So far this week, I’ve discussed two ways to improve U.S. early childhood education—changing the way we evaluate preschools (and preschool teachers) and establishing clear and specific preschool learning standards. The third item on my wish list is aligning preschool and elementary school standards.
Creating a seamless PreK to elementary school system is also the No. 1 item on the “to do” list of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). In a paper titled Promoting Quality in PreK-Grade 3 Classrooms by Dr. Mariana Haynes, NASBE’s research director, argued for aligning not just standards, but curricula, assessment and teaching practices for Pre-K through grade three, to reflect what research tells us about learning environments on children’s developmental outcomes. “This is an important foundational step to creating the infrastructure for a coherent, evidence-based early learning system,” Haynes wrote. “States may want to examine how to create incentives for school districts and early education providers to partner in building a seamless prekindergarten through grade three system,” she concluded.
A New America Foundation report by Kristie Kauerz also makes a strong argument for advancing the alignment of PK through grade 3. Lack of availability of high-quality preschool for all children (we’ll talk about this later this week!) coupled with the absence of alignment between PK and subsequent grades results in classes that include some children who have the background knowledge and academic gains for preschool and some children who do not. As a result, Kauerz notes “teacher must focus on those children who do not have the relevant and necessary cognitive or social skills, thereby being forced to slow and level down the curriculum and pedagogy in order not to leave behind less well prepared children.” The result? Children who arrived well prepared are often hindered in their continued progress.
Kauerz goes on to cite a study of elementary school in California that “analyzed why some schools score substantially better on the state’s academic performance index than other schools with similar students. Practices found to be associated with higher performance included school-wide instructional consistency within grades, curricular alignment from grade-to-grade, and classroom instruction guided by state academic standards (Williams, Kirst, & Haertel, 2005).”
It’s safe to say that one unambiguous victory of the standards-based education movement has been a general rise in expectations, especially in schools serving low-SES children. Clear and specific preschool learning standards would ensure that children transition more smoothly to kindergarten bringing with them social skills and foundational skills and knowledge for ongoing educational achievement. Aligning those standards with a state’s existing K-8 standards would be better still.