Rethinking 0-5 for Better School Results

In 2010 the Education Commission of the States published a policy brief, written by Mimi Howard, entitled Transition and Alignment: Two Keys to Assuring Student Success. It emphasized the importance from birth to grade 3 as the cornerstone of effective and successful learning, and the need to create more effective systems linking early learning and coordination with later education. The gap between school readiness and school improvement efforts is the focus of the report. Coordination between 0-5 and K-3 would involve two key elements:

  1. Effective transition programs and practices to help child and family move successfully from one learning setting to another, and
  2. Genuine alignment of the science and theory of early learning with the curriculum of the early grades in order to create continuous learning.

The Obama administration offers Early Learning Grants to states to target children birth to 5 and increase their level of readiness for school. Innovation grants ask local school districts to develop innovative models for improving school readiness by aligning 0-3 programs, preschool, and K-3 curriculum. Policies and practices will involve both the child and the family in transitioning to Kindergarten and could include joint professional development for early educators and early grade teachers, creation of transition teams, and use of common transition forms across multiple programs and schools. Moving from home or preschool to kindergarten is one of the most critical transitions for children because of new physical surroundings, new relationships with peers and adults, new rules and expectations, and new ways of learning.

Efforts at alignment means consistency of experiences within a grade, and understanding that one grade builds to the next. Elements include:

  1. Teachers at every level who understand child development and are prepared to meet the developmental level of the child.
  2. Standards reflecting what children need to know and be able to do at each grade level.
  3. Classroom experiences- curriculum and instruction- that support standards.
  4. Assessments based on standards and measuring what children have been taught.

Alignment experiences include all areas of learning- social, emotional, physical and cognitive. It is seen to be important because of its likelihood to improve student learning, with schools reporting higher scores on state performance measures. Linking systems of preschool, early intervention, and K-3 grade instruction will take a great deal of effort.New policies must be created that show support and understanding of all elements of this continuum if schools are to improve and have better outcomes for children.