Good preschools are important, but preschools aligned with the first four grades of elementary school can be even more powerful because a PreK-3rd system can give students a strong start and foundation for success. Today, both Seattle and San Francisco are building these foundations.
As the city of Seattle prepares to launch its pilot preschool program this fall, it’s working with the school district to align its preschools with kindergarten, first, second and third grade. Its PreK-3rd alignment plan calls for shared professional development between preschool and kindergarten teachers, kindergarten readiness systems and other coordination.
This work reflects what is happening 800 miles away in the San Francisco Unified School District. Over the last six years, the district has been developing an ambitious project that aligns curricula, assessments, professional development, and classroom layouts within a PreK-3rd approach. Its overall goal is to help narrow the district’s stubborn achievement gap by rethinking and revising its approach from preschool through the early grades of elementary school. The story is told in a case study released this week by The New America Foundation, “The Power of a Good Idea: How the San Francisco School District is Building a PreK-3rd Grade Bridge.” (Full disclosure, I wrote the case study.)
One of the striking similarities between the two efforts is a focus on data sharing, such as student assessments, between preschool and kindergarten teachers to create smoother transitions for students. It’s not a coincidence that work in the two cities are similar. Teams from each city have visited the other to learn about PreK-3rd strategies and successes.
Washington state is home to plenty of PreK-3rd success, including the city of Bremerton’s coordination of preschool and child care with its public school system, a model PreK-3rd program at South Shore PK-8 in Seattle and the ongoing work by the Road Map Project to create PreK-3rd systems as part of broader education reform in South King County.
There is also plenty to learn in San Francisco.
One of the greatest lessons from that school district’s effort is that aligning preschool with K-3 can be a grind, but it has the potential for big payoffs, not simply in higher test scores and academic progress in elementary school, but in sustained achievement later.
Seattle’s PreK-3rd architects have been watching and learning from San Francisco. They are, for example, focusing on aligning professional development at elementary schools with preschool programs. They also are including a focus on social-emotional development across the PreK-3rd spectrum, which echoes work in San Francisco.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from San Francisco’s drive for PreK-3rd alignment, though, is its balance of the patience that sustains this effective education reform, and a sense of urgency that drives it. Carla Bryant, San Francisco’s early education director, sums this up in what she describes as her Katrina moments:
When Early Education Chief Carla Bryant arrives at district headquarters in the morning she often has one of her Katrina moments, a palpable fear that the district cannot let any more children fall behind as it aligns its earliest grades, the way many people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a response was organized. “We don’t leave that child out there to drown while we teach everybody how to be lifeguards,” Bryant says. Then she reaches her office door where she has taped an anonymous motto: “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” — “The Power of a Good Idea: How the San Francisco School District is Building a PreK-3rd Grade Bridge.” New America Foundation/Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund. 6/24/15.
Both Seattle and San Francisco appear committed to sustaining and driving their PreK-3rd reforms.