Over the past few years researchers, policymakers, and practitioners have become increasingly supportive of “preschool — third grade alignment.” The concept refers to the range of policies and practices designed to put children from birth to age eight on a positive developmental pathway that takes what they have learned in preschool and builds on it through the early elementary grades. This shift in the early childhood field reflects growing evidence that investments in preschool may be critical but insufficient to close persistent achievement gaps in the longer-term.
As the early childhood field moves towards creating more integrated educational systems, MDRC is engaged in two large-scale multiyear projects to build rigorous evidence about the promise of alignment between preschool and elementary school for sustaining early gains in learning. In Expanding Children’s Early Learning from P-3 (ExCEL P3), MDRC is working with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Department of Early Childhood, the University of Michigan, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education to describe and evaluate a district-wide curriculum and professional development model to align instruction from preschool to second grade. In Making Pre-K Count/High 5s (MPC/High 5s) MDRC (in partnership with Robin Hood) is working with the University of Michigan and the University of Denver to evaluate and inform work on a curriculum that aligns math instructional practices across preschool and kindergarten. Both projects will provide new information about whether and how aligned educational experiences improve children’s outcomes as they move through their early school years. In this brief, we review the state of knowledge that is informing this work and highlight how our current research will add new insight to this critical aspect of early education policy and programming.