In a recent commentary at the National Journal’s Next America, I explained the need to focus on improving K-2nd grade, as a subset of the early education continuum. While pre-K has gain broad attention and grades 3-12 have long been the focus of education reform, the early grades of elementary school are largely ignored.

In my piece, I call attention to the need for elementary schools and early grade teachers to have better information about children’s pre-K experiences, the lack of availability of full-day kindergarten for all children, the fact that many early grade teachers do not have the skills and expertise they need to work with young children, and the limit coordination between pre-K and K-3.

I also put forth a few ideas on where districts, states, and the federal government should focus their investments:

If the goal is to build on children’s pre-K and other early childhood experiences and ensure that they are able to read and do math at grade level by the end of third grade, then more focus is sorely needed on improving children’s transition from pre-K into elementary school and on the quality of teaching and learning environments in pre-kindergarten through third grades.

States need to improve the quality of teacher and principal preparation programs, requiring them to give teachers and leaders solid grounding in how young children develop and learn best. Districts need to help connect schools with pre-K programs operating in the same area. Schools should support opportunities across pre-K and the early grades for joint professional development, data sharing and developing a common understanding of expectations for learning across the continuum. States need to require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, so that every child has access to a more equitable and enriching kindergarten experience. And the federal government should offer incentives to states and school districts that commit to doing these and other activities to help improve children’s learning outcomes in all the early grades.

This work becomes even more essential as the population of low-income childrendual-language learners, and children of color expands. Sometime in the next five years, children of color—with standard and special learning needs—will make up the majority of the nation’s young child population. Unfortunately, they are also the students least likely to have access to high-quality pre-K programs or elementary schools.

Read the entire piece here.

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

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Laura Bornfreund is deputy director for New America's Early Education Initiative. Before joining New America, Ms. Bornfreund consulted for a number of education policy organizations including the Forum for Education & Democracy, Institute for Educational Leadership, and Common Core. She began her career as a 4th grade teacher. Ms. Bornfreund holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida.