Early Childhood Leaders Benefit From Results-Based Accountability

Posted July 7, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Child in an early childhood setting.

Over the past few decades, study after study has shown the piv­otal impor­tance of ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion on long-term aca­d­e­m­ic and social suc­cess. Despite the clear ben­e­fits of edu­cat­ing young chil­dren — from improved cog­ni­tive skills and high­er high school grad­u­a­tion rates to reduc­tions in jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment — sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle atten­tion has been paid to fos­ter­ing qual­i­ty lead­er­ship in the field. This imbal­ance is an area of con­cern for the Casey Foun­da­tion, whose efforts to ensure a bright future for all chil­dren include a com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing dynam­ic, results-based lead­ers.

Accord­ing to Devel­op­ing Ear­ly Child­hood Lead­ers to Sup­port Strong, Equi­table Sys­tems, a recent report com­mis­sioned by the New Ven­ture Fund, the over­all lack of invest­ment in lead­er­ship devel­op­ment has result­ed in a small, frag­ment­ed field of pro­grams that few peo­ple, and very few edu­ca­tors, access.” This inad­e­quate invest­ment lim­its the capac­i­ty of the ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion sec­tor to achieve its most impor­tant results, includ­ing increas­ing equi­ty and build­ing stronger, more effec­tive orga­ni­za­tions and systems.

In a sparse fund­ing land­scape, where the avail­able resources are most­ly fun­neled toward direct ser­vice pro­grams, what can be done to address the lead­er­ship devel­op­ment short­age? For answers, the report’s researchers inter­viewed lead­ers in the field to iden­ti­fy exist­ing train­ing mod­els that have proven suc­cess­ful in prepar­ing ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tors and admin­is­tra­tors for lead­er­ship roles.

Researchers found that the mod­el respon­dents most often iden­ti­fied as effec­tive was Casey’s lead­er­ship-devel­op­ment approach — which, notably, was not designed with the spe­cif­ic needs of the ear­ly child­hood sec­tor in mind. The lead­ers inter­viewed, includ­ing past par­tic­i­pants in the Foundation’s lead­er­ship pro­grams, point­ed out three valu­able con­cepts in Casey’s approach:

  • con­tex­tu­al­ized and applied learn­ing, which required par­tic­i­pants to work on a project based on their own local data;
  • the cohort mod­el, which helped par­tic­i­pants build a net­work of sup­port; and
  • the geo­graph­i­cal diver­si­ty of par­tic­i­pants in nation­al pro­grams, which broad­ened per­spec­tives, allowed for more can­did inter­ac­tions and increased the shared pool of infor­ma­tion and resources.

In try­ing to move the nee­dle at the pop­u­la­tion lev­el, ear­ly child­hood lead­ers ben­e­fit from Casey’s empha­sis on the use of data to track progress and mea­sure out­comes. And since mean­ing­ful change is more like­ly when lead­ers’ actions are aligned toward a shared goal, the Casey mod­el stress­es devel­op­ing skills in team­work and col­lab­o­ra­tion. The report’s respon­dents acknowl­edged that Casey focused on com­pe­ten­cies that effec­tive lead­ers should possess.

For ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion sys­tems to improve and extend qual­i­ty ser­vices to all chil­dren, the report finds, pri­vate­ly fund­ed lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­grams like Casey’s can no longer be a rare breed — oth­ers must rise to the chal­lenge. By invest­ing in train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for exist­ing and poten­tial lead­ers, pub­lic- and pri­vate-sec­tor fun­ders alike can con­tribute to improv­ing out­comes for the chil­dren and fam­i­lies whose futures hinge on their success.

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