Bridging the Divide: From Pre-K to Grade 3
About 10 years ago, I was reporting in a struggling elementary school on Chicago's South Side. It had a well-regarded state prekindergarten program, but the pre-K director and the school principal barely had a nodding relationship with one another. It was hard to tell how many of the kids in the pre-K program ever went to the elementary school. But no one seemed to think that was a problem.
Today, that kind of situation continues to take place, and now it's considered a big problem, and possibly the root of the famous drop-off in academic achievement that happens when kids make gains in pre-K and then enter elementary school. The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association for the Education of Young Children are among many in the early-years world calling for more and better training for elementary school principals to understand how young children learn, as Education Week reported in August.
Teacher education programs are also starting to respond to the need to train teachers to understand the transitions from pre-K to kindergarten to the primary grades, says this report from Pennsylvania State University's main campus, University Park. But there's still a big gap between how early-childhood educators see their job—supporting children's development through play-based and experiential learning—and how elementary teachers see theirs, typically with more traditional academic expectations and lessons.
The study examines 42 early childhood teacher preparation programs housed at major research universities, not because they train the most preschool teachers, but because their programs seem more likely to effect state policy on teacher preparation. About half of these programs are making strides to coordinate with elementary education.
New America Foundation's Early Ed Watch blog features an interesting summary of the report and its recommendations. A key recommendation would change the teacher certificate structure and make pre-K-3 its own certificate program. Right now most elementary certificates are kindergarten or 1st grade through 6 or beyond.
On Nov. 3, the NAEYC annual conference in Anaheim, California will feature a session on bridging the gap between pre-K and K-3.