Recent studies and research have shown that inequitable educational experiences and outcomes, such as chronic absenteeism and lower test-performance often have roots that begin as early as infancy. The importance of early childhood education was underscored in a new study from The Center for Public Education released in early November. The report concludes that preschool and full-day kindergarten in tandem is the best combination for reading proficiency by the third grade – a pivotal checkpoint in a child’s development.
In the report, Senior Policy Analyst Jim Hull, noted that students who were behind in reading by the third grade were four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma.
The benefits of preschool, Head Start, and kindergarten programs on a student’s success in those early grades are often considered individually.
Connecting these early childhood education program systemically to achieve these desired results is another story.
“Some kids can actually lose some of the advantages of a high quality preschool experience when they get to kindergarten because the schools aren’t ready for them and transitions into the early grades aren’t as smooth as they could be,” said Kwesi Rollins, Director of Leadership Programs at the Institute of Educational Leadership.
The Linkages Project, generously supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, focuses on correcting the disconnect between early-childhood programs and elementary schools by linking early-childhood programs with community schools.
Three sites were chosen - Multnomah County, OR, Albuquerque, NM, and Tulsa, OK – to demonstrate how community school initiatives are uniquely positioned to be effective vehicles for promoting a seamless transition from the early years to through the early grades with its proven approach of connecting students and parents to necessary resources through extensive partnerships and collaboration.
The sites shared a common framework and desired outcome but not necessarily a specific road-map. “What anybody was supposed to do was extremely amorphous,” according to Jane Quinn with the Children’s Aid Society, a partner in the Linkages project. At a recent meeting at IEL in Washington, DC, the Coalition for Community Schools convened the Linkages Advisory Board to receive After little more than two years of work, the advisory board, comprised of several national early childhood education and community schools experts, found that the work is coming together quite tidily.
The outcomes from the program so far have been profound. Educators in Multnomah County, Ore, which encompasses Portland, found that nearly one in five county students were chronically absent in kindergarten through third grades. One in three students were chronically absent in kindergarten. These data points are troubling indicators of future success. Through Linkages, they are addressing these issues.
Participants from Tulsa found that before Linkages, communication between pre-school education and kindergarten teachers was virtually non-existent as students moved on to grade school even if the early-childhood program was situated right next to its primary community school. Through the Linkages initiative, the Tulsa group implemented transition teams that broke down the silos between head start and kindergarten teachers, allowing information-sharing about individual students to pass from school to school. Tulsa’s community school transition teams will evolve to focus not just on the building-to-building transition but grade-to-grade across the system. Eventually, students’ failures and shortcomings can no longer just simply be written off as the fault of the student’s previous teacher.
Forging partnerships between schools, early-childhood education programs, and community and family agencies and organizations to promote real linkages between local and state leaders is a major facet of the project. The Albuquerque Public Schools, Bernalillo County and City of Albuquerque Community Schools Partnership (in New Mexico) has bolstered the case for the growing community school movement in Albuquerque. Serendipitously, Albuquerque’s partnership has pushed the development of the community schools solution and early-education linkages simultaneously.
Meanwhile, back in Multnomah, the Linkages team has developed a full-fledged outreach campaign throughout its network of community schools, focused on the importance of attendance in kindergarten and the early grades, especially for its diverse immigrant population. More than 200 people showed up at two conferences the group held on the issue last year. As a result of the outreach, several SUN schools have added chronic absenteeism to their data dashboard and are developing strategies to address this critical issue.“They’re inventing solutions to some of the problems they’re running into,” Quinn said after the meeting.