Boston Mayor Marty Walsh meets with a young learner. Source: City of Boston Mayor’s Office’s Flickr page.


Boston has a long history of preschool progress. Starting under the administration of former Mayor Thomas Menino and continuing with Mayor Marty Walsh’s team, city officials have invested in quality, access, and innovation. Now, this work is featured in a new report — “A Focus on Teaching and Learning in Pre-K through 2nd Grade: Lessons from Boston” — from the think tank New America.

New America praises Boston for having a clear and lasting vision for expanding preschool, rather than “a series of priorities that shift every few years based on changes in district leadership.”

Thanks to a dynamic, public-private partnership, funding for this work came from the city and from funders like the Barr Foundation.

From enhanced teacher training to new curricula to leveraging federal grants, Boston’s story is one “of reforming from the bottom up,” the report says, “of realizing that the work of increasing student achievement is not confined to a single grade, but requires sustained efforts to improve the grades that follow, efforts that persist despite multiple changes in district leadership.”

In other words, improving pre-K only makes sense if kindergarten, first, and second grade all grow, too, to provide children with a high-quality experience that covers all the early grades.

Boston has invested in a mixed delivery system that lets parents choose where to send their child to pre-K: in a public school setting, at a free-standing center, or in a program run in the home of a family provider.

Boston is also committed to using research and data to “drive continuous improvement.” As the report notes:

“The BPS early childhood team takes pride in how much stock it puts in data collection and analysis. Data are collected for a variety of purposes, such as assessing teacher and parent satisfaction, informing decisions related to resource allocation, informing conversations about project change, planning professional development, and evaluating specific elements of the early childhood program.”

Boston does face challenges. It will have to find more funding, especially since the Barr Foundation’s support ends in 2019. Another goal for next year “is better supporting special education students and English learners,” according to Jason Sachs, executive director of Boston’s Department of Early Childhood. And “two additional goals include continuing the expansion of pre-K into center-based settings and refining the model for helping other districts who want to reform early and elementary education.”

Nonetheless, Boston’s progress is impressive, and as the report explains, the city offers a number of key takeaways that other communities can learn from. Among them:

• begin with a vision and a strategic plan

• consider an external accountability metric, such as accreditation

• align curricula, assessments, instructional strategies, and professional development across grade levels

• use data from the start

• select research-based curricula, and

• build relationships with elementary school principals so that they can support the necessary changes that should be made in first and second grade

Boston has a great deal to be proud of; as the report notes: “When it comes to building a strong continuum of early learning, Boston is leading the way in Massachusetts. “