Skip Program Navigation
Ready to Learn Television

Current Section
 Office of Innovation and Improvement Home
Ready To Learn Television Program Panel Review
September 22-23, 2004
Archived Information

Ready to Learn Television Program - FY 2005 Competition Background Information

The U.S. Department of Education will be announcing a new competition for Ready To Learn Television (RTLTV) within the next few weeks. Below is background information that addresses the content and structure of the new competition. In structuring the upcoming RTLTV competition, the Department was informed in part by an expert panel review of RTLTV programming and outreach activities and the results of two evaluation studies.

In September 2004, an expert panel reviewed the RTLTV program. The panel based its review on a wide variety of program-related materials, including two evaluation studies that were contracted by PBS to provide impact data on RTLTV outreach and programming. PBS contracted with two separate firms: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) and WestEd. MPR was hired in 2000 to conduct an impact study of PBS Ready To Learn outreach that provides workshops to parents and early childhood educators. In 2003, WestEd was hired to conduct a separate impact evaluation of RTLTV that included both the outreach workshops and programming components.

The results of both the MPR and WestEd studies showed that workshops produced some positive impacts. For example, in the WestEd Viewing Effects Study, the treatment group children demonstrated greater change on a measure of their ability to associate simple and complex drawings as well as their recognition of increasingly difficult letters and words. The MPR study detected some positive change in adult behaviors as a result of workshop participation, but it did not identify any difference in school readiness between children whose educators or parents attended a Ready To Learn workshop and children whose educators or parents did not. However, unlike the WestEd study, MPR did not investigate the intensity with which parents and educators used workshop skills and programming after the intervention.

After completing its review, the panel recommended changes to both the outreach and programming components of RTLTV. Specifically, the panel recommended that the Department consider a different approach to outreach aimed at a national audience. This approach would potentially reach wider audiences and bring in new viewers. With regard to programming, the panel recommended a focus on a single area of early childhood learning. This recommendation included the consideration of a research-based approach to literacy programming. This focus on literacy also aligns with the goals of No Child Left Behind legislation to ensure that all children can read and write by the end of the third grade.

The panel also recommended that the Department consider "unbundling" programming from outreach in future RTLTV competitions. This point addresses the recommendations for national outreach and research-based approaches to literacy programming. The panel was of the view that these two new approaches to RTLTV required a distinct set of skills that may or may not be met by a single entity.

In light of these findings, the Department encourages all entities that fit within the statutory limitations on eligible entities (e.g., only "public telecommunications entities" are considered eligible as potential applicants) to consider submitting an application. Finally, the Department's Forecast of Funding Opportunities serves as a preliminary announcement of the Department's intent to run a competition. Final guidance regarding the number of awards, estimated range of grants and other relevant information will be provided in the Federal Register notice inviting applications for this program.

Panel Members
Panelist Position Panelist
Peter Dirr
Harvard University
Chris Dede
Children's TV Researcher
University of Massachusetts (RTL Advisory Board)
Dan Anderson
Howard University
Veronica Thomas
Early Childhood Researcher
Florida State University
Chris Lonigan
ELL Charlene Rivera
Children's TV Outreach
(Sesame Workshop)
Donna Chandler
Children's TV Producer
(Arthur/Postcards From Buster)
Carol Greenwald
RTL Adv Board
(Rural Issues)
Cathy Grace


Ready To Learn Television Program Review Technology in Education Programs (TEP)
September 22- 23, 2004
IES Board Room

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

9:00 - Welcome

9:05 - Introductions

9:15 - Overview and Purpose

  • Overview of TEP and Panel Meeting Purpose Cheryl Garnette
  • History of RTL Joe Caliguro
  • Overview of the Evaluation of RTL Norma Fleischman
  • Overview of the RTL Budget Craig Stanton

9:45 - Discussion of Programming Issues

Topics for Discussion

  • Sustainability of federally funded programs is a major issue for the Department of Education. How can RTL improve the sustainability of programming funded under RTL? What capacity building strategies can RTL provide to grantees to this end?
  • How can PBS make better use of their websites to support programming?
  • What can be done to be sure sub-contractors consider all reasonable extended uses for products?
  • How is research on child development and children's use of media being used to help frame decisions for children's programming?

