Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

What do Goldilocks and Humpty Dumpty have to do with the PreK-3 movement? To the early educators and kindergarten teachers in Santa Maria, CA, they symbolize the alignment that emerged from a series of joint meetings. Santa Maria, a low-income community, has a large Hispanic population, and the kindergarten teachers told their preschool colleagues that many immigrant children struggled with classic children’s stories and rhymes. So the early educators began to include them in their read-aloud fare.

With this example, Sarah Garland of the Hechinger Report opens a story on the PreK-3 movement that has been gaining momentum over the past five years. (“PreK-3 movement trying to overhaul early education, but faces obstacles”)

“The PreK-3 movement,” Garland writes, “which refers to the years spanning prekindergarten to third grade, wants to revolutionize early education through an ambitious list of connected initiatives.” These include universal pre-kindergarten, mandatory full-day kindergarten, aligned curriculum and increased parent involvement.  “Proponents say their ideas could help stop gaps in achievement between disadvantaged and advantaged students before they start, and save money on interventions for older students,” Garland writes.

However, Garland cautions, there is little evidence-based research on PreK-3, and some experts question its feasibility at a time when states and school districts are cutting funds for preschool and full-day kindergarten. “There are a lot of reasons why it should work, and why it would work,” Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, tells Garland. “We just haven’t been able to pin the model down in a way to evaluate to say that it’s proven effective in improving achievement.”

One place with evidence that the approach works is Chicago, where the Child-Parent Center Education Program for low-income children has been in existence since 1968. Children can enroll at age 3 and some stay through third grade. This, along with the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian, is one of the three major sources of rigorous, longitudinal research on participants. At age 8, participants in the Chicago program were less likely to need academic help and were better-behaved in school

“When you plan and design a coordinated intervention from preschool to third grade, those transition experiences, they can … give you a larger effect ultimately,” Arthur Reynolds, director of the Chicago Longitudinal Study and a professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, tells Garland. “You’re altering all the elements of the educational process that make a difference to kids.”

South Shore, a K-8 school in Seattle, has seen promising results from using a research-tested curriculum from pre-kindergarten through elementary school, along with small class sizes and intensive teacher training, Garland reports.

One question is defining the ingredients of a successful PreK-3 model. “I think there are common perimeters,” Pianta tells Garland, “but I don’t think there’s a lot of clarity.”

At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Kristie Kauerz, program director for PreK-3rd Education, trains delegations from across the country. The final product will resemble a prix fixe menu, she tells Garland. “There are different ways of doing it,” Kauerz says, “but there are certain categories you must order from.”