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CSMP-21CSLA Universal Transitional Kindergarten Initiative

In 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a plan for ensuring that Universal Transitional Kindergarten will be available to all children in California. The 2.7 billion dollar program ensures that all California four-year-olds have access to a no-cost transitional kindergarten program through the public school system by the 2025-26 school year. Increased access to preschool programs will make early childhood education more equitable and help close achievement gaps, but the task of rolling out such a major program statewide is monumental. As such, several education organizations from around the state have come together with the 21st Century Leadership Academy — headquartered at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education — to support a state-funded Universal Transitional Kindergarten Leadership Initiative.

The 21CSLA’s UTK Leadership Initiative includes eight different no-cost professional learning modules for leaders. With an explicit focus on equity, the workshops (which are being introduced around the state) facilitate leaders’ learning and planning around implementing UTK in a variety of educational contexts.  The California Subject Matter Project was invited to partner with 21CSLA on the development of one such module, “Leading Equitable TK Classrooms: Inquiry Through Play,” which focuses on play-based, inquiry-oriented TK instruction across subject matter disciplines as a way to promote equity. On October 27th, members of the CSMP UTK team came together with 21CSLA at the Placer County Office of Education to pilot the module in front of a group of around 40 educational leaders.

Over the course of the day, participants discussed TK classroom strategies for promoting equity, learned about the value of play in early childhood education, and even participated in a play experience themselves. The objective was to demonstrate how inquiry-driven instruction, which frames much of K-12 learning in California, can be implemented in TK through purposeful play-based classrooms.

This module is the result of collaboration across the CSMP, with all of the projects contributing to its development. At the PCOE pilot, CSMP was well-represented, with members from the California Physical Education-Health Project, the California Arts Project, the California Mathematics Project, the California History-Social Science Project, and the California Science Project helping facilitate. Members from the CSMP UTK team relayed to participants how TK teachers can use play-based learning experiences to foster learning in several subject matter areas at once.  This emphasis on integrated inquiry-driven instruction supports the goals of California’s Preschool Learning Foundations and builds bridges along the P-3 continuum. 

While there is still work to be done on both this module and the broader implementation of UTK across the state, the PCOE pilot showed the value of collaborative partnerships and teacher-leader participation in making equity-centered, inquiry-based UTK a reality. As one participant stated in a post-workshop survey, “I’m excited to take the materials, research, [and] new knowledge to advocate to continue and improve our TK program.”

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