ESS Early Learning Academy: Supporting Transitions through an Anti-Bias Lens

ESS Early Learning Academy: Supporting Transitions through an Anti-Bias Lens

“I think we need to change our view of parents from being ‘extra work for teachers’ to ‘assets to the classroom community’,” said one attendee of last week’s Early Learning Academy, which brought together district teams from around the state to examine their back-to-school transition processes through the lenses of anti-bias and culturally responsive practice.

Another participant added, “Family engagement is not about what information the school can effectively deliver to families. It is about eliminating barriers so that schools can receive authentic information from families,” as a basis for co-constructing the best learning environment for every child.

The session opened with an introduction from Brian Berry, superintendent of Yoncalla School District, and Erin Helgren, the CI site liaison for Yoncalla Early Works, who spoke about the ways anti-bias practices have shaped the work they’ve done even in a rural, mostly white community. Truly, an anti-bias approach creates collaboration and partnership with families that leads to improved outcomes for every student and a stronger community for all, while also addressing systemic inequities head-on.

The session was keynoted by Dr. Tonia Durden and Dr. Iheoma Iruka, two of the authors of the book, Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms. They shared a wealth of information about the historical and systemic factors that have shaped schools’ interactions with racially and economically marginalized students and families, and highlighted meaningful shifts in classroom and school culture that allow students and parents to engage fully, so that every student is able to reach their potential.



Following the keynote, district teams participated in facilitated planning sessions, working together to apply their learning from the morning to back-to-school transition plans for the coming school year. This work will be ongoing, with districts receiving coaching from the Early School Success (ESS) team throughout the year.


Additional Resources

Professional Development Resource List Developed by Drs. Durden & Iruka

Links to Related Content

Podcast: Anti-Bias Education in Action

Podcast: Anti-Bias Education in Early Childhood

Podcast: Foregrounding Racial Equity in Early Childhood

A Glimpse of How Yoncalla’s Youngest Learners Spend Their Day


ESS Early Learning Academy: School Transitions with an Anti-Bias Lens

ESS Early Learning Academy: School Transitions with an Anti-Bias Lens

As Oregon schools prepare to move into the fall of 2021, the Early School Success team at CI is planning its first ever Early Learning Academy, inviting district teams from around the state to examine educational transitions through an anti-bias lens, with a focus on the love and care that teachers, students, families, and entire school communities need as they continue to move through the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Academy will begin with a kick-off event on Wednesday, June 23, featuring keynotes from Dr. Iheoma Iruka and Dr. Tonia Durden, two authors of the book Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms. This event has recently been opened to the public! If you are interested in attending, you can register here by 4pm on Thursday, June 17, 2021.



We’re incredibly honored to welcome our keynote speakers.


Tonia Durden, Ph.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor and Birth-5 Program Coordinator within the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Georgia State University. Dr. Durden’s primary scholarship and research trajectory focuses on support of African American children’s socio-cultural development. Her goal is to create racially equitable learning experiences for children of color. As a teacher educator and researcher, the focus of her work includes preparing pre-service and in-service teachers to become culturally competent master teachers. Dr. Durden’s professional work and scholarship can be categorized into three core areas of focus: Early Childhood Education (curriculum and program development); racial educational equity (research to professional practice); and Early Childhood Systems Engagement (strategic partnerships and equitable systems building). Dr. Durden is committed to using teacher education and research as an informative vehicle towards helping develop educators and leaders who become culturally responsive change agents and advocates in their classrooms and communities.  


Iheoma U. Iruka, Ph.D., is a Research Professor in the Department of Public Policy, a Fellow at the Frank Porter Graham, Child Development Institute (FPG), and Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at FPG (the Coalition) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through the Coalition, Dr. Iruka is leading projects and initiatives focused on how evidence-informed policies, systems, and practices in the early years can support the optimal development and experiences of minoritized children and children from low-income households and communities. Her work focuses on ensuring that children start off well, through family engagement and support, quality rating and improvement systems, and early care and education systems and programs. Dr. Iruka focuses on ensuring excellence for young diverse learners, especially Black children and their families, through the intersection of anti-bias, anti-racist, culturally grounded research, program, and policy. Dr. Iruka serves and has served on numerous national and local boards and committees, including the Brady Education Foundation, Trust for Learning, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committees, the American Psychological Association’s Board of Educational Affairs, and the Nation Advisory Committee for the U.S. Census Bureau.

