Math. What do you think of when you hear that word? Do you light up with excitement thinking about computations and algorithms? Or do you cringe in reflection of suppressed memories trying to find the value of X? Much like spiders, math is a subject many people not only shy away from but seemed to be terrified of. In a culture where math is often viewed so negatively, what does this mean for our youngest learners? We know reading to children is essential for early language and literacy development. What about math? Over the last six years, Washington State has taken a deep dive into the early math world and it turns out that math in early learning is not only really fun, but it is arguably the STRONGEST predictor of academic performance and achievement not just in math but in all domains of development and learning (Duncan 2007). Unfortunately, across the six essential readiness domains (social-emotional, physical, cognitive, language, literacy, and mathematics) mathematics scores have regularly been the lowest. Only 66% of the most recent class of some 85,000 Washington Kindergarteners (WaKIDS, 2017) began school having received the support necessary to develop essential early mathematics skills. Worse still, for children of color and children growing up in low-income communities, as few as 38% of them start Kindergarten ready in mathematics.

Now what? How do we engage communities and families to educate and offer support in an effort to ensure all children have the opportunity to enter school ready in mathematics? How do we shift a culture into embracing mathematics and supporting students lacking in math skills once they enter school? In response to the research and data, Washington State has developed several foundational documents and resources for educators including the Learning Pathways in Numeracy document http://www.k12.wa.us/Mathematics/pubdocs/LearningPathwaysInNumeracy.pdf.

In an effort to distribute this learning and bring communities together, early learning coordinators from Educational Service Districts (ESDs) across the state launched the Early Learning Fellows program in 2016. Fellows are selected through an application process and make a commitment to equitable leadership in education.  The Early Learning Fellows specifically are a network of state, district, school, and community leaders dedicated to making change in early learning with an intentional focus on mathematics, family engagement, and racial equity. Fellows meet regionally four times a year to engage in high quality, consistent professional development around mathematics in the early years. Fellows complete an action plan with an intent to positively impact early mathematics within their communities of practice.

The Spokane region has a prominent network of educators as part of the regional Early Learning Fellows. The Spokane region’s Fellows currently include the following organizations: six local school districts, The Spokane County Library System, Community Minded Enterprises, Eastern Washington University, Community Colleges of Spokane, and the Department of Early Learning.  Educators range from classroom teachers to leaders and administrators.  The intentional collaboration of early learning and the K-12 educational system ensures that we are aligning resources and efforts to ensure that students will benefit both prior to entering the formal school system and subsequently after they have begun school.  This network has seen growth and potential for children, families and communities and continues to build momentum in our region. Leaders are taking research, ideas and resources and putting them into practice within their own communities.  This network has the potential to turn our current math-phobic culture on its head.  Learn more about what our Fellows are doing around our region in our February blog!