Out Today: New Briefs on Strengthening Pre-K to Kindergarten Transitions and Alignment

Two new briefs highlight innovative approaches to easing the transition to kindergarten and strategies for funding transition activities
Blog Post
Sept. 12, 2019

When classes begin for the 2019–2020 school year, approximately four million children will start kindergarten. What these young learners experience over the next year could have profound implications for their futures: Research suggests that students who attend a high-quality classroom in kindergarten and the early elementary grades are more likely to attend college, save more for retirement, and even live in wealthier neighborhoods. What steps can be taken to ensure that children, especially those in under-resourced communities, have high-quality kindergarten experiences?

Today, New America releases two new briefs focused on strengthening pre-K to kindergarten transitions and alignment. “Moving into Kindergarten: How Schools and Districts are Connecting the Steps for Children and Families” highlights innovative efforts schools and districts across the country are taking to ease the transition into kindergarten for families and students, including students without access to pre-K prior to kindergarten. This brief builds off the 2017 report “Connecting the Steps,” which highlighted the work four states were doing to ease the transition into kindergarten. In the second brief released today, “Using Local, State, and Federal Dollars to Improve Pre-K to K Transitions,” we explain the federal programs that can help support and fund state and local transition efforts.

One innovative strategy to improving the transition process is taking place in the Altgeld-Riverdale community located on Chicago’s South Side. With its Pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten Transitions Project (PKTP), Altgeld-Riverdale is taking a community-wide approach to addressing the transition to kindergarten for students and families. The community is home to four elementary schools and two early childhood centers.

The PKTP includes three main components: a cross-grade, cross-school professional learning community for educators; common classroom practices across pre-K and kindergarten; and family learning activities. The professional learning community consists of monthly, 90-minute meetings between pre-K and kindergarten teachers from the various elementary schools and early childhood centers in the neighborhood. The goal of the meetings is to reduce differences in teaching methods and philosophies between grades and schools. The meetings consist of discussions of common classroom practices, planning for upcoming family activities, and professional development sessions on topics such as trauma-informed teaching practices. An evaluation of PKTP revealed a majority of participants found the monthly meetings valuable and helped them learn new strategies for improving student outcomes in their classrooms. “If not for PKTP, I don’t think these teachers from different schools would be talking to each other. It’s been an incredibly helpful opportunity for teachers to interact with their peers from across the neighborhood,” said Emily Powers, Project Director of PKTP at BPI, a Chicago-area public interest law and policy center.

The most meaningful transition activities require both human and financial resources. Investing in these activities supports deeper coordination, coherence, and alignment across the PreK–3rd continuum. While resources can be difficult to come by at times and priorities abound, states, districts, and schools can use different funding streams and guidance documents to plan and support transition efforts and to leverage and build on what is already underway.

In “Using Local, State, and Federal Dollars to Improve Pre-K to K Transitions,” we explain the federal programs that can help support state and local transition efforts. We also explore opportunities in considering state pre-K program funding and other avenues to establish smoother transitions. For example, under ESSA, states and local education agencies (LEAs) are allowed to use Title I and Title II dollars to support smoother transitions, which can include joint professional training activities around transitions for pre-K and early elementary. LEAs are required to develop a memorandum of understanding with Head Start programs to, among other things, support smooth transitions. Additionally, LEAs which use Title I funds for pre-K must describe how they will coordinate and transition plan with those programs. They are also encouraged to include other early childhood education programs. It may be less known that Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) dollars set aside for quality can also be used to improve outcomes for children entering kindergarten and states have incorporated transition activities into their CCDBG plans in a number of ways.

Because of the historic divide between early learning and the formal K–12 school system, it will require long-term effort and resources to truly establish a system that ensures students and families transition into a kindergarten classroom that will provide a high-quality learning experience starting on the very first day of school. While increased and more predictable funding for early education are certainly needed, using the funding streams available in a strategic way to support better transitions and alignment will be a big help in creating the seamless educational experience that young students need, one which will also support families.

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