A nationwide movement to improve third grade reading proficiency, in tandem with the movement toward the Common Core State Standards has culminated in a pivotal time for early childhood. The question remains: do rigorous K-12 standards represent a detriment to or opportunity for early childhood education, specifically aligning Pre-K with K-12?
Experts such as Robert Pianta and Gillian D. McNamee are discussing the difficulty inherent in aligning what we know about child development in the early years with the Common Core that was developed in a “top-down” manner from expectations for college and career readiness. Especially relevant to children in the birth-5 age range are things such as social and emotional development, self-regulation, motor and physical development which are not touched upon in the Common Core. Without nationwide guidelines, it will be a challenge for early educators to prepare children for a Common Core K-12 system while fostering social, communication, and self-regulation skills and providing outlets for expression and development of ideas, such as art and movement.
Alongside these challenges, opportunity also exists in early education as states transition to the Common Core. Shared K-12 expectations call for standards of quality and curriculum in children’s earliest educational experiences. As states implement the Common Core, it is an optimal time to define “quality” in Pre-Kindergarten, and promote information sharing among early educators and their K-12 counterparts. Bringing early educators to the table and helping them to understand what is expected of their students in their later school years by defining “Kindergarten readiness,” can also mean a smooth transition for incoming Kindergarteners, and the realization of a truly P-20 system.
As states implement the Common Core, several promising examples may be of use in aligning early education with K-12 standards:
- In January 2012, the latest draftof the Head Start- Common Core Correlation Project was released, which aligns Head Start’s Child Development and Early Learning Framework with Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten in the areas of English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics.
- The correlation project extrapolates from Common Core Kindergarten Standards the skills and experiences Head Start Students should garner in order to be prepared for the demands of formal instruction.
- Maintaining Head Start’s interdisciplinary approach to developing the “whole child,” the correlation documents outline expectations for physical development and health, social and emotional development and approaches to learning. Standards focus on developing skills such as persistence and cooperation, motor skills and behavioral self-regulation.
- Massachusetts created a curriculum framework in 2011 for English Language Arts (ELA) and literacy that includes standards for Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12.
- The Pre-Kindergarten standards were collaboratively developed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Early Education and Care, and early childhood specialists across the state.
- The Pre-Kindergarten Standards apply to four and five year old children, and emphasize an interdisciplinary approach in which conversations, informal dramatics, listening to/learning songs, poems and books and “experiences with real objects” all play a role in child development.
- Louisiana is considering legislation (SB 581) that would create a streamlined early childhood network with kindergarten-readiness standards. The Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act would raise the expectations of and standards for early childhood programs to levels that promote Kindergarten readiness and align with K-12 standards. Louisiana has had Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) in place since 2004 for Pre-K through grade 12 including:
- Benchmarks and expectations for ELA, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies to provide a strong foundation for the concepts that will be learned during the elementary years.
- Explicit instructions that children should have numerous opportunities to express ideas in a variety of ways and actively engage in observation, exploration, discovery and discussion of the world around them.
- States that won the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grants were required to develop high-quality early learning standards and describe plans to align with K-3 standards. Winners California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington each plan to align Pre-K standards with K-3.
While promising initiatives are under way, there is much work to be done in aligning early childhood education with the Common Core State Standards nationwide. However, within this challenge comes great opportunity to bring early educators to the table, define Kindergarten readiness and quality early educational experiences, and create a truly P-20 system.