Letter from the Chair - April 30, 2012

Recently, I presented at a Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition event at the Texas Capitol.  My presentation focused on a number of items.  However, one seemed to stand out to the crowd more than others, and that was the concept of (in)visible 50%.  Did you know that almost 50% of children in Texas are in home-based early childhood settings?  Now, certainly, Texas has done a great deal to reach out to these children and increase the quality of care in these settings overall.  For instance, the Texas Rising Star program has incentivized many licensed child care home and registered child care homes to exceed the state's minimum child care standards.  Additionally, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service online program offers a whole suite of trainings available at a low-cost to all types of child care professionals in the state.  The Texas Early Learning Council will work to build on these efforts and really focus on strategies that penetrate down into these child care systems that are so hard to reach with traditional models of quality improvement and outreach.  Let me explain some of our approaches:

By now you have probably heard of our BEECH project, which is focused on on-going interactive professional development that includes online modules, mentoring, and in-person training for home-based child care professionals.  But, did you also know we are about to begin the same intervention in Spanish?  We are currently working to build the Spanish version of the project, and should launch a randomized controlled trial on the intervention in September.  The goal is to offer these modules to home-based providers as close to free as possible once the interventions have been validated by research and fine-tuned to maximize their effects on quality.  Imagine, thousands of providers logging in weekly to a high-quality, targeted, online module that is specifically geared to their unique challenges as a home-based provider, a module where they can view video clips of best practices, learn more about warm and responsive style, hone their skills in promoting language and cognitive development in young children, and access specific strategies for dealing with challenging behaviors.  The possibilities of the project are very exciting, and, we cannot wait to share with the entire state!

Another key project that we hope will reach down to home-based providers is the development of new, voluntary Infant and Toddler Early Learning Guidelines for Texas.  With support from a 25-person stakeholder group, highly-qualified researchers from Children's Learning Institute, a high powered marketing firm, and commitments from various Texas organizations to either support or distribute the new guidelines, the Council is hoping we can get a copy of this document into the hands of every home-based provider in the state.  We will be creating a web site, a marketing campaign, and printing a tremendous number of the guidelines. Not only that, we hope to develop specific professional development strategies related to the guidelines.  Our amazing stakeholder group has formed a Professional Development small group, led by Linda Welsh in Austin.  She is a member of the Child Development Educators Association and a Department Chair at Austin Community College.  Her leadership and her fellow small group members are committed to using the guidelines to inform a number of important professional development activities.

Finally, we hope to reach the (in)visible 50% through a massive public relations campaign in year three of our grant.  Based on the information we learn from our needs assessment and many of our other various projects, we will set forth a number of targeted strategies to reach special and underrepresented populations, as indicated in the Head Start Reauthorization Act.  These strategies will be informed by need, but also informed by consumer analysis.  The Council believes that many of the needs of the (in)visible 50% require some cultural shifts in our state regarding expectations for quality, dissemination of information, and how we communicate with providers and families around early childhood brain development.  Obviously, the Council cannot create a complete turn around in these areas with the funds we have, but we do believe that through these strategic investments we can influence the onset of those required cultural shifts.

This is a leviathan sized task, and one that takes courage to just attempt.  We hope you will join us in these efforts.  Every bit of help you can give us with getting the word out on these projects goes a long way in making them a success!

Sincerely,

John W. Gasko, Ph.D.

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