A Comprehensive Approach to Early Education

Focusing on the youngest students, from preschool to third grade, readies them for long-term success.

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By Gail Zellman and  M. Rebecca Kilburn for US News and World Report

For many children, kindergarten is an exciting time that marks the beginning of their path to educational success. But too many begin school with deficits – in language, social and pre-math skills – that often persist throughout their educational careers. A relatively new approach to improving long-term educational outcomes, called “preschool to third grade,” or P-3, focuses on the youngest students. The goal of this approach is to ensure that children enter kindergarten with the skills they need to learn there and to create learning environments from pre-K through third grade that strengthen these skills and support learning. Research has shown that third-grade skill levels are important predictors of later academic and workforce success.

Some of these initiatives are more comprehensive than others. However, most emphasize greater access to high-quality pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; support for the transition from pre-K to kindergarten; alignment of curriculum, standards and assessment from pre-K to grade three; training for pre-K to third-grade teachers that focuses on child development and child-centered learning approaches; instructional practices that support an individual child’s learning and social and emotional development; parent engagement in learning; and use of data for quality improvement and accountability.

While the preschool to third-grade approach is intuitively appealing – and some components of it have previously been implemented in a variety of local communities – studies to determine whether these initiatives produce improved academic skills had not been done until recently. A five-year preschool to third grade initiative implemented by  Hawaii’s P-20 Partnership for Education is the first to include a comprehensive set of components that comprise the new model and to rigorously evaluate its effects on third-grade reading scores.

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