Implementing Large-Scale Change in a Midsize Urban District

This program helped in the development of a high-quality, districtwide professional development plan for pre-K oral language development in St. Louis Public Schools, building on a unique labor-management partnership and a joint commitment to increasing both the quantity and quality of pre-K classrooms in this midsized urban school system.

It has been well established that high-quality, language-rich preschool experiences can make a huge difference, especially for  children living in poverty, who typically start school already behind. But  research also shows that many early childhood programs, although otherwise well run, lack a clear, intentional focus on the kind of content-rich, age-appropriate instruction that children need to develop a broad vocabulary and acquire deep knowledge about the world.

In response to this need, the Albert Shanker Institute developed a series of  professional development trainings that are designed to help early childhood  educator explore (1) concepts of language development, (2) language diversity  and bilingualism, and (3) organizing successful, content-rich oral language instruction.

Although these trainings have been used by teacher educators and peer trainers in  various districts across the nation, the Institute’s most intensive work has  been in partnership with the early childhood educators of St. Louis, MO – a district  in which over 80% of students are minority and 85% qualify for free or reduced  price lunch, and where expanded access to high-quality public preschools had  long been advocated as a means to improve student outcomes.

In 2011, an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Innovation Fund grant helped  to launch the work of a labor-management team, which had been given the mission of  upgrading the professional development being offered to the district’s rapidly growing cadre of preschool teachers and paraprofessionals. Given its importance, oral language and early literacy were established as priority areas and the Shanker Institute’s Modules were selected as key materials.

Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, some 65 early childhood educators (about a third of all preschool staff) were provided with this training directly by the Shanker Institute and its partners at the University of Michigan and New York University. Twenty of these educators were subsequently identified to receive additional training during the 2013-14 school year, enabling the school system to build its own capacity to offer training and in-class coaching support to all remaining staff. In all, approximately 185 teachers and paraprofessionals, serving over 2,000 preschool students every year, are expected to benefit. A descriptive evaluation of this districtwide intervention and dissemination plan from New York University can be found here.