New resources to help districts smooth transition from pre-K to kindergarten

Research has long linked student participation in high-quality pre-K programs to increased college attendance rates, higher levels of academic achievement, improved cognitive and social-emotional development and the ability to better adjust to different social environments.

Participation in average or low-quality programs, meanwhile, has been shown to have short-lived benefits or none at all.

As students move from pre-K to kindergarten, other studies show that strong transitional activities provide academic gains for low- and middle-income children, as well as pre-K and kindergarten teacher perceptions of children’s social skills and behavior.

Now, New America, a nonprofit think tank out of Washington, D.C., has released two reports to provide district and school leaders with strategies to improve the transition of children into kindergarten and to start them on the right foot.

The first report highlights a handful of schools and districts across the country that serve as examples of best practices in easing the transition into kindergarten for families and students — including for children not enrolled in preschool. The second explains state, federal and other funding streams that districts can use to support transition efforts.

More funding, better programs

Schools serving large numbers of students from low-income families are less likely to provide kindergarten transition activities than wealthier schools, according to Aaron Loewenberg, author of Moving into Kindergarten: How Schools and Districts are Connecting the Steps for Children and Families. That means the students and families most likely to benefit from transitions, such as individually meeting with teachers prior to the first day of school, are the least likely to receive them.

By tapping into available local and federal funding resources, districts can improve their kindergarten transition efforts to better ensure that those students most in need of early education interventions receive them.

“Because of the historic divide between early learning and the formal K–12 school system, it will require long-term effort and resources to truly establish a system that ensures students and families transition into a kindergarten classroom that will provide a high-quality learning experience starting on the very first day of school,” wrote Loewenberg and Laura Bornfreund, author of Using Local, State, and Federal Dollars to Improve Pre-K Transitions. “While increased and more predictable funding for early education are certainly needed, using the funding streams available in a strategic way to support better transitions and alignment will be a big help in creating the seamless educational experience that young students need, one which will also support families.”

Funding sources available at every level

Not all transition activities provide optimal benefits. According to Bornfreund, sending informational packets home to help prepare families for kindergarten are common, but not as beneficial for children and families as visits to kindergarten classrooms, for instance, or joint planning time and data sharing among pre-K and kindergarten teachers.

To improve outreach, the report highlights how states have successfully leveraged funding provided through federal programs (the Child Care & Development Block Grant; Preschool Development Grant, Birth through Five; Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge; and more) as well as some state-level revenue sources to strengthen early-learning transitions.

Researchers suggest districts could use the funding to, among other things:

  • Develop strategies needed to encourage collaboration across pre-K and kindergarten, to share information and data, and to align discipline approaches, instruction, environments, curricula and other areas as needed;
  • Take steps to ensure children can transition into kindergarten at the elementary school parents have chosen for pre-K by establishing feeder relationships and agreements with other community-based pre-K programs within a school’s attendance zone; and
  • Create opportunities to build elementary school principal knowledge of early childhood education and how to support preK–3rd teachers through avenues such as principal professional development

For additional information on the importance of early childhood programs, check out CSBA’s latest brief.