Every Student Succeeds Act: Early Childhood Education

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

The ESSA Act requires documentation of “the strategies that the school will be implementing to address school needs, including a description of how such strategies will . . . address the needs of all children in the school, but particularly the needs of those at risk of not meeting the challenging State academic standards, through activities which may include . . . strategies for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood education programs to local elementary school programs” (pp. 68–69).

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –Benjamin Franklin

The Every Student Succeeds Act reaffirms the country’s commitment to young learners. Although some research indicates that the kindergarten readiness achievement gap is lessening between children from low- and high-income families, the importance of preparing preschoolers for kindergarten remains a top priority for teachers and parents across the nation. ESSA acknowledges the need for high-quality preschool programs, outlines funding allotments and guidelines, and highlights the benefit of a smooth transition for preschoolers into kindergarten. Read more about the Early Learning Initiatives here.

According to ESSA Section 1114, if Title I funds are used to support preschool programs, then the school district plans must include a description of how the funding is used, specifically addressing how the district supports the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Also, the preschool program and/or services must comply with the performance standards laid out in the Head Start Act.

Vertical Alignment and Collaboration

Vertical alignment is an idea that most educators are familiar with: First-grade teachers share expectations with kindergarten teachers, second-grade teachers discuss what students should know by August with first-grade teachers, and so on. ESSA requires communication and collaboration between preschool programs and the school district. The focus on improving kindergarten readiness and supporting the preschool to kindergarten transition is a key point of the legislation. The idea is multi-faceted and holds many potential benefits, including:

  • Identifying and minimizing gaps in student learning by increasing communication between preschool and kindergarten teachers.
  • Increasing parent involvement and advocacy for their child by helping them to understand the transition.
  • Supporting students’ academic, emotional, and social needs as they transition.

Kindergarten Transition

The transition into kindergarten can be a tough one for children, parents, and sometimes teachers. Students enter kindergarten with so many varied experiences—some have been in daycare and preschool their whole life, and some have never been separated from a parent or family member. Many enter with knowledge of the alphabet and numbers, but there are also children who have never had any instruction or exposure to academic subjects. Regardless of background experiences, even simply learning to line up and sit down when asked can be a struggle.

Here are some ways to support the transition for students into kindergarten:

  • Connect preschool families with free book programs (like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program or visit Reading Rockets for more options) to engage kids with books.
  • Set up transition meetings with the preschool and kindergarten teachers, and support staff like counselors and nurses, to answer questions and establish expectations for families.
  • Establish a way for student preschool records to precede the student, giving the kindergarten teacher a running start at knowing academic (and sometimes social) needs before the school year begins.
  • Provide training for preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and support personnel on social and emotional needs specific to this transition.
  • Arrange kindergarten “play dates” over the summer for incoming kindergarteners and families to meet teachers, administration, support staff, and other kindergarteners.
  • Partner with local businesses and foundations to put together summer learning kits with crayons, paper, books, and other school supplies for the incoming kindergarteners to use over the summer.
  • Write and distribute a Tips for Families packet with helpful hints for parents and family members as they support their child through this transition.

Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  • What do you or your district staff do to support the preschool to kindergarten transition?
  • In your experience, what are other potential benefits of supporting this transition?

Resources

Bassok, D., Finch, J. E., Lee, R., Reardon, S. F., & Waldfogel, J. (2016). Socioeconomic gaps in early childhood experiences: 1998 to 2010. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–22.

Reardon, S. F., & Portilla, X. A. (2016). Recent trends in income, racial, and ethnic school readiness gaps at kindergarten entry. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–18.

Ridzi, F., Sylvia, M., Qiao, X., & Craig, J. (2017). The Imagination Library Program and kindergarten readiness: Evaluating the impact of monthly book distribution. Journal of Applied Social Science, 11(1), 11–24.

Dr. Caroline Courter, NBCT, is a Curriculum Specialist at Age of Learning, Inc. and an adjunct faculty member in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Policy Committee.

 

A Huge Year for Learning for Students and Teacher Alike

Becky and Addi picRebecca Rushmore has taught Kindergarten this year on a temporary contract at Hickory Elementary, part of the Avon Community School Corporation which is near Indianapolis, Indiana. She is applying for elementary teaching jobs for next fall in anticipation of another year of growth and learning. Between her graduation with a degree in elementary education from Purdue University and her first teaching position this year, she was a manager at Radio Shack and worked in veterinary practice. Her daughter started Kindergarten this year, so the two of them have had fun comparing what they’ve done each day and each week throughout the year. She wrote today’s blog for National Kindergarten Day.

As teachers we have all had “the first year of teaching.” The one where some days you wonder if this is really all worth it. Is it worth it to spend so much time at school and away from my family preparing for the next lesson, the next week, or the next observation? But then two days later you wonder how and why you ever did anything else before teaching.

Rebecca's official school picture

Rebecca’s official school picture

But really, this has been a wonderful first year of teaching for so many reasons. For one, my mentor, another kindergarten teacher, has been beyond wonderful in so many ways! She is always there to encourage me when I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, and she is there to push me when she knows I need it. She has resources for anything and everything. And she is a great listener who offers advice for my difficulties.

But my favorite part of my first year of teacher is my kindergarteners. They are amazing and are changing so fast in so many ways! The week before Spring Break was one of those great “Ah-Ha” weeks for me. We were working on writing in class, and with report cards having just come out a couple weeks before, I knew where most of my students were with their writing level. But I also knew that I had some students who were on the bubble of achieving the next level with their writing. So I did what I have been afraid to do all school year with their writing: I pushed them for more – more details, more sentences, and more information. And it was incredible! Some of my students who I didn’t think were ready to move to the next level of writing completely blew me away! And those who I knew were ready did even better than I expected. It was so rewarding!

It was a week where I really started to realize how much kindergarteners change throughout the school year. They come in to school at such different stages. Some of them are more than ready. They know half the sight words already, can count to 100, and know their letters and numbers forwards and backwards. But some of them come in to kindergarten with no previous structure, having never been away from their parents, and with no knowledge of letters or how they make words. But yet, they are all expected to know the same things when they leave kindergarten, including addition and how to write basic sentences. And it is my job as a kindergarten teacher to guide them through their journey. It is such a huge year for students to learn and develop and change. And it is so important for them to build upon.

And then I realized what a huge year it has been for me as a new teacher, to learn and grow and develop and change. And a year for me to build upon no matter where I teach or what grade level I teach after this.