Virginia Education Leaders Convene to Discuss Statewide Issues in Early Childhood Education


By Laura Hoxworth

The policy summit is the third to be hosted as a collaborative effort between the Curry School, the UVA K-12 Advisory Council, the Virginia Department of Education, and the Office of the Secretary of Education.

Educators, researchers, and policymakers from across the Commonwealth gathered at the University of Virginia on Tuesday for a one-day summit addressing critical issues in early childhood education.

The summit was jointly hosted by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the VA Secretary of Education, the UVA K-12 Advisory Council, the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development, and the Virginia Department of Education. Elected officials, school division leaders, local and regional agencies, advocates and researchers convened at UVA’s Alumni Hall to discuss topics including curriculum and assessment, workforce development, and integrating data and governance.

Curry School Dean Bob Pianta delivered opening and closing remarks, thanking attendees and noting progress toward expanding access to quality early childhood education in the Commonwealth, while advocating for greater connection between the early childhood sector and the K-12 system in Virginia.

“The next stage in our work – while we continue to ensure access, advance quality, and while we assess how we’re doing – is to press more intentionally on the links between early childhood education and K-12,” he said.

In a presentation on defining the school readiness challenge in Virginia, Curry School faculty discussed the latest data on early learners and their educators. Associate Professor Amanda Williford shared data from the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP), an assessment system developed by UVA researchers that measures the skills a kindergartener needs to succeed.

In 2018, a budget amendment from the Virginia General Assembly allocated $6 million toward expanding VKRP statewide. Fall 2018 results from kindergarten students in 86 school divisions found that 42 percent of Virginia’s kindergarteners are unprepared in one or more of four critical areas: literacy, social skills, math, and self-regulation. For students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, that number rises to 48 percent.

Associate Professor Daphna Bassok reviewed preliminary data from a workforce development survey, which highlighted that early childhood teachers and caregivers struggle with many of the same issues that affect K-12 teachers. Both Williford and Bassok discussed several ways that this data can be used in Virginia to improve the early childhood landscape for both children and teachers – by supporting program improvement, guiding instruction and interactions, and referring children for early intervention where needed, among other ideas.

“We need the kind of data that gives you multiple lenses of a student in order to support them,” said Williford. “This is data that we want to be paying attention to and that we want to learn from.”

First Lady Pam Northam and Chief School Readiness Officer Jenna Conway closed out the summit with a session focused on their vision for the future. Earlier this summer, the Governor signed Executive Directive Four, which established the Executive Leadership Team on School Readiness. The team will be responsible for developing a plan to ensure all at-risk three-year-olds and four-year-olds in Virginia have access to a publicly subsidized care and education option by 2025.

“Every child in Virginia is capable of success in school and beyond if they have access to the resources they need during those critical first five years of life,” said Northam. “We are bringing our leading early childhood experts and policymakers together to align our priorities and make scalable and sustainable improvements to better serve Virginia’s littlest learners.”

This year’s summit marks the third consecutive year that state leaders have convened at the Curry School to discuss critical topics in education. The 2018 summit focused on teacher retention, and the 2017 summit on teacher shortage helped pave the way for the Curry School’s three new undergraduate teacher education majors, including one in Early Childhood Education.