Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

David Jacobson — one of our favorite bloggers over at “The Birth Through Third Grade Learning Hub” — has a new article out in Phi Delta Kappan, “the professional magazine for anyone who cares about K-12 education.”

The article, “The primary years agenda: Strategies to guide district action,” points out that the growing momentum around early education is creating powerful opportunities for schools and districts.

“School districts on the leading edge of the Birth through Third Grade movement have demonstrated unprecedented success raising the achievement of low-income students by developing coherent strategies focused on the early years of learning and development,” Jacobson explains.

These leading edge communities — among them Boston, Montgomery County, Md., and Union City, N.J. — aren’t just improving preschool. They’re “building aligned, high-quality early education systems.”

The Birth through Third Grade Strategy

Why birth through third grade? Because high-quality early education programs prepare children to succeed.

“Gaps between low-income and middle-class children appear early and increase over time,” Jacobson writes. “Such gaps in social-emotional and academic

readiness for kindergarten lead to gaps in literacy and math proficiency by 3rd grade, which in turn lead to gaps in high school graduation rates and college- and career-readiness.”

Fortunately, a high preponderance of evidence shows that “High-quality early childhood services can effectively address these gaps.”

But closing these gaps means doing the hard work of “improving the quality of services for children at each level of development and integrating and aligning these services in order to have the most effect.”

Jacobson points to the exemplary efforts of the Child-Parent Centers in Chicago, the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, and the Strive Program in Cincinnati, which have all “demonstrated impressive results, fueling increased financial support for birth-3rd services, policy change, and innovative projects at the federal, state, and community levels.”

To read more about the power of collaboration, check out Jacobson’s blog entry, “Relationships, Capacity, and Innovation.” The blog explains how relationships can fuel innovations.

Jacobson writes:

“Principals pick up the phone to call preschool directors to discuss specific children. Communities use a new early learning partnership as a platform to win new grant funds. A district invites community-based preschool teachers to share information about rising kindergarten students, significantly influencing classroom assignment decisions.

“These are all examples of activities that have emerged out of the work of Birth-3rd partnerships, activities that were not proposed in grant proposals or explicitly planned as partnership strategies. These activities have come about as a result of new relationships—both interpersonal and institutional—developed through Birth-3rd partnerships.”

Schools and Districts Taking Action

The key ingredient for school and district leaders who want to improve outcomes is to embrace the work of “improving early education as a strategic priority.” Many are already providing leadership by implementing “three overarching strategies” that promote children’s success. Those strategies are:

1. Improving “(early) elementary school teaching and learning.”

“To address such needs, schools, districts, and states need to improve curricula, formative assessments, and student progress monitoring mechanisms, taking into account how young children best learn and the full range of developmental domains: cognitive development and general knowledge, social and emotional development, language and communication development, approaches toward play and learning, and physical development and well-being.”

2. Improving “early childhood education through public/private collaboration.”

“While school and district leaders have enough on their plates without actively engaging with their preschool communities, it is this collaboration that has been key to improving readiness for kindergarten and 1st grade in Montgomery County, Union City, and other communities.”

“For early childhood collaboratives to be effective, districts must make early education a strategic priority and provide significant district support from superintendents, directors of curriculum and instruction, literacy coaches, and early childhood coordinators. States, in turn, can facilitate such district support by providing targeted funding, technical assistance, and opportunities for communities to exchange best practices.”

3. Providing “support services through community partnerships before birth and through 3rd grade — and beyond.”

“Two clear and related strategies for providing comprehensive services for children in an aligned fashion have emerged:

– Developing communitywide early childhood partnerships with the wherewithal to implement a comprehensive vision and strategic plan; and

– Coordinating the provision of integrated services at the school or early childhood center site.

Riding the Growing Public Policy Waves

As Jacobson writes, “Momentum is growing at the federal, state, and community levels to improve learning and care during the primary years. Sustaining this momentum in the current fiscal climate and in an environment wary of increased government spending will require that educators make the case for investment by demonstrating the effect of their programs. In turn, achieving such demonstrations will require innovative program design, rigorous implementation, and mid-course correction using performance benchmarks and rigorous evaluation.” (The bold emphasis is ours.)

“These challenges notwithstanding, the Birth-3rd movement creates a highly promising opportunity for school districts, and communities to reduce gaps while raising achievement and life chances for all children…”

Taking advantage of this national momentum promises to turn opportunities into sweeping educational victories.