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Bright Start TN

A new birth-through-third-grade early care and education endeavor from TQEE

Bright starts finish strong. That’s why we’re proud to introduce Bright Start TN – an initiative of TQEE that brings together a statewide network of community partnerships dedicated to accelerating early learning outcomes and closing achievement and opportunity gaps for Tennessee children birth through third grade.

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“Bright Start TN is an important extension of the work TQEE does to advance smart state policies and practices that support young children’s success. But state policies are only as successful as their local implementation. Through Bright Start TN we’ll tap the power of local community members to create and implement local plans for early childhood success.”

— TQEE President and CEO, Blair Taylor

What we’ll do

Community partnerships will work toward the goal of increasing the percentage of third grade children who are proficient in reading and math. To accomplish this, they will:

  • Use data to better understand barriers to early learning
  • Identify and leverage existing local and state assets and resources
  • Establish and scale evidence-based and promising strategies
  • Track outcomes and use data for continuous improvement
  • Share learnings among peer communities and with local and state policymakers
  • Inform TQEE’s state policy agenda and expand our advocacy network

While each Bright Start TN partnership plan will be unique, each will incorporate goals and strategies in three major areas:

  • High-quality birth-through-age-eight learning environments
  • Health and development beginning at birth
  • Supportive and supported families and communities

Why it’s important

Research has repeatedly shown that the first eight years of a child’s life are a critical development period, and third grade is widely acknowledged as a benchmark year that determines future academic success. Yet with more than two-thirds of Tennessee’s third graders not proficient in reading or in math, our state is facing a crisis that the Bright Start TN Network will help fix.

Learn more about why the early years matter.

Bright Start TN Communities

The six inaugural community partnerships were chosen through a selective process that considered their commitment to address learning and opportunity gaps in early care and education and their capacity to assemble community teams to accomplish the initiative’s goals.

Each partnership is comprised of local civic and business leaders, child care providers, nonprofits, schools, families and other stakeholders, and is coordinated by a local “backbone organization.” Learn more about each partnership by clicking on the links below.

  • Northeast Tennessee (Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties)
  • West Tennessee (Decatur, Dyer, Hardeman, Haywood, Hardin, Lake, Madison, McNairy and Weakley counties)

Frequently asked questions

What is Bright Start Tennessee Network (Bright Start TN)?

A new initiative of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE), Bright Start TN is a statewide network of community partnerships dedicated to accelerating early learning outcomes and closing achievement and opportunity gaps for Tennessee children birth through third grade.

Who is part of Bright Start TN?

The inaugural six community partnerships are each comprised of local civic and business leaders, child care providers, nonprofits, schools, families and other stakeholders, and are coordinated by a local “backbone organization.” The community partnerships include:

  • Chattanooga/Hamilton County, coordinated by Chattanooga 2.0
  • Knoxville/Knox County, coordinated by United Way of Greater Knoxville
  • Nashville/Davidson County, coordinated by United Way of Greater Nashville
  • Memphis/Shelby County, coordinated by First 8 Memphis
  • Northeast Tennessee (Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties), coordinated by the STRONG Accountable Care Community
  • West Tennessee (Decatur, Dyer, Hardeman, Haywood, Hardin, Lake, Madison, McNairy and Weakley counties), coordinated by United Way of West Tennessee

Each partnership has a leadership council or steering committee and a team from the backbone organization, including a Bright Start Fellow, staffing the work.

What will Bright Start TN partnerships do?

The partnerships will create and implement local plans that improve third grade reading and math proficiency and close opportunity and achievement gaps for children birth through third grade. To accomplish this, they will:

  • Use data to better understand barriers to early learning
  • Identify and leverage existing local and state assets and resources
  • Establish and scale evidence-based and promising strategies
  • Track outcomes and use data for continuous improvement
  • Share learnings among peer communities and with local and state policymakers
  • Inform TQEE’s state policy agenda and expand our advocacy network
What will Bright Start TN accomplish?

The major impact will be to increase the percentage of third grade children proficient in reading and math (i.e., scoring “on-track” or “mastered” on the state’s TCAP tests for ELA and math).

