Testimony of Shana Bartley, OSSE Performance Oversight Hearing, FY 2016-2017

Testimony of Shana Bartley, Acting Executive Director

DC Action for Children

 

Agency Performance Oversight Hearing

Fiscal Year 2016-2017

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

 

Before the Committee on Education

Council of the District of Columbia         

February 14, 2017

 

Good morning, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the Office of the State Superintendent for Education’s performance in the past year. My name is Shana Bartley, and I am acting executive director at DC Action for Children.

 

DC Action provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource accessible to policymakers and community members alike that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the District.

 

My testimony today makes three main points:

  1. Investing in young children in DC has never been more relevant
  2. The District of Columbia is supporting infants and toddlers through its innovative systems initiative, the Quality Improvement Network, led by OSSE
  3. An integrated early childhood data system would propel DC’s integrated systems to better serve young children and their families.

 

#1: Investing in young children in DC has never been more relevant.

­­­The charge to ensure that all children have access to quality early care and education has never been more relevant. District-wide, our city population is trending younger: 43,352 children under 5 call DC home, reflecting an increase of over 26% between 2005 and 2015. Of these children, 23% live in families living below the poverty line, a figure that varies widely across the District by Ward.[1]

 

Leading research on child development stresses that a child’s experiences in the first years of life are critical for healthy brain development. In fact, between the ages of 0 to 3, a child produces 700 new neural connections every second.[2] High-quality, nurturing social and educational environments for young children are thus foundational for a child’s later success in school and life.

 

Though high-quality early care and education is important for all working families, it is especially critical for low-income families. A national study by the National Center for Children in Poverty found that at age 4, children from families living below the poverty line are developmentally 18 months behind their peers living above the poverty line. What’s more, this study found that this gap was still present at age 10.[3] To ensure that investments to reduce the achievement gap across the District are most impactful for the greatest number of students, it is clear that our investments must begin well before a child enters Pre-K.

 

#2: The District of Columbia is supporting infants and toddlers through its innovative systems initiative, the Quality Improvement Network.

In order to reduce the achievement gap and promote positive education and life outcomes for all DC children, investments should not only focus on well-being in early life, but must also be directed towards supporting comprehensive early childhood systems.

 

We applaud OSSE for its commitment to and investment in leading systems-building for infants and toddlers through the neighborhood-based Quality Improvement Network (QIN). The QIN is an innovative multi-year initiative to simultaneously build capacity, increase access and enhance quality in early care and education. It achieves this by leveraging the resources and expertise of a diverse group of stakeholders which include, three community hub partners and six DC government agencies that serve or support infants and toddlers and their families. As of October 2016, the QIN is currently operating in 17 early care and education settings with the capacity to serve 400 children.

 

As a result of the QIN, early care and education centers and home-based programs are implementing a community-based quality improvement system aligned with the comprehensive quality Early Head Start standards. Because neither children nor their needs exist in a vacuum, the agencies that provide services to support children and their families should similarly not be operating in a vacuum, but rather be meaningfully integrated.

 

In partnership with the national BUILD Initiative, DC Action is serving as the systems evaluators of the QIN. Over one year into its implementation, lessons revolving around how to strengthen relationships, policy and practice at the systems level of the QIN are already emerging. At the core of the QIN, it is clear that each stakeholder involved buys into the QIN’s mission and is committed to contributing their specific expertise to operationalizing it. Out of this shared mission, it is already clear that relationships are strengthening between stakeholders at all levels of the QIN.

 

As with any innovative systems-level initiative, sustainable change takes time. We encourage those invested in early childhood to continue to follow the development of the QIN and support the beneficial systems-level changes that the QIN has set into motion. The QIN is intended to set the stage for a scalable approach for serving infants and toddlers. Over time, we anticipate more resources will be needed.

 

In addition, though the QIN is a local District initiative focused on the neighborhood/community level, it is not immune to decisions made at the federal level. Because the QIN is funded by primarily through two federal sources (subsidy and grant dollars from the US Department of Health and Human Services), and partially funded with local resources, it is important to be aware of potential threats to sustainable federal funding for the QIN. Especially given the new administration and rapidly changing federal landscape, vigilance on behalf of all advocates, stakeholders and District agencies is especially crucial.

 

#3 An integrated early childhood data system would propel DC’s integrated systems to better serve young children and their families.

In order for integrated systems-level initiatives such as the QIN to function in a manner that leverages the greatest and most sustainable impact, those involved in the system must have a common language. In the world of government, research and public-private partnership, this language is a coordinated data system. The discussion around the importance and impact of longitudinal integrated data systems at both the federal and state level is not new; in fact, OSSE has already established the Student Longitudinal Data System (SLED) to track student-level education data, PreK-12. We call on OSSE to expand access to this longitudinal source of disaggregated student-level data so that policymakers and educators alike can best meet and adapt to the needs of DC students.

 

However, the work should not stop at SLED. We urge the District to follow the lead of states such as Illinois, Washington, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Iowa and Utah to expand its data-focus to encompass the early childhood system.[4] Because families with young children are touched by many different programs, DC currently lacks a data system capable of answering important policy questions pertaining to our youngest citizens such as: are children healthy and on track to succeed when they enter school and beyond? Without such a District-wide, coordinated data system, is also difficult to understand the availability and quality of services available to families with young children. Effective implementation of a coordinated longitudinal early childhood data system would empower policymakers in the District improve program quality, promote a strong early care and education workforce, quantify and increase access to high-quality programs and improve child outcomes.[5]

 

We call on this Committee and the Committees on Health and Human Services to consider the benefits of developing an early childhood data system that includes a robust selection of data including child-level data pertaining to early care and education, health and developmental screenings, and home visiting. We believe that the system should be placed where it is easily accessible for all of the agencies and programs serving young children. The data system should build upon cross-agency data-sharing agreements and link to SLED with unique identifiers for individual children. It should not go without noting that this proposed coordinated data system holds the potential to propel forward the work of the QIN and other inter-agency efforts working on initiatives that have already begun the work to coordinate systems and wrap-around services for DC children such as early intervention and home visiting.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

 

[1] Data via DC KIDS COUNT; Children in Poverty by Age Group; Source: US Census Bureau. Accessed at: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/5650-children-in-poverty-by-age-group?loc=10&loct=3#detailed/3/10,55-56,58-61,64-77…

[2] Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. Accessed at: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[3] National Center for Children in Poverty. “Effective Preschool Curricula and Teaching Strategies.” (2006). Retrieved from: http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_668.html.

[4] Zero to Three: Data Systems in Early Childhood Systems. Accessed at: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1638-data-systems-in-early-childhood-systems

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