She has a B.A. in Psychology from Temple University, an M.A. in Psychology from Boston University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in applied developmental psychology from the University of Miami, FL. 


Guests are able to register for the June 23 kick-off session. District teams who have committed to a deeper, long-term engagement with the material will receive coaching throughout the 2021-22 school year. 

Children’s Institute would like to thank the Ford Family Foundation and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation for making this event possible.


More From Dr. Iruka and Dr. Durden


Iheoma Iruka Strives to Make Racial Equity ‘the Air We Breathe’ at FPG

A Shield of Armor

Be Aware: Confronting My -isms

Be Intentional: Culturally Relevant Teaching — My Culture

Be Intentional: Culturally Relevant Teaching — My Beliefs

Be Intentional: Culturally Relevant Teaching — My Teaching

Dear CRT: Creating Culturally Relevant Classroom Environments

Dear CRT: Responsive Interactions

Video Series Highlights Importance of High-Quality Inclusion

Video Series Highlights Importance of High-Quality Inclusion

Despite ample research showing that high-quality inclusive settings support children’s learning and development, children with disabilities are still not reliably included in many preschool programs. In fact, there has been virtually no improvement in this area over the past forty years. Why aren’t we moving the needle?

Attitudes & Beliefs

The first video in a new series from STEMIE outlines the attitudes and beliefs that will move us toward progress. These include:

  • Optimism rather than pessimism about the capabilities of individuals with disabilities
  • A belief that everyone belongs, rather than reliance on policies that permit participation only when certain behavioral expectations are met (for example, “A child must be toilet trained, must be able to walk into the classroom on their own, or must be able to communicate verbally in order to participate in a preschool program.”)
  • An understanding that while high-quality inclusion is hard work, it is beneficial to everyone

Key Characteristics of High-Quality Inclusion

The second video in the series outlines the key characteristics of a high-quality inclusive education. These characteristics — which include the use of evidence-based practices, data-based decisionmaking, transdisciplinary service delivery, consistent environmental elements, and full utilization of peer influence — add up to a high-quality inclusive learning environment only when all are present. Without any one of them, the bar is not met.

Social Outcomes of Inclusion

Children who have a friend at ages three, four, and five are on a totally different developmental path than children who do not have a friend at those ages. The final video in this series discusses the social outcomes associated with participation in high-quality inclusive early learning.

Benefits to both typically developing children and children with disabilities include improved communication, cognitive, and academic skills, as well as reductions in challenging behaviors. For children with disabilities, early friendships are linked to better high school graduation rates, the need for fewer special education services, and increased longevity. And unsurprisingly, typically developing children who participate in high-quality inclusive programs develop more accepting attitudes toward individuals with differences, leading to a lasting potential social impact in all our communities.

Boston Study Findings Support Continued Investment in Public Preschool

Boston Study Findings Support Continued Investment in Public Preschool

It has long been known that a child’s earliest experiences, both positive and negative, have effects that last a lifetime and show up as disparities in physical and mental health, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment. High-quality preschool can provide the types of early experiences that help children to thrive. Proponents advocate for public preschool programs as a way to ensure that all children have access to the opportunities that will set them up for success in elementary school and beyond, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

Public preschool programs, largely funded by state and local governments, have grown steadily in recent years. According to the 2019 NIEER State of Preschool Annual Report, the number of US 4-year-olds in preschool increased by 20 percent from 2002 to 2019, with 44 states and 24 of the 40 largest US cities operating large-scale public preschool programs that year.

And the expansion of publicly funded early learning programs is not likely to slow; state and local investments are being joined by proposals at the federal level. President Biden’s American Families Plan would invest $200 billion in expanding access to universal prekindergarten and ensuring a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The administration says this plan would benefit five million children and save the average American family $13,000.

Just this week, the School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative (SEII) released a new discussion paper called The Long-Term Effects of Universal Preschool in Boston. The study highlights the benefits of high quality early learning experiences and how these show up for children over time. It also examines evaluation results of the federal Head Start program that have indicated that initial test score gains among Head Start participants tend to level out by the end of elementary school, a phenomenon known as preschool fadeout.

