Report highlights importance of early childhood education

Children who attend high-quality pre-kindergarten programs are more likely to graduate from high school.

Children who attend high-quality pre-kindergarten programs are more likely to graduate from high school, says a new report that calls on states and communities to build an aligned system to support early childhood learning and kindergarten programs.

The report from the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), called “Building and Supporting an Aligned System: A Vision for Transforming Education across the Pre-K-Grade Three Years,” claims that “high-quality early learning can substantially increase the likelihood of academic success.”

“I certainly see this report to be a really strong signal to the K-12 world, as much as the early childhood [learning] world, that there is room for everybody at the table, and in fact, we need everybody at the table to make sure that young children are going to get what they need,” said Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative.

The report addresses the need for kindergarten programs to be included in national standards, noting that “the availability of kindergarten is highly variable, with unstable funding in many districts and parents paying for full-day programs.”

“Full-day kindergarten is still a luxury for many parents; they’re actually having to pay out of pocket for their children to have a full-day kindergarten experience,” Guernsey said.

NAESP recommends 10 action steps for policy makers to improve fragmented early childhood learning:

  1. Better integrate and align federal policy, regulation, and funding to enable states and communities to build a coherent system of early learning from pre-K programs through third grade
  2. Coordinate and streamline state and local governance
  3. Expand funding for pre-kindergarten through third grade learning to ensure that all children—particularly the most at-risk children—have access to high-quality, full-day learning experiences
  4. Ensure that funding for the full continuum of pre-K programs through third grade learning is directed to programs of high quality
  5. Leverage and integrate private funding with public resources
  6. Create an aligned continuum of research-based, age-appropriate standards for young children that include a focus on social, emotional, cognitive, language, and physical development, and creative learning, as well as school-related skills
  7. Develop and support an effective, well-compensated workforce with high-quality teacher and administrator preparation programs, professional development, and continuing education. These educators should be versed in the full continuum of early childhood education.
  8. Develop and administer age-appropriate assessments that include both formative and summative evaluations to help guide teaching and learning and to inform program effectiveness
  9. Develop state and local longitudinal data systems that include pre-K student and program information
  10. Evaluate models of early learning integration and alignment through research

Guernsey acknowledged that some of these steps will require a large amount of work.

“There are some bite-sized [steps], and there are some other really big shifts in culture and in governance that need to take place,” she said.

One of these shifts is a more reliable flow of funding.

“Funding is typically quite spotty; it really depends on the luck of geography for most children. Overall, we do not have a universal system by any stretch to fund pre-K, and that should be a goal,” Guernsey said.

The report highlighted research that shows that high-quality early learning can significantly affect the chance for academic success, lowering the likelihood of students to be held back or need special education.

“I think there’s still a lot to do. Education policy people need to see these connections and why they matter,” Guernsey said, addressing how early childhood education is often discounted in the learning process.

She also indicated that literacy rate could be greatly impacted by beefing up pre-K through third grade standards.

“So many children are not proficient readers by the end of third grade. Making sure our systems are linked and cohesive and making sure our students receive quality learning through third grade—that’s how we close those reading gaps,” she said.

The NAESP report also calls for better-trained early childhood teachers, with adequate support for those teachers.

“Teachers need to be ready for children in the same way that families need to be ready for school. It’s going to require we do a lot more clinical practice with possible teachers and much more of a career lattice for teachers in early learning,” Guernsey said.

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