High-quality preschool is essential for ensuring that all children — particularly disadvantaged children and English Language Learners — are launched onto a path of academic and career success, says a new report by the Pre-K Coalition, a group that includes NSBA and six other education organizations. Yet, as important as this advantage is, Pre-K is not some kind of educational “silver bullet,” and its successes must be built upon in early elementary school,
To get the most impact from Pre-K, the programs should be closely aligned with early elementary school (kindergarten through third grade) so gains made in preschool can be maintained and enhanced throughout the K12 years and beyond, says the coalition’s report, The Importance of Aligning Pre-k through 3rd Grade.
“Child development is a continuous process that must be fed and nurtured along the way,’ the report says. “Gains made in high-quality Pre-K programs must be sustained by quality education throughout the K-3 years. Likewise, skills developed in first grade must be reinforced and built upon in second grade.”
The report cites several impediments to aligning Pre-K with early elementary school, as well as strategies for addressing them. One issue is the lack of focus that policymakers have put on the early grades.
“Unfortunately, our education system is structured to pay the least attention to children’s progress during these critical years,” the report says. “Under current federal law, state and district accountability benchmarks focus primarily on student performance in grades three through eight. Intervention strategies and turn around models for schools ‘in need of improvement’ target these grades as well.”
While the new Common Core State Standards, which cover grades kindergarten through 12, will help states and districts focus on the entire K-12 continuum, schools need to provide “a continuous and well-aligned set of early learning experiences” in grades K-3 to achieve sustained success,” the report says.
School districts also have to work to finds ways to collaborate with community preschool programs, which may have different regulations, funding streams, and educational philosophies.
“To foster collaboration, some districts have implemented joint professional development opportunities for community-based early educators and teachers to come together to share experiences and align expectations,” the report says. “Other efforts may involve more formal program integration such as the sharing of program staff, space, or other resources between a public school and a Head Start provider.”
The report cites school districts in three communities that are successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school: Montgomery County, Md.; Nooksack Valley, Wash.; and Santa Maria Bonita, Calif.
In addition to NSBA, which is spearheading the coalition, the other members are: the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National Education Association.
Successfully aligning Pre-K and early elementary school will take hard work and the cooperation of educators and policymakers at all levels, said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.
“There must be a culture of shared responsibility among all partners (local, state, and federal as well as parents to support a comprehensive continuum of learning from pre-K to grade 3,” Bryant said. “We are asking the federal government to become a true partner with states and local communities to ensure that students receive a high quality start to learning.”