How hard is it to get from preschool to kindergarten?

According to Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, many children find themselves moving from one silo to the next.

“Too often government officials design programs for children as if they lived their lives in silos, as if each stage of a child’s life were independent of the other, unconnected to what came before or what lies ahead.”

A new report — Transitions and Alignment: From Preschool to Kindergarten — released by the Education Commission of the States shares this Heckman quote and looks at how some policymakers and educators are replacing silos with more promising pathways that help children travel safely from infancy to adulthood.

“If this transition does not go well,” the report says, “children can be turned off to learning and school at an early age.”

The report points to two strategies for promoting children’s success:

– “Effective transition programs and practices that help the child and family move smoothly and successfully from one learning setting to another,” and

– “Authentic alignment of the basic pedagogical components of early learning and kindergarten to create continuous learning and teaching experiences.”

“A smooth transition between preschool and kindergarten is key to a child’s social adjustment and future educational success,” the report notes, adding:

“This alignment aids in ensuring that as students move from one system to another, they experience consistency in standards, curricula, instruction and assessments. Linking systems through new policies and intentional alignment of policies that support all elements of the education continuum — and are effectively implemented in schools — may result in better outcomes for children and foster a child’s love of learning.”

Among the report’s examples of communities that have successfully implemented these strategies is Somerville, Mass.

Thanks to local leadership, Somerville is at the forefront of communities that are looking to improve pre-K-to-K transitions to better support children and families. Somerville has received state grants to incentivize this work. But across Massachusetts, given that there is no state mandate or consistent financial support for transition activities, these efforts vary considerably from town to town, with many communities doing little to no transition or alignment work.

As the report explains, Somerville has a transition framework:

“Families and their children are invited to a transition day in June, when children receive a book and materials to engage with over the summer and are also able to socialize with other rising kindergartners. Later in the summer before school starts, Somerville offers an orientation aimed at easing the transition into kindergarten.”

In addition, Somerville has a free Summer Explore Kindergarten Transition program for “children who have never been to school before, English-language learners, low-income children and those who might benefit from learning opportunities over the summer.”

These efforts are part of the city’s “Ready to Learn, Ready for K: Somerville’s Early Education and Care Plan,” which was released in March. It’s one of the best local plans in Massachusetts for building a strong birth-to-5th-grade system.

As the plan explains, “Current data on school readiness has shown that for our vulnerable students, persistent learning gaps remain that predict later success in school and in life. This reality is broadly understood within our community to be unacceptable, increasing a sense of urgency to build on practices and programs that have proven to be successful in reducing these gaps.”

Somerville’s plan calls for:

• establishing an Early Education Mixed-Delivery Team and Coordinator

• creating a single point of entry into the city’s education system to create one-stop shopping for parents

• targeting investments in comprehensive services that would cover pregnant mothers and cover their children through age 5, and

• enhancing data systems to support young learners

In its report, the Education Commission of the States also points to transition and alignment efforts in California and West Virginia.

The commission’s report concludes:

“As educators and decision-makers work to create effective policies that support transitions and aligned learning from early childhood to early elementary grades, it will take additional effort to ensure that systems are linked. Moving forward, policymakers might consider ways to better align these early education years to ensure transitions are smooth for children, families and educators.”