Early Childhood Education


The vision is simple – every poor child should receive an early education experience that is of sufficient quality and intensity that children reach elementary school with skills equal to their non-poor peers. Our Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) and Elevate Early Education (E3) partnership will do this through transforming three components of the early learning system: programs, people, and policy.

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For more information or to make a gift, please contact:
Gerald Starsia
(434) 924-6310
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The progress and conditions noted below create a unique opportunity, perhaps unprecedented in Virginia, to advance the quality and impact of early learning systems not only in the Commonwealth, but nationally. 

  1. We can observe elements of teacher-child interaction objectively, with standardized assessments, at scale. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System, developed here at UVA, has a strong empirical basis and track record, now being used in monitoring and quality improvement efforts in VA.
  2. We have developed and tested effective ways to improve the quality and impact of these interactions through highly targeted professional development aligned to the CLASS
  3. CASTL also has built courses for early childhood educators that focus on all other areas of children’s learning and development and these are ready to deliver online. This package can be dropped into a range of degrees and delivery systems and is being piloted in VA.
  4. E3 has created a model program for birth to 5 education and early learning through a seamless and integrated curricular approach, aligned assessments, and teacher supports. A number of Virginia school divisions and communities have expressed an interest in the E3 model and replication.
  5. With support from E3, CASTL has launched the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP), a first-ever comprehensive direct assessment of children’s skills as they enter kindergarten, now being used in over 40 school divisions.
  6. The Curry School has launched an effort to address the needs of struggling elementary schools, combining a focus on literacy and language development, mathematics and science, and teacher-student interaction in a comprehensive and integrated approach to school transformation. We are piloting this approach in several schools, currently on the state’s list of challenged schools.

Our vision is to enact a five-year plan that achieves this level of transformative change, leading to the very real possibility that every poor child will receive an effective early educational experience sufficient to close opportunity and skills gaps by the time they reach elementary school.

Leverage points include:

  • Replicating, refining, scaling the E3-CASTL model

    Our CASTL-E3 partnership has created a uniquely powerful tool for improving the educational program offered to children in birth-5 settings. We propose a CASTL-E3 partnership to replicate the current Norfolk model, scaling and evaluating it in a targeted number of Virginia communities selected on the basis of their willingness to fully cooperate with and implement the model as developed. These replications, to be accelerated in the first three years of our five-year plan, will form the basis for implementing with national level partners in communities across the country in years 4 and 5.

  • A national, online, competency-focused teacher preparation program

    Teachers have to be at the core of any effort to drive improvement in the early learning system. We believe various certification/licensure policies, quality improvement initiatives, and regulatory infrastructures can be harnessed and linked to a suite of proven-effective PD resources that lead to desired improvements for teacher and children. We already have in-hand 90% of training resources needed to launch this effort, including modular, online systems that directly improve teachers’ knowledge and skills in the areas of: a) contemporary knowledge of child development; b) knowledge and implementation of proven effective curricula and assessments; c) skills in effectively interacting with young children. Our plan is to quickly (within 6 months) refine these resources and align them to Virginia’s planned innovations in workforce development policies (e.g., regulations allowing for certification at B.A. level; the “upskilling” initiative underway through VECF; etc.). We will start fully implementing in Virginia in year 2 of the plan, and extend over the years. CASTL partnerships in other states (e.g. Louisiana) are such that these resources could be made available in a number of other sites nationally. These offerings would be organized and delivered through the Curry School of Education.

  • Evaluation of impact that advances the field

    E3 and CASTL have partnered on an initiative of almost unprecedented importance for Virginia (and the nation) in the VKRP project assessing children’s school readiness. For the first time, Virginia will have information available on the performance of its entering school children; information also made available to classroom teachers. However, the potential of this resource for leveraging transformative improvement in Virginia’s (and the nation’s) early learning system will be realized only if this information is used to drive policy and program investments that lead to improved outcomes for children. Thus it is necessary to invest in analysis and use of the VKRP data set. We propose to organize and lead a consortium on KIDS-Data that would anchor the 0-5 and k-3 data systems around the VKRP and build the capacity of Virginia’s universities and agencies to utilize these data for the purposes of advancing state policy and investments. This consortium would be housed in the Batten-Curry Center for Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness.


  • Jason Downer
    Associate Professor of Education, Director of CASTL, and Program Area Director for Clinical and School Psychology
  • Bob Pianta
    Dean, Curry School of Education
  • Gerald Starsia
    Executive Director, Curry School Foundation