While each Bright Start TN partnership plan to accomplish that impact will be unique, each will incorporate goals and strategies in three major areas:

  • High-quality birth-through-age-eight learning environments
  • Health and development beginning at birth
  • Supportive and supported families and communities
Why is Bright Start TN so important right now?

Research has repeatedly shown that the first eight years of a child’s life are a critical development period, and third grade is widely acknowledged as a benchmark year that determines future academic success. Yet with more than two-thirds of Tennessee’s third graders not proficient in reading or in math, our state is facing a crisis that Bright Start TN will help fix.

How were the inaugural partnerships chosen?

The partnerships were chosen through a selective process that considered their commitment to address learning and opportunity gaps in early care and education birth through third grade and their capacity to assemble community teams to accomplish the initiative’s goals.

Can other communities join Bright Start TN?

Not right now, but we look forward to welcoming other communities into the network in the future. Additionally, we expect that the work being done by our inaugural community partnerships will be shared with peer communities to advance early learning outcomes for children statewide. If you are interested in learning more about joining the Bright Start Tennessee Network when opportunities become available, contact TQEE Vice President of Community Engagement and Director of Bright Start TN Jonathan Scoonover at jonathan@tqee.org.

How does Bright Start TN build on existing local initiatives focused on early education?

Most of the inaugural Bright Start partnerships were selected because they have demonstrated momentum. Four have established collective impact initiatives focused on early childhood success, including: Shelby County’s First 8 Memphis, Nashville’s Blueprint for Early Childhood Success, Chattanooga 2.0’s Early Matters action team and the STRONG ACC in Northeast TN. As part of Bright Start TN, each will evolve their efforts in different ways, such as augmenting their existing plans, doubling down on implementing and scaling already identified strategies, adding a data dashboard, and evolving their leadership councils and working groups. While each partnership effort will be unique, the partnerships will also develop some common goals, strategies and shared measures of success.

What happens after the Bright Start TN plans are developed? How long do you anticipate it will take to implement them?

Bright Start TN plans will be completed by summer of 2022, although implementation is expected to be underway before that time. Most plans will have a three-year timeline for implementation toward an initial set of goals by end of 2025.

Where does the funding for Bright Start TN come from?

Bright Start TN partnerships are each awarded an initial $300,000 over three years from TQEE and matching grants, with philanthropic investment expected to grow. TQEE is also engaging state government leaders from departments of human services, education, health and others to help ensure the partnerships are optimizing existing state assets and resources to implement their plans.

What supports does TQEE provide for Bright Start TN communities?

In addition to philanthropic support and information about state resources, TQEE provides an array of technical assistance and supports to Bright Start TN community partnerships, including but not limited to:

  • Research (including a clearinghouse of best practices)
  • A forum for peer learning and sharing
  • Data (access, analysis and eventual dashboard)
  • Trainings and knowledge-building opportunities
How is state government involved?

State government leaders from departments of human services, education, health and others are involved as critical partners to help ensure communities are optimizing existing state assets and resources. These leaders are helping TQEE ensure Bright Start TN partnerships are aware of state resources and programs that can support their local work. And conversely, the Bright Start TN partnerships are working to ensure that their communities are taking advantage of those state resources and programs.

 

How will Bright Start TN inform TQEE’s policy agenda?

Among one of its functions, Bright Start TN will provide a forum for shared learnings among peer communities. As the Bright Start TN partnerships develop and implement their plans, TQEE will regularly gather shared insights from partnership leaders and stakeholders about state policies that may be a hindrance to success, or where a new policy or redirect of state resources could have a meaningful impact on learning outcomes.

Why focus on early care and education during a pandemic when schools are struggling with COVID-related issues?

The pandemic has made focusing on early care and education more important than ever. The pandemic has affected every facet of our lives, and despite valiant efforts by teachers, parents and students, early learning is no exception. Recent data shows that 68 percent of Tennessee third graders are not proficient in reading or in math. According to a recent poll commissioned by Tennesseans for Quality Early Education, Tennessee voters believe the COVID-19 pandemic is the most important problem facing Tennessee’s Pre-K through third grade classrooms, and 79 percent are worried that too many school children fell behind in math and reading proficiency due to school disruptions.

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