- Early-childhood education initiatives can receive support for their fresh ideas under the new Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge, announced Thursday by the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- The competition, in which winners can receive up to $15,000 to implement their plans, includes three tracks: the Idea Track for new efforts that haven’t been tried before; the Pilot Track for approaches that are being used as a prototype; and the Scaling Track for existing programs or products that need further support in order to be scaled more widely. The top prize in the Idea Track is $10,000.
- “Now is the time for creative, collaborative solutions that will increase early education opportunities and positive outcomes for all children,” Nonie Lesaux, an education professor at Harvard and one of the lead researchers on the project, said in a press release. The challenge will consider proposals in a variety of areas, such as workforce development, classroom environment and materials, planning and instruction, and parent and family engagement.
Launched in 2016, the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative, funded with $35.5 million from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation, released the first findings from its Early Learning Study last fall. The study, which initially focused on Massachusetts, is a new design that, over time, is expected to show how the different settings young children spend time in before school affects later learning and development.
The new challenge is being introduced as research continues to point to positive, long-term outcomes for children who participate in early learning programs. The RAND Corporation released a report Thursday pulling together results from multiple studies showing both short- and long-term benefits of early-childhood programs, including home visiting, parent education efforts and other models that seek to improve the environments in which young children live. The 115 studies reviewed focus not only on student achievement and educational attainment, but also behavior and emotion, health, child welfare, crime and future employment.
Experts have said that the early education field no longer needs to prove that early learning or intervention programs lead to positive outcomes and instead focus on expanding well-designed and promising initiatives. That’s essentially what the Zaentz Initiative’s challenge is about. “The next generation of research needs to get inside the black box of effective programs to provide information on which program components drive effectiveness,” the RAND researchers wrote, adding that program leaders should also focus on the “quality of replication and effects of scale-up.”
Even so, attendees at November’s National Association for the Education of Young Children conference often spoke about wanting their school administrators to have a better understanding of high-quality early learning practices.