13 Feb Stronger alignment in early education key to student success
Early Learning Network teams publish new research on alignment in a special issue of Early Childhood Research Quarterly
There is little dispute that pre-K programs boost children’s learning as they enter school.
Ensuring that children are given optimal learning opportunities to maintain those early gains and build upon them throughout school remains one of the stickiest challenges facing education professionals.
While there is no single solution to improving child outcomes, the need for stronger alignment in education systems bubbles to the top — particularly across the transition from pre-K to formal elementary school.
In a special issue of Early Childhood Research Quarterly, the Early Learning Network’s six research and assessment teams examine practices and policies related to alignment in early childhood education, shedding light on children’s diverse learning experiences and barriers to cohesive, supportive transitions as they move from pre-K to third grade.
The network studies examine the quality and continuity in children’s early learning experiences across the U.S. — Boston, Virginia, Nebraska, Ohio and North Carolina.
Teams explore a myriad of alignment factors both across and within classrooms, between grades, and among individual children, and ranging from instructional practices and quality, content standards, curricula, assessments and educational policies.
Additionally, the network’s University of California, Irvine team assessed the feasibility of a web-based tool that measures teacher practices, with the goal of eventually using it to understand instructional alignment across grades.
The special issue, co-edited by Meghan McCormick, co-principal investigator for the MDRC team, is now available online. The print version will be published in May.
“The studies in this special issue reveal an overall lack of alignment in existing education systems, especially during the critical transition between pre-K and elementary school,” McCormick said. “Collectively, the network is finding evidence that stronger pre-K to third grade alignment may be key to improving student success — bringing us closer to narrowing the achievement gap.”
An education system is strongly aligned when all its moving parts — program and school structures, policies, practices, curricula and assessments — work together seamlessly across ages and grade levels to support and maintain children’s academic success.
Collectively, the network is finding evidence that stronger pre-K to third grade alignment may be key to improving student success — bringing us closer to narrowing the achievement gap.
Studies in this special issue identify numerous barriers to high-quality, aligned learning from pre-K through third grade, ranging from large-scale structural and policy barriers to challenges at the school and classroom levels.
“Identifying barriers to alignment between pre-K and elementary school can be valuable in informing districts, practitioners and policymakers about how to build systems that bridge instruction across the early childhood and K-12 sectors,” said Lora Cohen-Vogel, lead author on one of the issue’s articles and co-principal investigator for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill team.
The network hopes this special issue will serve as a springboard for improving pre-K quality, continuity and child wellbeing in the U.S.
“There is great potential to use what we’re learning as a nationwide network to help guide research, practice and policy to enhance alignment across grades and improve outcomes for all children, especially those who are furthest from opportunity, Cohen-Vogel said.
Early Childhood Research Quarterly Special Issue: IES Early Learning Network Study
Edited by Meghan McCormick, co-principal investigator for the MDRC team; Jessica Harding, Mathematica Policy Research and Dana McCoy, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Articles in press
Understanding alignment in children’s early learning experiences: Policies and practices from across the United States.
Harding, J. F., et al.
(Mis)Alignment of instructional policy supports in Pre-K and kindergarten: Evidence from rural districts in North Carolina.
Cohen-Vogel, L., et al.
Observing individual children in early childhood classrooms using Optimizing Learning Opportunities for Students (OLOS): A feasibility study.
Connor, C. M., et al.
Iruka, I. U., et al.
Promoting content-enriched alignment across the early grades: A study of policies & practices in the Boston Public Schools.
McCormick, M. P., et al.
Purtell, K. M., et al.
Vitiello, V. E., et al.
The Early Learning Network is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. This work supports the network’s collective goal to improve children’s academic success in pre-K through third grade by identifying research-proven policies and practices that narrow achievement gaps and maintain early learning success.