In 2009, the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) and the Ounce of Prevention Fund (the Ounce) embarked on an effort to form a partnership whose vision is to "...build a model of public education for children and their families that begins at birth and creates success in school, and life."
UEI designed and operates four public charter school campuses offering families a pathway to college for their children that begins with prekindergarten (preK) and continues through high school. The Ounce created and operates the Educare School, which prepares at risk children from birth to age five for success in school. The partnership will initially demonstrate what it means when children begin their education early with Educare, enter UEI's charter campuses for elementary, middle and high school, advance to college, and persist to graduation. Ultimately, the partnership plans to harness and share the academic expertise and real-world experience of members of both organizations. The goal is to collaboratively and continuously align and create instructional practices, and academic and social supports, to demonstrate a new model of public education that seamlessly and successfully prepares children for college, beginning at birth.
In the United States, early childhood education (ECE) is not publicly mandated. All children in the U.S. receive public schooling that generally begins with kindergarten. As a result, many children do not have access to sufficient learning opportunities early in life, and may start kindergarten at a disadvantage. Given that K-12 attempts at closing the achievement gap are costly and generally ineffective, calls are being made to prevent the achievement gap from ever occurring. This requires intervention at a very young age, since differences in achievement based on income level can be seen as young as nine months and become larger by kindergarten. Even children who have been exposed to high quality ECE can experience a "fade" of those benefits upon entering K-12, depending on the quality of elementary school. For many children, the achievement gap begins to widen once again.
In the city of Chicago, high school graduation rates hover around 50 percent. Of those students who graduate, only 35 percent go on to attend four-year colleges and universities. The numbers grow even smaller for children who are African American, Latino, or low-income. The achievement gap that opens in early childhood tends to widen throughout K-12, and many children who start with a disadvantage at kindergarten never graduate from high school. If they do, they are unlikely to attend and graduate from college. Higher education levels are related to higher incomes, lower levels of unemployment, and other positive outcomes. In order to be competitive in a world where a college degree is increasingly important, the United States must ensure that children graduate high school and are prepared to graduate from college.
Preventing an achievement gap and ensuring that the fade of benefits from high-quality ECE does not occur in elementary school, while at the same time raising the bar to "college for all," requires collaboration between the worlds of ECE and K-12. In the United States, however, there exists a structural divide between the two fields. Despite the fact that they share similar goals for educating children, policies, standards, and funding streams contribute to a "disconnect."
The partnership's goals are to effect change in public education by creating a demonstration model of birth-to-grade 12 education that prepares students for success in college and life. In order to accomplish this, the two organizations will work together to share expertise, and align and co-create practices, to ensure the best possible chance for success for students. The partnership first needed to be established, strengthened, and trusted by key players from each organization -- this was not a simple task. UEI and the Ounce began this effort by developing a roadmap that includes a shared vision and mission, core values, and goals and activities of the partnership. We focus here on the formation of the shared vision and mission, a document that represents the goals and aspirations of the partnership between the two organizations. In the service of creating this document, a working group comprised of educators, administrators, researchers, and teacher leaders from each organization was formed. The working group used an iterative process, where they revised, questioned, and adjusted the roadmap during a series of ten three-hour meetings that took place over the course of nine months and were facilitated by a specialist. Working group members' testimonies about their experiences participating in the group are referenced in this study. We will also review iterations of the shared vision and mission as they changed over time.