10:30 - 10:45 Break

10:45 - Continuation of Discussion of Programming Issues

11:45 - Wrap up of Programming Issues

12:00 - Lunch

1:00 - Discussion of Outreach Issues

Topics for Discussion

  • Is the PBS approach the best marketing strategy for reaching the majority of disadvantaged children? What alternative models might they consider and what approaches might you recommend for future funding?
  • What partnerships and collaborations have been omitted or underutilized that are vital to the success of RTL?
  • What outreach strategies seem to work best for rural populations; early childhood providers? How can technology be used to expand outreach in the future?
  • How could the targeted communities have a stronger representation and participation in RTL outreach activities?

2:15 - Wrap up of Outreach Issues

2:30 - Break

2:45 - Discussion of Evaluation Issues

  • How do we ensure that evaluation results and new research findings become integral in reshaping the RTL program?
  • How do we ensure that evaluation results and new research findings become integral in reshaping the RTL program?
  • How can PBS use the evaluation findings to promote RTL?
  • PBS currently negotiates evaluation contracts for the project. Should money be set aside in the new budget for evaluation contracts to be monitored by ED (maybe with the assistance of IES)?

4:00 - Wrap up of evaluation issues

Thursday, September 23, 2004

9:00 - Summary of Day One Recommendations

9:30 - Discussion of recommendations for next year's competition

Topics for Discussion

  • Where do you see the future of children's television and how might its role change with the advent of new digital technologies? Should next year's competition encourage/require the integration of multiple technologies? If so, how do we ensure that the majority of disadvantaged children participate and benefit?
  • What do we know from the research on early childhood learning and the impact of television viewing on children's acquisition of knowledge that must be incorporated into the RTL program's next competition?
  • What should be the role of an Advisory Board and how do we ensure that the Board is an effective and accountable participant in RTL activities? What organizations, fields, etc. should be represented on the Board?

10:30 - Break

10:45 - Continuation of Discussion on Next Year's Competition

  • Most RTL subcontracts have drawn the same applicants year after year. How can we increase diversity and encourage more participation in the grant process and encourage young professionals in the field to apply? Should funds be set aside to offer awards to novice groups that represent the target audiences for special projects appropriate to their capacity?

12:00 - Lunch

1:00 - Continuation of the Discussion on Next Year's Competition

  • ED intends to ensure that a broad range of applicants participate in the RTL competition. Are there specific organizations, associations, or other entities that you would recommend that we notify or strategies that you would suggest we employ to ensure that we offer the opportunity to compete to as many qualified applicants as possible?
  • What are the benefits, if any, of making more than one award in next year's competition?
  • ED is considering a two-phase competition where planning grants are submitted and evaluated followed by full applications. Is this a viable strategy for increasing diversity among the applicants for the RTL program?

3:00 - Break

3:15 - Wrap up of recommendations for the next year's competition

4:00 - Wrap up of meeting by Panel Chair and Program Officer

Ready To Learn Panel Members
Chair - Peter Dirr, Consultant
Dan Anderson, University of Massachusetts
Donna Chandler, Sesame Workshop
Chris Dede, Harvard University
Cathy Grace, Mississippi State University
Carol Greenwald, WGBH-TV Boston
Chris Lonigan, Florida State University
Charlene Rivera, George Washington University
Veronica Thomas, Howard University


9/22/04 - RTL Panel Meeting

Programming Discussion - Key points

  • Focus, Focus, Focus (goal is literacy development in child development context)
  • Re-think requirement that programs serve needs of four subgroups; conflicts with nature of mass media, shrinks audience
  • Could benefit from someone as "intellectual anchor" (academic credibility, consistency)
  • Question whether sustainability is possible (the more educational the context, the more narrow the appeal; the more narrow the appeal, the harder it is to get broadcast carriage and funding
  • Build effectiveness evaluation into the funding
  • Should have same "standards" for all programs
  • Look for other groups (foundations) to partner with
  • Might want to consider "unbundling" program development and production from outreach. They require two distinct sets of skills

