Building State P-3 Systems


How can states build strong P-3 systems — the educational pipelines that start before birth and carry babies through to the third grade?

David Jacobson, a senior project director at the Education Development Center, tackles this question in a new report — “Building State P–3 Systems: Learning from Leading States” — that was recently released by the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO).

The report looks at the P-3 (prenatal to third grade) work being done in “three case study states,” Massachusetts, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, which “were chosen based on their experience implementing P–3 state policies and developing significant grant programs to fund regional and local P–3 partnerships.”

“I think the biggest overall take-away is that there is a great deal states can do to improve quality and provide continuity for children throughout the first 8-9 years of children’s lives,” Jacobson told us in an email. “We are learning how to go about this through the lessons provided by these leading states.”

The three states have built different P-3 systems, but they share key strategies. Among them:

• all three states have seen “increased collaboration across state agencies—specifically across early childhood, K–3 education, and health offices”

• “all three states have devoted considerable resources to aligning state standards from pre-Kindergarten through third grade”

• “communities typically begin their P–3 initiatives with activities that bring together community-based preschools and elementary schools for collaboration around transitions, family engagement, and joint professional learning,” and

• “Across all three states, communities that already had a good sense of their needs and had developed thoughtful, coherent plans in their proposals were able to ‘hit the ground running.’

Jacobson adds:

“The three case study states have supported grant programs that are fueling innovation at regional, community, and neighborhood levels. We’re seeing cross-sector professional development for pre-k and kindergarten teachers, collaboration on curriculum, instruction and transitions, and new family engagement programs. These are efforts that schools and school districts are buying into. They are raising the priority of K-3 education and collaborating with community-based preschools. In effect, they’re beginning to take ownership for improving school readiness and providing smooth transitions into kindergarten.”

Massachusetts stands out for being one of the first states to “begin seeding P–3 work.”

With three relevant but separate departments of education—Early Education and Care, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Higher Education:

“The state’s early learning officials are working to develop new linkages across these agencies for P–3 work. Although Massachusetts has funded fewer local P–3 partnerships than Oregon and Pennsylvania, the partnerships have been funded with somewhat higher awards and have a more community-wide orientation.”

One example is the city of Lowell, which “began with an innovative neighborhood-based strategy that included not only schools and center-based preschool providers, but family childcare providers as well. The initiative then expanded to include a city-wide component.”

What do these findings mean for other states? The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

• states “will need to develop new structures and new working arrangements in order to coordinate state policy and support local and regional P–3 efforts”

• “States should engage school and district leaders in P–3 efforts by sharing information on the value of improving early learning, providing leadership development opportunities, hosting professional learning networks, and creating incentives for school and district participation,” and

• “States should determine how they will support communities in sustaining their P–3 system-building work.” This could mean: “working towards obtaining ongoing legislative support and helping communities in sustainability planning,” such as reallocating funding.

To read more about P-3 system building, read the report.

And be sure to follow Jacobson’s blog, The P-3 Learning Hub, where he writes about “School, Community, and Family Partnerships for Young Children.”