NLC Publishes Case Studies of Educational Alignment for Young Children in Five Cities

by Tim Mudd

Image removed.A new set of case studies published by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) highlights an emerging city strategy for ensuring that more young children are poised for educational success: the alignment 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; Conn.; San Antonio; San José, Calif.; and Seattle aim to ensure that more children are succeeding in school and reading at grade level by the end of third grade. 

These cities are working to restructure the historically disjointed relationship between early education providers and elementary schools by bringing together teachers and other key stakeholders from each system, better aligning preschool and school-based learning and improving transitions as children move from one level to the next. Mayors and other municipal officials are increasingly serving as catalysts for this work in recognition of the vital importance of early learning and development to a child's future academic potential, as well as their cities' economic development, public safety and quality of life.

Drawing on the experiences and lessons learned from each city profiled in the case studies, the report identifies 10 common elements of a well-aligned educational system:

• Formal partnerships or governance structures;

• Access to quality early education;

• School quality and organization;

• Communication and data sharing;

• Qualified teachers and administrators;

• Alignment of standards, curricula, teaching practices and assessments; 

• Parent engagement and family supports;

• Programs to facilitate smooth transitions to school;

• Public awareness of the importance of early education; and

• Creative funding strategies.

Local Progress

With strong mayoral leadership, these local strategies are yielding improvements in both the quality and alignment of early childhood and elementary school learning experiences. For instance, Boston's effort to coordinate early childhood programming through the city's Thrive in Five initiative has resulted in greater professional development among early learning caregivers, increased parent awareness of community resources and millions in new funds for the early childhood community. 

Local partners are pushing toward accreditation of all family-, center- and school-based early childhood programs. The mayor has supported efforts to establish universal Pre-K for 4-year-olds through Boston Public Schools, and the city's Countdown to Kindergarten initiative provides information and support to parents and children to promote a smooth transition from early childhood programs to elementary school.

In partnership with Hartford Public Schools, a state commission and a community foundation, the City of Hartford developed a comprehensive Blueprint for Young Children. Guided by this plan, the Mayor's Office for Young Children helped align early childhood curricula and assessments with state frameworks, facilitate smoother transitions to kindergarten and provide parent leadership training and professional development for family support workers. The city has also developed a management information system connecting data gathered by early childhood providers, family support centers, home visiting program providers and schools to better meet the needs of young children and families.

In San Antonio, the city is improving access to high-quality child care and preschool programs for more families through its Very Early Childhood Centers (VECCs) for children ages 0-5, which bring together Head Start and Pre-K programs and extend training and resources to area child care providers. The VECCs serve as critical assets to the revitalization of two high-need neighborhoods and the city's plans to strengthen the educational continuum from birth through college.

In San José, city and county leaders teamed up with local school districts and other key stakeholders to implement a countywide early learning master plan focused on closing the academic achievement gap by 2020. 

In addition, the city's Smart Start San José program has helped construct or improve early education spaces for nearly 7,000 children and provided training to more than 450 family childcare providers.

Through a shared commitment to collaborative action among the city's early childhood stakeholders, preschool providers and Seattle Public Schools, Seattle's alignment efforts have resulted in a common definition of school readiness and a citywide assessment process for all 4-year-olds. 

The Seattle Early Education Collaborative helps facilitate alignment of standards and assessments across preschool classrooms, and the school district offers professional development for Pre-K through first grade teachers to align instructional practices, particularly for literacy development.

About the Report

The city profiles in the report summarize the high points of each city's work, describe the local and state contexts surrounding their efforts and show how cities have made progress on the key elements described above. 

The report grew out of the YEF Institute's Educational Alignment for Young Children initiative, which was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and built on a decade of NLC efforts to promote municipal leadership in both the early childhood and K-12 education systems. An anonymous donor provided funding for the research and documentation of the case studies. 

In consultation with national experts, the case studies for this report were selected based on in-depth interviews with more than a dozen cities to learn about their efforts to help young children succeed by third grade. In July 2010, the YEF Institute began hosting a peer learning community for the cities participating in the scan process, and later assisted four cities (Petal, Miss.; Richmond, Va.; San Antonio; and Seattle) in hosting community conversations to engage key stakeholders to develop local action plans for promoting educational alignment. 

Finally, through site visits and additional interviews, the YEF Institute documented "birth through third grade" initiatives in the five case study cities where alignment efforts are effectively changing the early childhood, family support and education systems. 

Teams from each of these cities presented their work to one another in March 2011, allowing for further exploration of themes of interest to other cities. The case studies represent the culmination of this project, offering a detailed analysis of exactly how these efforts are designed, who is involved, funding strategies and how the city or program is tracking impact over time. 

Details: To download the report, visit  For more information about municipal strategies to promote educational alignment for young children, contact Tonja Rucker at (202) 626-3004 or or Marjorie Cohen at (202) 626-3052 or

Reminder: April 30 Webinar on Educational Alignment for Young Children

City leaders still have time to register for a free, hour-long webinar on "Educational Alignment for Young Children: Profiles of Local Innovation" that will take place Monday, April 30, at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time. Featured speakers will include:

• The Honorable Pedro E. Segarra, mayor, City of Hartford, Conn.

• Dr. John R. Porter, Jr., superintendent, Franklin-McKinley School District, San José, Calif.

• Jeanne Russell, education advisor, Office of Mayor Julián Castro, City of San Antonio

• Katie Britton, Ready City manager, Thrive in Five Boston, City of Boston

• Sonja Griffin, strategic advisor, Seattle Early Education Collaborative, Seattle

Speakers represent the five cities featured in NLC's case study report featuring innovative local efforts to prepare young children ages 0-8 for educational success by promoting alignment between early care and education programs and K-12 schools. Registration for the webinar is now open at the myNLC portal at