By Mudd, Tim
Nation's Cities Weekly , Vol. 35, No. 17
A new set of case studies published by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) highlights an emerging city strategy for ensuring that more young children are poised for educational success: the alignment of early care and education programs with K-12 education systems.
"Educational Alignment for Young Children: Profiles of Local Innovation" identifies five cities that are on the leading edge of efforts to create a seamless educational pipeline for children ages 0-8. Innovative alignment strategies in Boston; Hartford; Conn.; San Antonio; San Jose, Calif.; and Seattle aim to ensure that more children are succeeding in school and reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
These cities are working to restructure the historically disjointed relationship between early education providers and elementary schools by bringing together teachers and other key stakeholders from each system, better aligning preschool and school-based learning and improving transitions as children move from one level to the next. Mayors and other municipal officials are increasingly serving as catalysts for this work in recognition of the vital importance of early learning and development to a child's future academic potential, as well as their cities' economic development, public safety and quality of life.
Drawing on the experiences and lessons learned from each city profiled in the case studies, the report identifies 10 common elements of a well-aligned educational system:
* Formal partnerships or governance structures;
* Access to quality early education;
* School quality and organization;
* Communication and data sharing;
* Qualified teachers and administrators;
* Alignment of standards, curricula, teaching practices and assessments;
* Parent engagement and family supports;
* Programs to facilitate smooth transitions to school;
* Public awareness of the importance of early education; and
* Creative funding strategies.
With strong mayoral leadership, these local strategies are yielding improvements in both the quality and alignment of early childhood and elementary school learning experiences. For instance, Boston's effort to coordinate early childhood programming through the city's Thrive in Five initiative has resulted in greater professional development among early learning caregivers, increased parent awareness of community resources and millions in new funds for the early childhood community.
Local partners are pushing toward accreditation of all family-, center- and school-based early childhood programs. The mayor has supported efforts to establish universal Pre-K for 4-year-olds through Boston Public Schools, and the city's Countdown to Kindergarten initiative provides information and support to parents and children to promote a smooth transition from early childhood programs to elementary school.
In partnership with Hartford Public Schools, a state commission and a community foundation, the City of Hartford developed a comprehensive Blueprint for Young Children. Guided by this plan, the Mayor's Office for Young Children helped align early childhood curricula and assessments with state frameworks, facilitate smoother transitions to kindergarten and provide parent leadership training and professional development for family support workers. The city has also developed a management information system connecting data gathered by early childhood providers, family support centers, home visiting program providers and schools to better meet the needs of young children and families.
In San Antonio, the city is improving access to high-quality child care and preschool programs for more families through its Very Early Childhood Centers (VECCs) for children ages 0-5, which bring together Head Start and Pre-K programs and extend training and resources to area child care providers. …