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Study: States Should Replicate AppleTree Institute’s High-Quality Charter Early Ed Program

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Report to be discussed in forum on district and charter early education featuring D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith

BOSTON – States should replicate high-quality early education charter schools in which student outcomes are clearly delineated and transparent, and the schools should be held accountable based on whether they achieve those outcomes, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Seeds of Achievement: Appletree’s Early Childhood D.C. Charter Schools

In “Seeds of Achievement: AppleTree’s Early Childhood D.C. Charter Schools,” author Cara Stillings Candal argues that states should establish charter schools focused on providing low- and middle-income three- and four-year-olds with high-quality early childhood education.

“AppleTree’s charter work is significant,” Candal says, “because it reflects a focus on academic quality in early childhood education, rather than just providing the equivalent of day care.”

Right now, less than 5 percent of three-year-olds and a little more than one-quarter of four-year-olds are in pre-k programs.  Of those, less than 20 percent are in programs that meet quality benchmarks set by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Research demonstrates that high-quality early childhood education has a significant and lasting impact.  Stillings Candal uses the AppleTree Institute as a case study of the effect one high-quality early education model is having.

AppleTree has seven charter public school campuses in Washington, D.C. that serve 760 pre-k students.  It is also supporting the implementation of its curriculum, known as “Every Child Ready,” at seven other D.C. charter schools with 800 students.  At six of AppleTree’s seven charter school campuses, half or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

AppleTree is dedicated to closing the achievement gap before it can be detected.  According to President and C.E.O. Jack McCarthy, “Effective early interventions prepare children for success and get K-12 schools out of the ‘catching up’ business that results in our achievement gaps.” Research has found that by age three, disadvantaged children have heard an average of 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged peers.

All AppleTree teachers have bachelor’s degrees at minimum, and all teaching assistants are credentialed.  Students’ pre-academic skills are assessed at least four times per year in a developmentally appropriate way that often includes a student playing games with the teacher or the student’s peers.  There are regular teacher evaluations and ongoing professional development offerings as part of a culture of continuous improvement.

In baseline assessments, AppleTree students are on par with D.C. Public School students.  But after two years, AppleTree students score above average on all standard early learning assessments.  The gains appear to be lasting; by second grade, AppleTree alumni score 70 percent higher in oral reading than their peers.

AppleTree’s lasting benefits can also be seen in other ways.  While about 22 percent of Washington, D.C. elementary students are identified for special education, not a single AppleTree graduate who has gone on to the D.C. public schools, has been identified for special education.

Charter schools are an excellent delivery system for the Every Child Ready Curriculum.  They provide the freedoms necessary to tailor the model to individual student needs and offer a revenue stream to fund it.  As public schools, none of AppleTree’s campuses charge tuition.

Sara Mead, a principal with Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting group, wrote a foreword for the Pioneer research paper.

Candal will present her paper at a Pioneer Institute Forum to be held on Thursday, July 31 at 4 p.m. at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston. The event may be viewed live online.

Washington, D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith will deliver the keynote address for “District and Charter Early Childhood Ed: Lessons from D.C.”  The event will also feature a panel discussion with Jeanne Allen, president emeritus of the Center for Education Reform; Cynthia Brown, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute; and John McKoy, Fight For Children’s director of programmatic initiatives.

The discussion will be moderated by former Florida and Virginia education official Gerard Robinson.

The event is co-sponsored by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Friedman Legacy Day 2014, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, and SABIS.  It is free and open to the public.  Anyone interested in attending should RSVP to Brian Patterson at bpatterson@pioneerinst.wpengine.com or (617) 723-2277.

About the Author:

Cara Stillings Candal is Senior Education Fellow at Pioneer Institute, and the Director of Research and Curriculum at the Center for Better Schools/National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education. Dr. Candal has worked in the field of education for fifteen years as a high school teacher, as a curriculum and large-scale assessment specialist for the Riverside Publishing Company, and as a Research Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Education. She is the author of numerous articles on the charter school movement, both nationally and in Massachusetts, and on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

About Pioneer:

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.