UF-Miami partners land $6 million in grants for massive early-learning initiative

Posted: August 9, 2010

MIAMI, Fla.—A three-group partnership of early-childhood education proponents— teaming the University of Florida, Miami-Dade Public Schools and The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation—has beat out more than 1,600 other applicants nationwide for a share of federal education money worth $650 million.

The UF-Miami partners, already working together on a prototype school-readiness initiative in Miami-Dade schools, received $5 million in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Education to expand the scope of their project. The money will fund an innovative, countywide effort to train master teachers in Dade schools. The Florida group was one of only 49 winning applicants.

The federal grant also requires recipients to arrange $1 million in matching funds. The UF-Miami group received their match from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, raising the total amount of support to $6 million.

Under the four-year project, UF College of Education early-childhood specialists will develop and teach a free, job-embedded master’s and specialist degree program in early childhood education for 100 early-childhood teachers in 25 high-need elementary schools. The degree program blends on-site and online coursework so teachers can remain in their own classrooms during their graduate studies.

UF’s novel, tuition-free program is part of the education college’s Florida Master Teacher Initiative. The tuition of more than $20,000 is offset by grants and stipends from the Kellogg foundation and other groups.

Participating teachers will create “professional learning communities” and organize special training opportunities for their colleagues at school. Over the course of the grant, the free training in early-child learning is expected to benefit some 1,125 area teachers and impact 30,000 of Miami-Dade’s youngest schoolchildren.

Learning communities for principals at partnering schools also will be created to help them lead school improvement efforts.

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools is proud to be in the forefront of early learning innovation,” said Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho. “The school district recognizes the importance of developing educational building blocks for our youngest learners. This grant and the partnership with the University of Florida will greatly benefit our students, parents and educators.”

Don Pemberton, director of the UF college’s Lastinger Center for Learning, which coordinates the Master Teacher Initiative, said the Miami-Dade project will be “rigorously evaluated” to assess its impact on the school communities and culture, and on teaching effectiveness and student achievement.

“This entire effort builds on cutting-edge research, the best practices in professional development for teaching and school leadership, and the front-line experience of the partnering groups in Miami-Dade, the nation’s most diverse community,” Pemberton said.

UF’s Lastinger Center, Miami-Dade Schools and The Early Child Initiative Foundation, which is based in Miami, have been working together since 2006 on an ambitious school-readiness effort called Ready Schools Florida, supported by a $10 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation.

Pemberton said the model for this latest effort, combined with rigorous assessment and the diverse make-up of the Miami-Dade school district, makes the Florida Master Teacher Initiative prime for a national rollout.

“We truly believe this work is transformational for teachers and schools, and we’re demonstrating it can scale up to thousands and thousands of teachers,” Pemberton said.



SOURCE: John Schuster, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Chief Communications Officer, 305-995-1126; jschuster@dadeschools.net.

SOURCE: Donald Pemberton, director, Lastinger Center for Learning, UF College of Education (352) 273-4108; dpemberton@coe.ufl.edu

SOURCE:Philip Poekert, Miami region professor-in-residence, Lastinger Center for Learning, UF College of Education, (305) 646-7226; poekert@coe.ufl.edu

WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education (352) 273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu