Re-envisioning the Early Years: The Pre-K through 3rd Grade Continuum
The Pre-K through 3rd grade continuum is a specific strategy to align and connect grades, standards and assessment tools from the time a child enters pre-k through their exit out of third grade and beyond. High-quality early childhood services, full day kindergarten, quality standards and curriculum, parental involvement, skilled teachers and administrators all contribute to setting a solid educational foundation for young children. When combined and sustained over time children have the best opportunity to reach their potential. Rima Shore writes in her publication, The Case for Investing in PreK-3rd Education: Challenging Myths about School Reform, that the goal of this approach is to strengthen teaching and learning by connecting the dots—both from one early childhood year to the next and from PreK-3rd to later schooling.
The national movement toward a pre-K through 3rd grade continuum thinks beyond present constructs and offers a seamless, aligned approach to educating young children. Instead of children making their way through a system that is disjointed and uncommunicative, they will move smoothly from a high-quality early learning program into purposely aligned full-day kindergarten and early elementary. Lisa Guernsey of the blog Early Ed Watch described it as, “help[ing] children glide seamlessly from one grade to another, instead of pushing and pulling them through a disconnected and misaligned set of experiences—one in which they may find themselves in a kindergarten that feels like a boring repeat of preschool or with a first grade teacher who has no idea how to build on what young children have already learned.”
It is critical that the goal of a seamless continuum is child-focused. As with any early childhood education strategy, when focus is diverted from the child to a program component or implementation for the sake of implementation, success is likely to be diminished. In order to separate the pre-K through 3rd grade continuum thinking from a “here today-gone tomorrow” trend, policy changes as well as budget priorities will have to shift. In the policy brief, A Next Social Contract for the Primary Years of Education from the New America Foundation, a framework is outlined in which several recommendations are made:
- Establish proficiency in reading, math and social and emotional skills by the end of third grade as a clear and foremost goal of our educational system.
- Move the starting point for public education from five years old to three years old.
- Integrate pre-kindergarten into a reformed education finance system.
- Establish clearly-articulated, aligned, high-quality national standards for what children should know and be able to do at the end of third grade and at each step in the PreK-3rd continuum leading up to that.
- Redefine the roles of early childhood and elementary grades teachers and principals.
- Diversify educational delivery and eliminate the exclusive franchise for school districts in public education.
The Children’s Defense Fund would add full-day kindergarten to that list:
- Ensure that every child has an opportunity to participate in full-day kindergarten that is the same length of instructional time as grade 1 and funded under the same state education formula as grades 1 -12.
Often sports scenarios are used to make a point. In this case kindergarten teams in some states are playing the game with only half their equipment while other teams are fully equipped. If we are going to make the game competitive we have to begin with all players given the chance to be fully equipped and ready to play. If children are going to graduate college career ready we have to ensure they sustain and build on the gains made when they are young. That will only happen when they are all given the equipment needed to succeed early in their school experiences.
Early Childhood in the States
New York - Coalition Battles Back to Restore Cuts to Child Care
When New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced in February his plan to cut 17,000 child care slots from the budget, the Children’s Defense Fund—New York joined dozens of other organizations to form the Emergency Coalition to Save Children and issued a report to outline the devastating impact the cuts would have on working families and their children. The coalition organized protests and raised a ruckus while securing strong support from City Council members. Their efforts paid off as the Mayor retreated from cutting so many child care slots last Friday. Read the latest news from Crain’s in which Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson, executive director of CDF—New York, is quoted as saying there is still work to be done to ensure early childhood education and children are a priority in the city's budget.
New Jersey - Building Early Learning Leaders: New Jersey's PreK-3rd Leadership Training
The Advocates for Children of New Jersey recently released a case study that reviews a collaborative effort between New Jersey state/school leadership and early childhood advocates to develop a series of professional development opportunities for school district administrators on leading and sustaining comprehensive PreK-3rd reforms. The study follows the PreK-3rd Leadership Training Series, which began in the fall of 2009 with approximately 200 district administrators participating from across the state. The goal was to provide these administrators with research, strategies and techniques to effectively implement high-quality pre-k-3rd grade programs and to assist them in evaluating those programs, as they successfully lead their instructional staff. This case study describes the development and content of the series, a description of the participants and the findings from completed surveys taken at the beginning and end of the series. Also discussed are the facilitators’ impressions of the challenges, opportunities and corresponding recommendations for next steps in this work. Perhaps most relevant to other states and districts interested in launching a similar effort for school administrators, the report discusses key challenges identified by participants and offers recommendations from which others can learn. Click here to read the entire case study.
This CBS news story highlights one early childhood program in New Jersey that is changing the odds. While many states have reduced funding, the state of New Jersey has increased funding for early childhood programs.
Tennessee - Understanding the Relationship Between Family Income and School Readiness in Memphis
Since fall of 2006 Memphis City Public schools have utilized the Kindergarten Readiness Indicator (KRI) to determine the readiness of its incoming kindergarten students. Using the KRI, the authors of a new policy brief from the Urban Child Institute find a strong correlation between family income and the level of student preparedness for kindergarten: the higher the income the better prepared the student. Their research also indicates, however, that this correlation is not fixed, and points to a significant number of children in poor neighborhoods who are also well-prepared for kindergarten. Healthy early life experiences, such as positive parenting styles and high-quality early education settings, can change the educational trajectory of disadvantaged children. In addition to further examining the types of early life experiences that account for differences in school-readiness, subsequent papers in this series will also investigate the impact kindergarten-readiness has on later academic achievement. Read the full brief here.
Early Childhood News and Resources
A Strong Start - Save the Date
The Children’s Defense Fund will partner with Educational Testing Service for its next Addressing Achievement Gaps Symposium, to address the challenges facing Black boys in their early years and ways to position them for educational success. The symposium will take place on June 14th, 2011, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Despite major spending cuts in the FY2011 budget deal, Congress increased funding for Early Head Start, Head Start, and child care in the final FY2011 budget. But there is still work to do. These programs are at risk in the FY2012 budget, along with Medicaid and the Childrens Health Insurance Program. Check out our legislative update for more information and ways to take action.
Double Jeopardy - How Third Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation
This new report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirms the relationship between children living in poverty, the lack of reading skills by third grade, subsequent achievement gaps and school dropout probability. The PreK-3rd grade instructional approach is highlighted as a means to reduce failure to read by third grade.
The State of Preschool 2010
The National Institute for Early Education Research recently released the 2010 State Preschool Yearbook. This is the eighth installment in a series of annual reports profiling state-funded prekindergarten programs in the United States.
High-Quality, Universal Pre-K Can Impact the Nation’s International Ranking
Results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment were recently released and the U.S. was in the middle of the pack for reading, math, and science. This write up from the National Association of Elementary School Principles outlines how high-quality pre-K could be one part of a broader reform strategy to help the US emulate the success of the leading countries.