A Next Social Contract for the Primary Years of Education

policy paper | March 31, 2010

Research shows that education investments in the earliest years of life make the greatest difference in the educational outcomes of children and can have a long-term impact on the workforce and citizenry of the United States. Yet today's education policies do not reflect that understanding, nor do they do nearly enough to prompt improvements in the primary years of our public education system. This report, “A Next Social Contract for the Primary Years of Education,” envisions a transformation of our education system into one that serves children starting at age 3, erases the artificial divide between “preschool” and “K-12” programs and extends high-quality teaching up through the early grades of elementary school.

The report advocates for a “next social contract” – a new system of public policies that foster a more seamless system connecting districts, schools, Head Start and independent centers of early learning (like preschools or high-quality child care centers). It recommends a “PreK-3rd” approach that includes voluntary universal pre-kindergarten programs, full-day kindergarten, and high-quality standards and curriculum for pre-k through the third grade. It also requires parental engagement and highly qualified teachers who share data and professional development within and across grades.

A few of the report’s recommendations:

  • Establish proficiency in reading, math, and social and emotional skills by the end of third grade as a clear and foremost goal of our education system.
  • Move the starting point for public education from five years old to three years old.
  • Integrate pre-kindergarten into a reformed education finance system.
  • Establish clearly articulated, aligned high-quality national standards for what children should know and be able to do at the end of third grade and at each step in the PreK-3rd continuum leading up to that.

On March 30th, 2010, co-author Lisa Guernsey gave a presentation that highlighted recommendations from the report and outlined the need for a new social contract for education. A webcast of the presentation, as well as Guernsey's remarks and slides, are available here.

To read the full report, download the PDF.

This report was made possible through generous grants from the Foundation for Child Development, the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, and the Strategic Knowledge Fund, co-funded by the Foundation for Child Development and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.