“If we are to realize President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college graduates, we’ll need to break down the barriers that currently exist at both ends of the K-12 system,” Domenech writes.

Learning Leadership column, February 2012 issue of eSchool News—A major impediment to education reform is the silos that exist in the pre-kindergarten through college continuum. If we are to realize President Obama’s goal of leading the world in the percentage of citizens who are college graduates, we will need to break down the barriers that currently exist at both ends of the K-12 system: preschool programs and institutions of higher education.

There have been attempts at articulation, but the way these systems are structured, there are legal and operational barriers that are difficult—if not impossible—to overcome.

Child care and preschool programs are operated primarily by private and nonprofit institutions that have no formal relationships with the public school system. Yet, there is ample evidence to suggest that early childhood programs for children who are at risk offer the best return on the public dollar investment. We often write about the education of the total child and how critical it is to coordinate all the community services that come to bear on the needs of children. Child care and preschool programs fall in that category, along with programs that provide for the health and nutritional needs of our youth.

At the American Association of School Administrators, we pride ourselves in providing programs that help our members deal with the total needs of the children they serve. Thanks to a grant we recently received from the Wal-Mart Foundation, we are working with four major school systems to provide breakfast programs. In Riverside, Calif.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Syracuse and Brentwood in New York, children will not be arriving at school hungry and unable to focus on their lessons. With the federal funding available for such programs and the foundation dollars to help organize them, children in these communities will be fed a nutritional breakfast.

For more from Dan Domenech, see:

U.S. education is still the best in the world—but here’s what we can learn from others

Improving public education isn’t a mystery

New teacher evaluation framework promises to serve students, and educators, fairly

There are also thousands of children who, although eligible for health insurance coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, are not receiving the medical coverage they are entitled to. In collaboration with the Children’s Defense Fund and under a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, AASA is working with a number of school systems throughout the country to provide health coverage for 50,000 students that currently do not have it.

AASA also has been active in the development of programs that foster nutrition and battle obesity. In this instance, we have collaborated with two sister organizations, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and the National Alliance of Black School Educators. We’ve also worked closely with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, and last year we co-sponsored an event with the National Broadcasters Association that featured film and recording star Beyoncé in a “flash mob” dance involving thousands of middle school students throughout the nation.

But most of these programs have taken place within the K-12 realm, making them much easier to control and coordinate. With preschool youngsters, there is the issue of legal responsibility.