The U.S. Department of Education recently released a set of case studies of PreK-3rd Alignment and Differentiated Instruction. The case studies are of the Boston Public Schools, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, Early Works, FirstSchool, and the SEAL program.
The alignment efforts in these programs all emphasize developmentally-appropriate instruction and focus on building students’ vocabulary, oral language skills, and social-emotional skills. All of the programs organize their teachers in professional learning communities and support them with coaches. In addition to the findings across the five programs, the case studies at the end provide helpful detail about each model.
The New America Foundation’s Aaron Lowenberg provides a nice overview here.
Over half of the children in American public schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch. 34% of American families, and 44% of all children, live in low-income households. We have a clearer understanding than ever of the challenges that confront low-income families and their children, challenges that lead to persistent achievement gaps and a pernicious cycle: Inequality leads to achievement gaps, which in turn exacerbate inequality.
Over the last 10 years, research, policy, and expert opinion have converged to form a two-part conviction. First, addressing achievement gaps requires an intensive focus on the first 8-9 years of life, beginning with prenatal care and continuing with high-quality supports through third grade. Second, the focus of care and education across the entire prenatal through third grade continuum (P-3) needs to be holistic in nature. The challenge is to improve the teaching and learning of cognitive, linguistic, and academic skills while deepening physical and mental health supports as well as social-emotional learning and character development.
Quality Within, Continuity Across
This two-part conviction is leading to exciting developments and crucial investments in preschool and P-3 alignment. In order for early childhood education and early elementary school to be most effective, however, communities need to address two fundamental obstacles. Investments in early childhood and early elementary education and care will only pay off if the services they support are (1) of high quality and (2) provide high levels of continuity across through the P-3 continuum. Yet, the quality of both early childhood and early elementary education is highly inconsistent, and the mixed delivery system is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation.
Addressing these twin obstacles–inconsistent quality within organizations and fragmentation across organizations–requires a collective response on the part of communities, efforts that require state and federal support as well. Communities need to develop the capacity to raise the quality of education and care in the various community-based organizations and public elementary schools that serve young children and their families in their locale; they further need to create meaningful linkages that align and coordinate the work of these organizations. Developing this capacity by necessity requires partnerships of schools, community organizations and families focused on quality and continuity, what I call P-3 Community Partnerships.
A great article about how New Bedford, MA has come together to support a focused Birth–3rd strategy. Thanks to Titus DosRemedios and Strategies for Children for laying it out so clearly and compellingly (and for the kind mention). Titus has also been a key contributor to New Bedford’s Partnership. It has been very inspiring to see New Bedford embrace this work. The district and the community have brought great ideas and experience to the table, and we are seeing the results in a concerted program of on-the-ground activity this fall.
Also of note, emerging out of this work is a deepening and very promising partnership between the New Bedford Public Schools and the Housing Authority. With district support, the Housing Authority is expanding and developing the educational components of its after-school programs. District teachers and “resident service coordinators” from the Housing Authority will meet regularly to discuss the children they share in common; resident service coordinators are participating in the district’s early literacy professional development, which also includes both district and community-based prekindergarten teachers; and the district’s literacy coach is advising the Housing Authority on program design, book purchases, and other aspects of the after-school program.
Over the course of three rounds of ELC competitions, the encouragement states received to address connections between early childhood and early elementary education became increasingly significant.
According to Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland Assistant State Superintendent, Leadership Academies for early and elementary educators are “getting us to shift from birth-to-five to birth-to-eight and not only in vision but in practice.”
Recognizing that communities have unique cultures, resources, schools, programs, children and families, and priorities, states devolved P-3 planning and implementation to communities and encouraged experimentation at the local level.
The concurrent development or expansion of early childhood comprehensive assessments and kindergarten entry assessments (KEA) has created an opportunity to link expectations between early childhood and the elementary school years.
ELC states are documenting lessons learned for P-3.
ELC state leaders are thinking … about the coherence among policy initiatives. New Jersey’s Vincent Costanza put it this way: “With so much happening in the three-eight space, we need to be intentional about how the pieces fit together. There is a missed opportunity if we don’t help educators see the connections between initiatives like teacher evaluation, Common Core, and KEA.” … When the systems are not aligned, multiple initiatives can create complex and burdensome demands for teachers and school administrators and undermine their support of the P-3 work.