When the federal government launched the Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-Tiered Support System (MTSS) mandate in 2012, the major goals of the initiative were: to identify potential learning challenges at the earliest indication of student need, and for school teams and teachers to construct targeted intervention plans to address those needs that aim to produce gap-closing growth.
In fact, much of the research that drove the RTI initiative identified the link between fundamental language functioning and reading and indicated the ages from 3 to 7 as the critical period for language development. This timeframe would be when intervention would produce the most successful, consistent, and reliable results.
Bridging the gap between research and reality
The inherent disconnect between such findings and the school systems our children enter is that many students only begin their education journey in Kindergarten, at the age of five, when they’ve already missed crucial developmental opportunities. After 13 years with the mandated requirements for federally funded school districts to produce comprehensive MTSS plans and countless models and versions of such plans, well-meaning teachers and teams continue to find themselves reluctant to pull the trigger on the need for support, as the “all children develop differently” and the “gift of time” mentalities masks the need for concern.
Recently, the President introduced his plan to propose a more sweeping drive for Universal Pre-K for three and four-year-old children and tuition-free community college for the first two years after secondary school. With the potential of Universal Pre-K expanding across the country, there is hope that more children will enter our education systems earlier, thus allowing educators to identify and notice learning trends and make responsible, evidence-based decisions to support them within the optimal window of time.
Observation and data-gathering must start early, and should be a continuous process
The more student data we can observe, the more we can correlate growth patterns, understand when learning may be more sluggish, and provide robust plans to support our children when the gains will be most rewarding and sustainable. Learning can and should include playing in the early stages of formal education, especially when that includes the Pre-K environment. We certainly wouldn’t want to compromise free play learning and development for the sake of structured or rigid formal classrooms.
However, helping our teachers to understand, hypothesize, and monitor the developmental behaviors they observe during “academic play” can have wide-reaching benefits to students of all ages. The value added from Universal Pre-K for children, educators, school leaders, and families as a whole would have broader implications than those first two years, as we come to better our understanding of early literacy and numeracy for our traditional school-aged children.
Earlier identification can have cost-saving benefits by allocating resources more effectively, shortening the length of time needed to remediate. It can bring social and emotional health benefits by helping both students and teachers avoid falling into the failure trap before getting the help they need. Finally, there are community-building benefits that come from forging a trust-filled relationship between schools and families, helping parents of young children to learn about their child’s developmental and learning journey, and guiding and supporting them in their at-home activities.
Tuition-free community college access can ease a student’s transition into adulthood
Continuing along the lines of developmental readiness, the provision of tuition-free community college access would not only provide pathways to success through education for students who face economic hardship, but also for students who have not yet realized their readiness to move on to the more typically rigorous, four-year higher education institutions or the workforce.
Just as we must be sensitive and observant of the learning growth rates and readiness factors of our Pre-K and primary grade students, we can do the same for our adolescents and teens. Not unexpectedly, countless students require a transition period between high school and post-secondary education or the workforce. Making the community college option accessible to children who would never before have the opportunity, and also to students who face the pressure of moving on in our current college-competitive society, despite their need for more personal and academic growth, could produce more successful outcomes for our students overall.
Written by Kerry Leo, CEO & Founder of Da Vinci Collaborative
If your child or your teen is having a hard time making progress in their academic journey, or if you need support guiding them towards the next phase in their personal development, reach out to Da Vinci and let’s see how we can help.