Case Study: AppleTree

06 Apr, 2016

Two preschool-aged children sitting at a table with a male instructor in a classroom

The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) recently observed a successful and expanding network of charter schools for three- and four-year-olds and documented findings in a series of six videos. AppleTree, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, opened its first early learning public charter school in 2005 and is currently serving 750 students in seven campuses in all four quadrants of the city.

With the assistance of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant supplemented by a Charter School Program (CSP) dissemination grant, AppleTree developed an instructional model, Every Child Ready (ECR), including a detailed curriculum; comprehensive training and professional development for teachers; family engagement; and data-driven tools to measure program quality, monitor children’s progress, and individualize instruction. In addition to AppleTree’s seven schools, Every Child Ready is used in nine other preschool programs in the District. Collectively, ECR is being implemented in programs affecting over 1,660 children.

1: Introduction: AppleTree to Close the Achievement Gap at an Early Age

In 1996, Jack McCarthy, President and CEO of AppleTree, opened the nation’s first charter school incubator, which then supported two high schools. With students joining at different academic levels, teachers struggled to close the achievement gap. As a result, they had the idea of opening a preschool to assist children at early onset.

This video discusses the impetus for the opening of the first AppleTree preschool and, thereafter, the development of the ECR Instructional Model. Through the video, you will meet AppleTree representatives who worked on the research and development of ECR and campus leaders and teachers who tried and tested the program for validity and further refinements.

2: What to Teach: The Every Child Ready Curriculum

This video focuses on the intentional and detailed curriculum of the ECR Instructional Model. The ECR Curriculum is a standards-driven, thematic, and play-based curriculum with teachers serving as facilitators and providing some direct instruction. While being standards-driven, the curriculum opens up room for differentiation by providing teachers with a spectrum of skills, from the basic to the advanced. In addition to the individuals from the last video, we hear from AppleTree teachers, students, and parents in this video.

3: How to Teach: Professional Development

AppleTree offers its instructional leaders and teachers’ comprehensive training and professional development. Teachers and leaders also have a collaborative space to learn from their peers in other AppleTree schools through professional learning communities and rotational site-based visits. In this video, we hear from AppleTree representatives who created the professional development module, as well as from the leaders and teachers participating in and providing professional development to the network.

4: How to Tell It Is Being Done: Measuring Progress 

AppleTree is a strong believer in the power of data. They define “quality” in early childhood education as focusing on improving child outcomes, rather than inputs. To measure outcomes, teachers and instructional leaders carefully document their results and analyze them so that they can continuously improve. Outcomes then drive content adjustments to meet students where they are.

5: Success and Beyond

Many children arrive at AppleTree without the social-emotional, language and other skills they need for success later in kindergarten. AppleTree uses norm-referenced assessment tests to measure student performance. Assessment tests include: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), Test of Preschool Early Literacy: Definitional Vocabulary (TOPEL DV), Test of Early Math Ability (TEMA), Test of Preschool Early Literacy: Phonological Awareness (TOPEL PA), and Test of Preschool Early Literacy: Print Knowledge (TOPEL PK). After two years at AppleTree, most students perform above comparable national norms. This video features success stories as narrated by teachers and parents. Jack McCarthy concludes with some next steps for expanding the success of ECR to support infants and toddlers.

The content of this case study does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), nor does any mention of curricula, trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsements by the U.S. government. This case study does not constitute a formal statement of federal law, legal requirements, or ED policy and should not be construed as creating or articulating the legal requirements or policy from ED.