Education organizations have joined together to support alignment of preschool through third grade education.

A comprehensive alignment of preschool through third grade (P-3) education is critical in ensuring that children develop a solid foundation in literacy, math, and social-emotional skills, according to a new report that offers recommendations for high-quality P-3 initiatives.

“The Importance of Aligning Pre-K through 3rd Grade,” released by the Pre-K Coalition, which includes the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), details best practices for improving early learning.

The report comes as the Obama administration has just awarded $500 million in Race to the Top funding to nine states to help make early learning programs more accessible and better capable of narrowing the achievement gap between those who start kindergarten without any formal schooling and those who do.

Gains made in high-quality preschool programs must be sustained and built upon throughout the K-3 years, according to the report. Robust P-3 initiatives align comprehensive early learning standards with state K-3 content standards in an effort to promote children’s healthy development, social and emotional skills, and learning. Those standards should be connected and build upon one another so that pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and primary grade educators can develop and select effective curricula, teaching strategies, and assessment systems. Teaching teams should engage in joint professional development.

“Superintendents, principals, teachers, and state and local school board leaders agree that we need to think more systemically about the strategies and practices used in the early grades and their impact on reading achievement,” said Chrisanne Gayl, director of the Pre-K Coalition. “This requires a fundamental shift in perspective to paying greater attention to children’s earliest learning experiences—including those that occur before they ever enter formal schooling.”

The Common Core State Standards hold promise in helping schools connect early learning to later grades, but many state K-12 systems might not connect to early childhood education systems within the same state.

“As a result, we often miss a huge opportunity to influence student learning during the years when children have the greatest growth potential,” the report notes.