Outreach Discussion - Key points

  • The current workshops are "drive-by" workshops; 90 minutes cannot be expected to produce long-term lasting results
  • Research says that training for educators needs to be 8-10 hours or more and include follow-up if it is to change the teacher's classroom behaviors
  • Consider ways to partner with others (e.g., Head Start, faith-based groups, Extension Service, school districts struggling with subpopulations) to leverage the outreach funds available for this program
  • For 2004-2005 school year (final year of current contract), consider focusing on the educators; expand the workshop for them and empower them to train the parents
  • Need "focus" in outreach as much as in programming
  • In thinking about outreach beyond 2005, might take a zero-based approach for planning: What would be lost if there were none? Is outreach politically valuable (to the Department? To PBS?) Does it serve the purpose of bringing kids to the programs in an appropriate way?
  • Consider a "national" approach to outreach rather than the localized approach that exists today (e.g., hire PR firm to get publicity through a spot on Oprah, imbedding RTL in top 5 sitcom series)
  • Explore ways to make RTL more distinguishable from other PBS kids series ("quality" is distinguishing feature), especially on the Web site.
  • Raise RTL profile on Dept. of Education Web sites (Head Start, Even Start, early childhood)
  • Absolutely explore whether the cable company producers (especially Discovery, Nickelodeon/Noggin, BET, Telemundo) are or could be interested in RTL (Discovery and Noggin are both going after the PBS kids audience and some PTV stations are already producing for them)

Evaluation Discussion - Key Points

  • There were serious flaws in both the Mathematic and WestEd studies, starting with the question of whether they should even have been evaluating treatments that were inadequate (i.e., 90 minute workshops would not be expected to result in a robust effect)
  • Recognize that there are 3 types of evaluation that should be part of RTL: (a) formative evaluation of programs (should be funded as part of the production budget, preferably implemented by third-party under contract to the producer); (b) effectiveness research (could be lab based, to study whether an entire series is effective under ideal conditions; could be managed by the "agency" through contract to a third party); (c) impact research (field-based, suite of RTL programs, under normal conditions).
  • The National Advisory Board might be expected to provide some guidance on evaluation, but that Board often lacks people with evaluation expertise. The Board should be co-appointed by the grantee and the Department

9/23/04 (Day 2)

New Competition (2005-2010) - Key Points:

  • One new technology to think about (in a 5 yr. Time span) is "mobile wireless devices" (incl. PDAs, cell phones, gaming devices). They are inexpensive delivery vehicles that will become ordinary family technologies and could be used to deliver educational programs.
  • Another technology to consider is digital video. It will include "video on-demand" (a la TIVO) and could be used to download program "filters" that would automatically search out and record educational programs. As this technology develops, the NAME OF THE SHOW will become more important than the distribution network since the on-demand devices will seek out shows by name. Something to think about is branding all RTL programs with the RTL name.
  • Consider making programs available to other distribution outlets in addition to PBS, especially outlets like BET and Telemundo that could reach new audiences.
  • There is not a lot of new research about how kids learn and the impact of the technologies on learning.
  • The PBS Web site can be a powerful adjunct to the programs. It should be retained and expanded so that it can better reinforce the programs and tie them back to the curriculum.
  • A National Advisory Board should have expertise in production, child development, content (literacy educators), evaluation, and outreach. It should include a parent and a teacher. Some roles of the Board should be to hold the project's feet to the fire, challenge decisions, provide expert knowledge, support and promote the RTL mission, identify valuable collaborations, and be pro-active in their participation in the project. The Board should look at problem areas and not just things that are going well (provide insights for improvement). Consider keeping the Board small and paying the members for their expertise and participation. Supplement its activities with smaller Ad Hoc committees selected for their special expertise.
  • If the RFP is crafted differently than in the past, it might be possible to attract new qualified applicants. Consider conceiving of the contract as a "management" contract, i.e., one organization who would manage the program production process, the distribution arrangements, promotion, and outreach/support. Qualified applicants would have to have experience managing all phases but not necessarily be production experts or outreach experts. That might open the competition to organizations such as the Annenberg Projects, AED, SRI, Educational Film Center, and others.
  • The panel encourages consideration of a two-step application process. The first step would be a preliminary proposal. After review and advice by a panel, the most promising proposals would be invited to submit a full proposal. This process might encourage applications from new organizations and would provide an opportunity to provide feedback before a full proposal is submitted.

Ready To Learn TV Applicant Information

Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 11/15/2005