Leveraging PDG to Enable Seamless Transitions Across Early Learning

Blog Post
Oct. 18, 2022

With the release of the latest round of Preschool Development Grant (PDG), $266 million is available to states and territories to help strengthen and coordinate early care and learning programs and services. Through a mixture of one-year planning grants ($4 million maximum award) and 24 three-year renewal grants ($16 million maximum award), the federal Administration for Children and Families seeks to catalyze efforts to help children from low-income families enter kindergarten prepared and ready to succeed in school. As the country emerges from, or more accurately–learns to live with–an ongoing pandemic, this grant presents an opportunity to meet the changing needs of children and families exacerbated by COVID. One avenue for states to meet these needs is to focus on strengthening transitions from early childhood settings into the early elementary grades.

When Congress authorized PDG as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), lawmakers included a focus on the transition into kindergarten and alignment with the early grades. And, specific language in this PDG funding opportunity encourages “improved transitions from early childhood programs to the local educational agency or elementary school.” The announcement further highlights support for early school success through efforts to “coordinate and align instruction from birth through 3rd grade.”

Why is it important to focus on transitions at school entry and create an aligned instructional system across birth through 3rd grade? This period is a critical point in the educational pathway of a child and their family. It is incumbent upon educators to ease the process of moving from any of the multiple early childhood settings into the early grades of schools and make these moves as seamless as possible. States that fail to create seamless systems put the responsibility and burden of this critical period in children’s lives squarely on the backs of children and families.

As states plan for effective transitions, it is important that they center on three broad goals: 1) establishing and maintaining strong, mutually respectful relationships with families; 2) strengthening connections between educators, both horizontally and vertically across the early grade continuum; and 3) connecting what comes before kindergarten with kindergarten and what comes after. In other words, states need to establish systems that recognize the value of meaningful family involvement, align developmentally appropriate expectations and experiences across the early years and grades, and create an atmosphere for shared dialogue, planning, and coordination among all early educators serving children birth through elementary school.

Importantly, one major focus of this year’s PDG grant competition is strengthening the early childhood workforce. The COVID pandemic over the past two- and one-half years has shown the frailties and inequities plaguing early educators. These demand attention. ACF requires strengthening systems that attract, prepare, support, and retain a diverse and qualified workforce across settings and programs to be part of any successful application. One way to prepare and support educators is to help them in providing safe and supportive environments that promote child development. This is a focus that can be realized through strong transitions.

For example, leveraging PDG funding received in 2019, North Carolina built upon previous transitions work by hiring a state-level transition coordinator charged with supporting district communities. The state created and implemented joint professional development opportunities focused on meaningful family engagement and formative assessment, worked to develop a coordinated enrollment system, and enhanced translation services for programs serving young children. Further, because NC leaders adopted a common assessment system and a suite of curriculum resources, they are poised to operationalize child-level data sharing between pre-k and kindergarten classrooms. Aligned with the NC Early Learning Inventory, this data will inform teachers as they plan for each child’s success.

As featured in EdCounsel’s and New America’s Toolkit for Using Policy to Enable Effective and Supportive Transitions, states and localities are encouraged to coordinate different federal and state funding streams to meet goals for supportive and effective transitions. These funds can be blended and braided to create and sustain programs established with PDG resources and to strengthen systems with the enabling conditions needed for effective and supportive transitions in broader birth through 3rd-grade initiatives.

Since 2016, the Preschool Development Grant has provided resources to establish and maintain momentum in the strengthening and alignment of early care and education programs and services across states and territories. In their PDG proposals, we hope states give the attention deserved to the transition children make as they exit early childhood settings such as community-based organizations, public preschools, Head Start, and homes. Doing so will not only make for a strong grant proposal but will also begin (or continue) the necessary planning for how to better support children, families, and educators as they navigate kindergarten entry, an exciting and critical period in education.

For other New America resources to support states' Preschool Development Grant applications, read this post by Nicole Hsu.

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