According to SEII, “Some analysts interpret these findings as reflecting ineffective programs, while others argue that medium-term test scores are a poor measure of program effectiveness.” SEII suggests that “these disagreements may stem from the fact that no study to date has used a randomized research design to study the long-term effects of a large-scale preschool program.”


Research Design

The Boston study fills this gap with a lottery-based research design that compares 4,000 4-year-old applicants who were randomly selected in or out of public preschool over the course of seven admissions cohorts from 1997-2003. It estimates causal effects of public preschool on:

  • College enrollment and persistence
  • Grade progression and high school graduation
  • SAT and state achievement test scores
  • Behavioral outcomes related to truancy, suspension, and juvenile incarceration



  • Attending a Boston public preschool led to positive long-term impacts on educational attainment as attendees were more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college. 
  • The short-term effect of preschool on test scores was minimal, but there was a substantial impact on student behavior. 
  • Effects were larger for boys than for girls, but did not differ by race or income. 

Impact of Boston Public Schools' Preschool Program

Impact of Boston Public Schools’ Preschool Program

Policy Applications

The findings of this study support continued large-scale investment in universal public preschool, including local programs like Multnomah County’s Preschool for All, and the federal support for preschool expansion proposed in President Biden’s American Families Plan. 

From the study: “As policymakers consider increased public investment in universal preschool, the research findings suggest that preschool can lead to long-term educational attainment gains through improvements in behavior. Furthermore, the observed effects across demographic groups suggest that all students are likely to benefit from universal preschool.”

2020 NIEER Report: Federal/State Partnership Needed to Expand High-Quality, Full-Day Preschool

2020 NIEER Report: Federal/State Partnership Needed to Expand High-Quality, Full-Day Preschool

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic set back state preschool enrollment and funding across the country, according to the 2020 edition of The State of Preschool Yearbook by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, released earlier this month.

Oregon had achieved an increase in enrollment and inflation-adjusted spending prior to the pandemic, and is poised to continue to make headway on preschool access by funding the Governor’s recommended expansion of Preschool Promise, Oregon Pre-Kindergarten, and the Equity Fund during the 2021 legislative session.

But nationally, the report found that:

  • Growth in state-funded preschool was slowing before the pandemic.
  • The pandemic imposed serious setbacks and reversed recent progress.
  • Uneven progress among states is worsening inequality in children’s access to high-quality preschool.
  • Most states spend too little per child to support high-quality, full-day pre-K and few reach all their 3- and 4-year-olds.

NIEER says now is the time for a renewed commitment to high-quality preschool for all, beginning with those in the lowest-income families.

“Oregon is one of a small number of states approaching levels of per-child spending adequate to truly support high-quality preschool,” said Steven Barnett, Ph.D., NIEER’s founder and senior co-director.

Dana Hepper, CI’s director of policy and advocacy, adds, “Oregon’s per-child spending reflects the progress we’ve made toward achieving funding parity with K-12 schools — which would mean preschool teachers were paid on the same scale as elementary teachers, and full school-day programs were available to 3- and 4-year-olds.”

Federal/State Partnership Needed Beyond COVID Rescue & Recovery Dollars

Nationwide, enrollment in state-funded preschool increased slightly in 2019-2020, but took a hit in 2020-2021 as many programs closed or only offered virtual learning and parents were hesitant to send children to in-person school during the pandemic.

“For nearly 20 years, annual progress on preschool has been slow and uneven, and at this pace universal pre-K will remain an unfulfilled promise into the next century,” said Barnett. “Beyond federal rescue and recovery dollars for the short-term, we need a new federal/state partnership to accelerate progress toward high-quality pre-K beginning with the most disadvantaged children, many of whom still receive no pre-K at all. This would require that federal and state governments steadily increase spending on pre-K during the next 30 years, expanding programs to reach all 3- and 4-year-olds, beginning with the many children in low-income families who still do not attend pre-K.”

As with last year, the survey reveals bipartisan support for preschool across the country, with both “red” and “blue” states among the nation’s leaders in high-quality preschool. That offers hope that the nation can move ahead to expand access more rapidly in the future.

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