Efforts to Improve Birth-3rd Systems Put on the Map

New mapping tool highlights strategies to enhance children's earliest learning experiences.
Blog Post
Sept. 16, 2016

Pre-K continues to gain traction at the local, state, and federal level thanks to a growing body of research demonstrating its importance and overwhelming public support for investment in early childhood education. But while high-quality pre-K is a crucial piece in a child’s first eight years of development, it is only one step in the “staircase of learning” from birth-through-third grade. By itself, pre-K cannot support the kind of long-term student gains needed to shrink the achievement gaps that continue to plague our education system.

That’s why New America and other early childhood experts have called for investment and alignment across the entire early learning continuum from birth-through-third grade.

From Crawling to Walking, a 2015 New America report, highlights state policies that could foster a cohesive, aligned early learning continuum, including:

  • Access to affordable, high-quality childcare from birth-to-age three

  • Access to free, full-day pre-K and kindergarten

  • Educators (including school leaders and child care center directors) with knowledge of child development and appropriate content knowledge

  • Alignment and coordination of data, standards, assessment, curriculum, and professional development across grades PreK-3rd

From Crawling to Walking examined states’ birth-through-3rd grade policies (with an emphasis on PreK-3rd) and found that most states are far from achieving a cohesive, comprehensive continuum of this kind.

Now, the National P-3 Center at the University of Washington, led by national P-3 expert Kristie Kauerz, is mapping and documenting state- and community-level initiatives across the country to improve and align birth-through-3rd grade systems. The “National P-3 Map” seeks to answer the question “who’s doing P-3 and how?” The map builds off of Kauerz and Julia Coffman’s PreK-3rd framework -- an evidence-based guide that identifies eight “buckets” of work, such as teacher effectiveness and family engagement, that schools and districts can implement to create a coordinated, comprehensive birth-through-3rd grade system.

A wide range of strategies are being pursued to strengthen the early care and education system. For example, some programs specifically target PreK-3rd grade while others include infants and toddlers in their services. Some efforts emphasize a mixed-delivery system while others focus on expanding services through a specific site of delivery, such as public schools. This resource is meant to give practitioners, policymakers, and researchers a look at the different approaches to birth-through-3rd grade being tried in communities.

     Source: National P-3 Center

The map currently provides information on 10 states (shaded in the map above.) More data are to be added in the future as states, partners, and organizations fill out a survey about their birth-through-3rd grade efforts.

A few examples of work highlighted on the map include:

North Carolina:

In North Carolina, the FirstSchool initiative of the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill partners with schools, districts, and states to “improve the school experiences of African American, Latino, and low-income children in PreK-3rd grades.” FirstSchool provides research expertise, facilitates professional development, and develops curriculum development and instructional practices to guide schools and districts to improved, aligned PreK-3rd systems.


Based in Illinois, the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Online Peer Learning Community provides school district leaders and early childhood directors from across the country with a platform to share and coordinate strategies and best practices for creating comprehensive, aligned birth-through-3rd grade systems. Like a social networking site, leaders are able to connect, discuss, and learn from each other through the peer online learning community. Because early childhood content is not part of principal preparation or professional development in most states, school district leaders often lack adequate knowledge about early childhood development and pedagogy.


In Omaha, 11 school districts are working with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska to implement the Superintendents’ Early Childhood Plan. The plan, sparked by state legislation in 2013 that mandated that superintendents in Omaha “establish early childhood programs for children in poverty,” is a comprehensive approach to  providing high-quality learning opportunities and family services from birth-through-3rd grade. The plan focuses on three core areas of programming; home-visiting services for children birth-age three, high-quality preschool for three- and four-year-olds, and an aligned, coordinated PreK-3rd system. Within the PreK-3rd component, participating schools receive an on-site PreK-3rd facilitator, professional development, workshops, and technical assistance to facilitate the alignment of standards, assessments, and curriculum among the early elementary grades.


The map highlights the Washington P-3 Executive Leadership Certificate Program, a 10-month, online program from the University of Washington designed for elementary school administrators and early learning program directors. The two-course program helps participants develop the pedagogical knowledge, leadership skills, and change strategies necessary to implement community-level reforms to ensure a high-quality, developmentally-appropriate P-3 learning continuum for their students.

These are just a few of the innovative efforts happening around the country to improve children’s learning opportunities from birth-through-third grade -- the critical first eight years which provide the foundation for future success in school and life. As more states and communities take the lead in ensuring every child, regardless of race, income, or location, has access to those crucial first steps in the staircase of learning, our country will move toward having a more equitable education system.