In a report released today by New America’s Early Education Initiative, Building Strong Readers in Minnesota: PreK-3rd Grade Policies That Support Children’s Literacy Development, Laura Bornfreund and I examine state policies and local initiatives in Minnesota that aim to improve literacy outcomes for all students by shaping their learning trajectories from a young age. Intentional alignment of education systems from pre-K and into the early grades of elementary school, what we refer to as a ‘PreK–3rd grade’ framework, can help narrow opportunity and achievement gaps. In this report, we explore how Minnesota’s early learning policies are helping or hindering the ability of school districts, schools, and teachers to ensure that all children are on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade.
Experiences during the first eight years of children’s lives lay the foundation of cognitive, social, and emotional skills which they need to succeed in school and in life. Children who don’t acquire these skills in the early years are at risk for a host of negative outcomes; third grade reading proficiency is a particularly strong predictor of whether a student will graduate from high school on time.
In particular, we analyze Minnesota’s:
- unique approach to pre-K;
- Quality Rating and Improvement System (Parent Aware);
- transition from half-day to full-day kindergarten;
- administrator and educator preparation and development;
- efforts to align early learning providers and elementary schools;
- alignment between pre-K and kindergarten with later grades; and
- supports for dual language learners.
Minnesota’s early education system made national headlines this year when Democratic Governor Dayton tried (and failed) to create a truly universal public pre-k program in the state. The state legislature, with the backing of numerous state advocacy groups, decided to instead increase funding for the three existing programs, with the majority of the money directed to the scholarship program. Even with this sizeable funding increase, thousands of Minnesota youngsters remain without access to a public pre-K program. And while the scholarships provide flexibility and choice for families they have not fully covered the cost of pre-K, especially high-quality pre-K.
In our paper, we offer five overall recommendations to help strengthen the state’s PreK–3rd grade efforts to build strong readers:
- Rethink both pre-K funding and quality.
- Remodel the Early Learning Scholarships to reach more children and better meet the needs of at-risk families.
- Provide the supports and funding necessary to encourage elementary schools to offer pre-K programs.
- Minimize the overlap in grades between educator licenses and communicate the value of the early childhood education license to principals and prospective teachers.
- Strengthen elementary school principals’ early education training requirements.
- Require consistent assessments or allow districts to choose from a short list of approved assessments for students in kindergarten through second grade.
- Expand the use of strong assessments and data systems that span the PreK–3rd grade continuum to improve teachers’ and school leaders’ practice.
The full report is available here."