschool programs in Cleveland since July 2016—a big jump from the organization’s original goal of a 30 percent increase during that time period.
“We didn’t anticipate that big of a leap, but so many programs put in the hard work it takes to become a high-quality provider,” says Katie Kelly, Executive Director of PRE4CLE. “There are a great deal of preschool programs in this community who really want to provide the best possible early learning experience for our children, and there’s been an outpouring over the past few years to step up and make that happen.”
Reaching for the (SUTQ) stars
The increase is due in large part to efforts like the Accelerated Quality Improvement Model—a three-month intensive program designed to help lower-quality private providers achieve a Step Up to Quality rating of three stars or higher. In tandem, two-thirds of Cleveland Metropolitan School District programs have now achieved five-star ratings, and CMSD CEO Eric Gordon says they “hope to get the last third rated this year. We’ve been working really aggressively with the state of Ohio to get all [CMSD] programs rated quickly.”
Along with increasing the number of high-quality seats in Cleveland, one of PRE4CLE’s areas of focus has been filling those seats. According to the annual report, PRE4CLE’s ongoing goal is that high-quality preschools will operate at 85 percent capacity, and at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, 87 percent of high-quality seats in Cleveland were full.
Kelly attributes much of that success to a targeted enrollment campaign that focused on direct outreach to families via various channels—from phone consultations to media campaigns to community events. Over the course of the campaign, 455 children were provided individual referrals, and 34 open house events resulted in 237 enrollments.
“We started really trying to understand the needs of families in Cleveland, whom they look to for advice about preschool, and what barriers they might face to enrollment,” says Kelly. “Our goal was to help them identify high-quality [providers] and make it easier to enroll in the preschool of their choice.”
On the whole, 42 percent of Cleveland’s preschool-aged children are currently enrolled in high-quality preschools (which exceeds the benchmark goal of 40 percent by June 2018). The areas with the highest enrollment in high-quality preschools are Lee-Harvard, Euclid-Green, Tremont, and University, while Brooklyn Centre currently has the lowest number of children enrolled in high-quality preschools (less than 10 percent). Communities such as Jefferson, Clark-Fulton, Broadway-Slavic Village, Old Brooklyn, Kinsman, Buckeye-Woodhill, Mount Pleasant, and North Shore Collinwood also show room for improvement, with 10 to 29 percent of children enrolled in high-quality preschools.
“The news is good that we’re getting more and more kids into high-quality seats, but we are still far from where we want to be,” says Gordon, who also serves as chair of the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact. “We need this [progress] citywide, and though we haven’t yet met our goals, we’re well on our way.”
Furthering kindergarten readiness
Of course, the primary goal that drives PRE4CLE is increased kindergarten readiness for local youth, and the annual report shows positive progress toward that benchmark. Fall 2017 marked the third year of collecting kindergarten readiness results for children enrolled in PRE4CLE provider programs, with data showing growth in readiness both on the language/literacy subscale and overall scores on the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) since PRE4CLE launched in 2014.
Currently, 26.8 percent of children who attended a PRE4CLE preschool are demonstrating school readiness, while 69 percent are demonstrating or approaching school readiness. In the language and literacy category, 50 percent of kids who attended PRE4CLE preschools are on track as of fall 2018.
“The biggest challenge has been moving the needle on kindergarten readiness,” shares Kelly. “That’s our ultimate goal and what all of this effort is geared toward. This is the first year we have multi-year data on the KRA, and we’re really happy to see those numbers continue to climb.”
As of the 2016-2017 school year (data is still being collected for last year), just 16.7 percent of students entering CMSD passed the demonstrating readiness indicator on all four measures of the KRA, so there is still work to be done. Gordon believes a key approach will be encouraging more three-year-olds to enter high-quality preschools: “One year of a 4-year-old going to preschool may not close the gap on its own,” says Gordon. “This is a two-year intervention, and very largely right now, we’re [primarily] reaching 4-year-olds [in CMSD preschool programs]."
To that end, PRE4CLE has done advocacy work to encourage state legislators to include 3-year-olds in the Ohio Public Preschool Program, as well as advocating for continued funding for early learning in the 2018-2019 state budget and the preservation of the KRA after its proposed elimination.
“We worked with partners across the state to advocate and keep the KRA [intact],” says Kelly. “Without that measure, not only would we lose our main way of gauging readiness of children, but we would also lose our ability to compare how children are doing in Cleveland compared to the rest of the state.”
Priming families and children for success
Another effort highlighted in PRE4CLE’s annual report is the Preschool Prescription—a unique partnership between PRE4CLE, The Literacy Cooperative, and 24 pediatric and family medicine practices. The aim of the partnership was to train pediatricians to use routine checkups as a method of discussing the value of preschool for furthering early child development and equip them with resources they could share with families. The findings were that high-quality preschool enrollment rose an average of 17 percent in neighborhoods where the Preschool Prescription was piloted.
“Most families don’t tend to think of school until kindergarten, but they think of a pediatrician naturally from birth,” says Gordon. “We wanted to work with pediatricians to create that bridge and reach families in places they already are.”
Looking at the big picture, Gordon believes that a large part of PRE4CLE’s success in reaching its benchmarks to date has been the cooperation between various providers across sectors—from public to private to home-based. “All of the players have agreed not to compete with each other for kids, but instead to coordinate with each other,” says Gordon. “That’s why this community is so remarkable, and that unnatural alliance is the secret sauce behind PRE4CLE. It’s different from what I’ve seen anywhere else in the country.”
Kelly sees the organization’s work as foundational for children's success as they progress up the education ladder in Cleveland. “If they start kindergarten prepared to succeed—not just with an academic foundation, but also with social and emotional skills—then all of the other components of the Cleveland Plan will be that much more successful,” she says. “We want to start off in a way that allows all the other wonderful parts of the Cleveland Plan to reach their full potential.”