U.Va. Is Part of $40 Million Effort to Improve Teaching and Learning in Head Start

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Rebecca Arrington:

November 10, 2010 — The University of Virginia's Curry School of Education is part of a National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, created this fall with a $40 million grant from the U.S. Office of Head Start.

With expertise in the area of teaching and learning, the coalition of schools will work with Head Start training and technical-assistance providers, consultants and grantees. The center is an integral component to ensuring that the federal investment in Head Start is helping foster children's learning and readiness for school.

The center will be led by the Norris and Dorothy Haring Center for Applied Research and Training in the University of Washington's College of Education. Besides U.Va., other universities collaborating include Vanderbilt University, Iowa State University, University of Southern Florida, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

U.Va.'s Classroom Assessment Scoring System™, or CLASS™, is currently being used to measure teacher quality in all 50,000 of the nation's Head Start classrooms. The tool, developed from years of research at U.Va.'s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, is used to observe and assess the quality of classroom interactions between teachers and students and how those interactions improve student learning. 

"We will be working carefully with our colleagues to develop effective supports that improve teachers' skills in the classroom," Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education and director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, said. "Because the CLASS™ tool is the cornerstone of the new Head Start accountability plan and its efforts to improve quality and student learning, our team at the Curry School is delighted to be part of this unprecedented opportunity to bolster the benefits of such an important program through the Norris center."

Curry will receive nearly $9.5 million of the center's $40 million grant. In addition to Pianta, Curry faculty member Bridget Hamre, a senior scientist at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, will participate as a lead researcher.

The national center's researchers will:

•    Gather, review and catalog research-based practices in the areas of early childhood assessment and curriculum, instructional practices, parenting curriculum and training curriculum.
•    Develop and disseminate products in these same areas for use by Head Start programs and families.
•    Gather and review data to measure improved quality and student learning in Head Start classrooms.
•    Put proven-effective practices into everyday use through professional development of Head Start staff.
•    Develop, implement and evaluate a coaching and mentoring system for Head Start teachers that includes a continuum of coaching approaches.
•    Establish a system with states and regions to sustain the use of these best practices.
•    Develop and implement higher education strategies to ensure that Head Start teachers and other staff meet higher education requirements.
•    Develop and implement an approach to help ensure the successful transition of Head Start students to elementary school by building connections among all of those involved, including parents, children, teachers, pre-K staff and kindergarten staff.

This team of collaborators includes early learning experts in the fields of early care and education, early childhood special education and early intervention, who bring a broad range of expertise, knowledge and understanding of educational practices with demonstrated effectiveness in promoting teaching that produces the best possible outcomes for young children as well as evidence-based curricula and professional development.

"The evidence is clear that early learning can make a lifetime of difference," Tom Stritikus, dean of the University of Washington College of Education, said. "The center will allow the UW College of Education, together with our collaborators across the country, to bring to scale the best practices that we've collectively learned through years of research. It's a big project for us, with a big payoff for the children."

The center will ensure staff access to a professional development system that provides individualized support and development, including the establishment of a "Head Start University" concept that will engage nationally recognized leaders in the field to develop comprehensive, research-based college courses that can be offered for credit online or in person.

The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning is one of four new centers created in September by the Office of Head Start. The centers are part of the redesigned Training and Technical Assistance system, which aims to provide Head Start teachers and program staff with the knowledge and skill to use best practices/evidence-based practices through a system of training and technical assistance providers, early childhood specialists and consultants.

The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, a five-year project, begins its work Jan. 2. 

— By Rebecca Arrington