The path from birth to third grade ought to be an easy, exciting journey for children.

That’s the message that David Jacobson shared last week at “The First 10 Years: School and Community Initiatives to Improve Teaching, Learning, and Care,” an event hosted by the Washington, D.C., think tank, New America.

“…kindergarten needs to build on the learning and care that children experience in pre-kindergarten. And children need for the programs and services that they experience each year to be coordinated, meaning coordination between education, health, and social services,” Jacobson said at the event. 

Children need “alignment across the years; meaning that every year, we are building on and taking advantage of what children learned the previous year.”

“Unfortunately, however, the programs and services that serve young children and their families in the United States are highly fragmented.”

(In the video posted above, Jacobson starts speaking at 5:35 time mark.)

As we’ve blogged, Jacobson is a long-time support of pre-K-to-third-grade alignment. He is also the principal technical advisor at the Education Development Center, a nonprofit that works to improve global education, health, and economic opportunity.

The contrast between what children need and what they actually get in their earliest years is also the subject of a new report Jacobson write called, “All Children Learn and Thrive: Building First 10 Schools and Communities.”

Fortunately, the report explains, “A movement is underway in the United States to improve children’s experiences during these critical early years. In many communities, elementary schools, early childhood centers, and community organizations are forming partnerships to focus on the needs of young children and their families.”

Jacobson refers to the members of this movement as “First 10” programs and communities. And he says that the communities “at the forefront of this movement are developing coherent and mutually reinforcing sets of strategies that include:

• effective teaching and learning sustained over many years

• strong partnerships with families

• comprehensive health and social services for both children and families

“This combination of supports and services is among the most powerful strategies we have
to address yawning opportunity gaps, ensure educational equity, and raise achievement
for low-income children.”

The report also discusses specific examples of this work.

“An initiative in Lowell, Massachusetts, combined a community-wide alignment
team with clusters of programs that included a hub elementary school, an early
childhood center, and nearby family childcare providers. The initiative then supported
aligned assessments, quality improvement, and the development of common family
engagement approaches in each cluster.”

Jacobson also looks at the Boston Public Schools’ pre-K-to-Grade 2 curriculum and its coaching and professional development programs, noting:

“The impressive outcomes of BPS’s Focus on K1 prekindergarten curriculum and coaching model have received much attention in early childhood circles. The BPS Early Childhood Department has followed up on this work by supporting implementation of Focus on K1 in community-based early childhood centers in the city and extending its curriculum and coaching model to kindergarten and grades 1 and 2, providing another important example of improving and aligning preK–3 teaching and learning.”

And in 2015, in Cambridge, Mass., the City Council and School Committee “initiated a Birth to 3rd Grade Partnership, including education and comprehensive health and social services. In the intervening three years, Cambridge has followed a comprehensive strategic plan to implement an impressive set of strategies” that include : developing “quality improvement pilots for both early childhood centers and family childcare providers,” designing a home visiting system, building a citywide understanding of family engagement, increasing mental health consultation programs; and providing pre-K scholarships to low-income families.

Nationally, Jacobson says:

“Model programs, such as the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, have demonstrated the longitudinal impact of combining effective teaching and learning in the early grades, family engagement and partnership, and comprehensive supports for children and families. On a larger scale, communities such as Union City, New Jersey, and Montgomery County, Maryland—as well as a pilot project in several communities in Hawai‘i—have shown greatly reduced achievement gaps while improving outcomes for all. These communities have made significant investments in improving teaching, learning, and family support in the early years and then sustaining these efforts over a period of years.”

A number of common features make these “First 10” programs and communities successful, including:

• “aligning prekindergarten and elementary school education as well as “reworking curricula, assessments, and instruction”

• “providing influential supports to families and other caregivers of children ages 0–4” and “continuing those supports throughout elementary school,” and

• developing and implementing “ambitious plans to improve the quality and coordination of education and care for young children and their families”

The report also points out that, “States play a critical role in supporting First 10 Schools and Communities by creating a conducive policy environment and providing financial support, technical assistance, and networking opportunities.”

Ultimately, Jacobson writes, “States and communities should join together to support these important initiatives, and in doing so deepen and accelerate the development of coherent strategies to improve child outcomes.”

The result would be an innovative and engaging educational path that offers high-quality experiences, strengthens schools, engages families, forges deeper social connections, builds social trusts, and produces far better outcomes for children.