Teachers, school chiefs and other education administrators from across the U.S. are gathered in Seattle this week to brainstorm ideas for better linking early childhood learning with the K-12 education system.
The disconnect, some education advocates say, stems from a common view that learning that happens before kindergarten is separate from a child’s “formal” education. Another problem is the lack of time to thoughtfully plan for pre-K opportunities, they say.
Kristie Kauerz, a research professor in the University of Washington College of Education and director of UW’s National P-3 Center, said schools can have a big influence on kids’ learning trajectories and achievement gaps if they can reach them before kindergarten.
“Why don’t we start doing something when kids are really little to address those achievement gaps, rather than waiting until third grade when that window of opportunity has really passed?” Kauerz said in an interview.
The UW is hosting the conference, which wraps up Thursday. The idea is to allow the 100-some school leaders in attendance to learn from each other, then try what they learned at home.
Two groups from Washington — one including members from the city of Seattle, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and Seattle Housing Authority and another from the Lynden and Mount Baker school districts in Whatcom County— are among the participants.
Cashel Toner, who oversees early learning initiatives for pre-K through grade five at SPS, said her team of district, city and Seattle Housing Authority workers has focused in part on how to make learning environments consistent for kids throughout district- and city-run pre-K programs, and consistent between pre-K and kindergarten.
The district, for example, is working with about 20 schools using a program based on Yale University research to help students, families and teachers better express their emotions and empathize with others. Toner and the other city and housing workers are considering ways pre-K providers throughout the city could offer a similar approach when talking to kids and families.
The gathering is not the first of its kind, but it is the first on the West Coast.
Previous conferences organized by Kauerz and hosted at Harvard University have had far-reaching impacts on early learning. Since the first conference in 2008, North Carolina has started a new early childhood learning office to organize early education statewide, Kauerz said. New Jersey began offering new training for elementary school principals on early childhood development and best teaching practices. Some 800 principals there took part. Other districts have encouraged childcare providers in their communities to attend training with grade school teachers.
The conference is paid for in part by the Foundation for Child Development, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation.