May 9, 2012
This week the National League of Cities (NLC) released a set of case studies on five cities that are trying to create a seamless educational pipeline for children from birth through third grade: Boston, Hartford, San Antonio, San José and Seattle. The preK-3rd efforts in these cities are led by mayors in partnership with local school districts and community-based organizations.
Of the cities highlighted in the report, Seattle appears to have done the most comprehensive work. Beginning in the 1990s, Seattle commited to expanding and improving child care, education and out-of-school time activities for children. In 2009 the city built on these efforts by launching the Seattle PreK-3rd Partnership Action Plan. The plan has has five main goals:
- Expand access to quality preschool and full-day kindergarten;
- Increase quality across the preK-3rd continuum;
- Develop and align learning standards, assessment tools and data systems;
- Create seamless transitions between grade levels; and
- Increase support and interventions for children who have special needs or are struggling.
A major partner is Seattle Public Schools, which established the Department of Early Learning to oversee the district’s newly aligned preK-3rd services. The department created a preK-3rd professional development program to bring together pre-K teachers and elementary school staff to learn common instructional strategies. The department also launched specialized literacy training for a cohort of pre-K through first grade teachers. Last year this initiative expanded to three new cohorts, one of which is the “Capacity-Building Cohort,” in which teachers develop data-driven instructional practices and better instructional decision-making. The other two cohorts will learn how to implement an early learning team at their school site, focus on building instruction capacity, and improve literacy teaching to match children’s developmental progress.
- Formal partnerships or governance structures to develop common goals and take joint action to implement a high-quality, aligned system.
- Access to quality early education in a variety of settings to ensure young children enter school prepared to succeed.
- Quality, organized schools to improve access to full-day kindergarten, support developmentally appropriate room designs and teaching practices, and promote communication and collaboration across the early grades.
- Communication and data sharing to provide parents, early educators, teachers and service providers with access to common information that will improve how each supports the learning and development of the children in their care.
- Qualified teachers and administrators in both early childhood and elementary school settings.
- Alignment of standards, curricula, teaching practices and assessments, with a focus on both social competence and academic skills, to build on what children have learned and how they have learned it from one level to the next.
- Parent engagement and family supports to ensure that parents are empowered to be their child’s first teacher and most important advocate, and to connect families with the diverse supports that they need for a safe, healthy and economically secure household.
- Programs to facilitate smooth transitions to school by helping families understand school
- Registration processes that make children and parents feel comfortable and welcome in the new school environment.
- Public awareness of the importance of early education to increase the value that is placed on the first segment of the educational pipeline and demonstrate how the success of young children is integral to the long-term success of the city.
- Creative funding strategies to allow communities to provide a more comprehensive and collaborative system of support for children and families.