Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Parents, mayors, governors, and President Obama are all talking about the importance of high-quality preschool programs and about how they can help children become proficient third grade readers.

But with all this energy and action, it can be easy to lose sight of how, specifically, policymakers can have a positive impact in these areas.

That’s why the Education Commission of the States has put together a guide for policymaker’s, an A to Z primer on early education called “Initiatives from Preschool to Third Grade.”

It’s a “reference guide for policymakers and their staffs on the most commonly requested topics from preschool to third grade,” according to the guide’s executive summary.

The guide says, “the primary programs and strategies policymakers have inquired about include:

  1. Preschool. Access to high-quality preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.
  1. Transitions. Strategies to support children in their transition to kindergarten.
  1. Full-day kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten programs for 5-year-olds.
  1. Kindergarten entrance assessments. Using kindergarten entrance assessments to identify school readiness gaps.
  1. Bolstering third-grade reading proficiency. Innovative policies designed to identify and support children who are not on track to meet third-grade reading goals.”

“What are the foundations of any effective P-3 approach?” the guide asks.

“Though the infrastructure needed to support a comprehensive P-3 agenda includes elements such as longitudinal data systems, professional development systems, family engagement strategies, and systems designed to promote children’s overall health and well-being, the primary elements policymakers have inquired about include:

  1. High-quality P-3 programs. Characterized by exceptional educators and leaders who use ongoing data collection to inform instruction and practice.
  1. Aligned standards, curricula, and assessments. Ensuring state’s learning standards, curricula, and assessments are aligned to support children from preschool to third grade.
  1. Efficient P-3 finance. Coordinating funding streams that support P-3 programs to maximize dollars and reduce inefficiencies.
  1. Effective P-3 governance. Coordinating the range of P-3 programs, services, agencies, and entities at the state level to ensure the delivery of seamless programs and services for children and families.”

Massachusetts Leads by Example

The guide cites Massachusetts as the home of promising practices in several areas. In the section on “Effective Transition Between Preschool and Kindergarten,” the guide says:

“In Massachusetts, the Boston Public School system has designed a citywide initiative to support families, educators, and children in the transition to kindergarten. The Countdown to Kindergarten campaign works with 28 local organizations to coordinate events and activities that help children and their families register, visit, select, and prepare for kindergarten. The program also supports children’s parents to be active partners in their children’s education at home and at school.”

The section “Policies to Promote Third Grade Reading Proficiency,” lists as a resource “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” a report commissioned by Strategies for Children.

In the section on high-quality P-3 programs, the guide says of using assessments: “At least five states (Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) have included the CLASS as an approved measure districts can use as part of their K-12 teacher evaluation systems, which may be a more appropriate and informative measure of early-grade teacher quality than other measures.”

What’s the status of P-3 governance? “…Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have established state- or department-level structures to coordinate early childhood programs and services.” Here in the commonwealth, that structure is the Department of Early Education and Care.

Policy Rationale for Taking Action Now

“Setting children on a path to academic success early in life is the most effective and cost-efficient way to prevent high school dropouts and secure the economic stability of our country and future workforce,” the guide says.

As more and more state and local policymakers do this work, they’ll need information. In addition to the guide, another compelling resource is economist Timothy Bartik’s new book, “From Preschool to Prosperity: The Economic Payoff to Early Childhood Education.”

Now is the time to start. As the guide says, “Examining the status, success and challenges of existing efforts is the best way to build a coordinated agenda to increase third-grade reading efficiency, close the achievement gap and support children from birth to third grade.”