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Two Views of Pre-K to 3: Why it Matters, Who's Getting It Started

Last week, I moderated a panel at the Education Writers Association conference in New Orleans where sociologist Donald Hernandez released a longitudinal study showing how critical it is that children, especially poor children, read well by the end of third grade. The lowest readers in his sample were four times less likely to graduate from high school than children who read well as third-graders. Low-income children who were also poor readers were 13 times less likely to graduate.

You can download a pdf of the entire study here.

Panelist Sterling Speirn, president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, made the case for why early supports are critical to meet the goal of reading well by third grade. Everything from breast-feeding to vision/hearing/speech screenings can make a real difference in children's language and literacy development, he noted. High-quality pre-K and early care, such as the Educare program, makes a difference for low-income children.

Success for All co-founder Robert Slavin talked about the bridges his program builds from pre-K's Curiosity Corner to full-day kindergarten with a structured curriculum and early elementary reading. Once children arrive in elementary school, he said, the key is to make sure their teachers have access to the strong knowledge base that already exists about how to teach reading. "We know how to teach reading" he observed, but that knowledge hasn't reached into every classroom—far from it.

During the discussion, the speakers talked about what good alignment from pre-K to third grade does and doesn't look like. It doesn't mean drills and worksheets in kindergarten. It does mean that reading aloud continues into the early elementary grades.

Meanwhile, in Chicago on March 31, New America Foundation's Lisa Guernsey spoke at the Erikson Institute about what pre-K to 3 should be and is becoming. Guernsey mentioned a number of places where pre-K to 3 is starting to take shape:

  • Red Bank, Elizabeth, and Union City, N.J.
  • Montgomery County, Md.
  • Tulsa, Okla.
  • Seattle and Bremerton, Wash. (I hear Bremerton from others, too)
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Arlington and Alexandria, Va.
  • Chicago, Ill.
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