Educational Alignment for Young Children

With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and an anonymous donor, and with initial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the YEF Institute launched an initiative to help municipal leaders align early childhood programs and elementary education in ways that increase the likelihood that children will be poised for educational success by the time they reach the third grade.

Background
Municipal officials across the nation are taking steps to help children enter kindergarten ready to succeed, develop to their full potential during the K-12 school years, graduate not only from high school but also from postsecondary education, and go on to become successful, contributing members of their communities.

Early childhood investments are the starting place for a high-quality, aligned system of preK-16 education, providing the necessary skills to allow all children to succeed throughout their schooling. Yet the benefits of a high-quality early education can dissipate if these programs are not designed to meet criteria or standards for school readiness within the public schools or if the child transitions into an elementary school that does not adequately support their development.

The Need and the Opportunity

  • Students who are not reading at grade level by third grade typically require expensive remediation in higher grades, are at increased risk of failing to complete high school, and are disproportionately students of color.
  • Insufficient communication and coordination among systems and programs for young children can make transitions difficult and lead to missed educational opportunities.
  • A well-aligned system for young children that bridges the divide between early childhood programs and K-12 education can help improve outcomes for children, engage and support families, and strengthen local schools and the workforce.
  • In 2009, high school dropouts were estimated to lose $335 billion over the course of their careers due to their failure to graduate.

Educational Alignment for Young Children: A Closer Look
To address these challenges, municipal leaders can bring together key stakeholders to improve early education and strengthen local schools, provide better alignment between preschool and school-based learning, and improve transitions as children move from one level to the next. Key elements of this work may include:

  • Formal partnerships or governance structures to develop common definitions and goals and take joint action to implement a high-quality, aligned system with blended or braided funding from a variety of sources.
  • Access to quality early education in a variety of settings to ensure that young children enter school prepared to succeed.
  • School quality and organization to improve access to full-day kindergarten, support developmentally-appropriate room designs and teaching practices, and promote communication and collaboration among the early grades.
  • Alignment of standards, curricula, teaching practices, and assessments (with a focus on both social competence and academic skills) that build on what children have learned and how they have learned it from one level to the next.
  • Communication and data sharing to allow parents, early educators, teachers, and service providers access to common information that will improve how each supports the learning and development of the children in their care.
  • Qualified teachers and administrators, including efforts to ensure that early educators in all settings have a Bachelor's degree and specialized early childhood training, as well as ongoing professional development.
  • Parent engagement and family support to develop shared educational goals for children, support parents in their role as a child's first (and continuing) teacher and help children and parents access the full-range of services, including health and mental health services.
  • Programs to facilitate smooth transitions to school by making children and parents feel comfortable and welcome in the new school environment.
  • Public awareness of the importance of early education to increase the value that parents and other members of the community place on high-quality education from the earliest years through postsecondary success.
  • Funding strategies that help communities generate sufficient resources - in some cases by blending and braiding a variety of funding streams - to meet the needs of young children from birth through age eight.

Case Studies
A new set of case studies published by the YEF Institute as a result of this initiative highlights innovative local efforts to align of early care and education programs with K-12 education systems.

"Educational Alignment for Young Children: Profiles of Local Innovation" identifies five cities that are on the leading edge of efforts to create a seamless educational pipeline for children ages 0-8. Innovative alignment strategies in Boston, Hartford, San Antonio, San José and Seattle aim to ensure that more children are succeeding in school and reading at grade level by the end of third grade.