“Building and Supporting an Aligned System:
A Vision for Transforming Education Across the Pre-K-Grade Three Years”

Executive Summary

The impact of high-quality early learning experiences is well established, particularly for children at risk for underachievement. Yet by and large, communities, states, and the country as a whole have made only marginal strides in creating and supporting an infrastructure that provides all children and families with access to these crucial early learning opportunities that are so vital to our nation’s education, civic, and economic prosperity.

In the fall of 2010, the NAESP Foundation and the ING Foundation convened a task force of leading researchers, policymakers, community organizers, and practitioners to examine strategies for building an aligned system for early learning. Recognizing that principals are increasingly responsible for young children in preschool, as well as kindergarten and the early grades, the Foundation charged the task force with looking across the entire early learning landscape to better inform the work of principals and other stakeholders.

The Vision

“Building and Supporting an Aligned System” describes a standards-based and well-resourced pre-K-3 system in which all children and families have access to high-quality learning and care. Policy, funding, and practice are aligned to provide communities with the necessary infrastructure to ensure positive early learning experiences. Programs are based on a strong foundation of evidence and data. Teachers and leaders are trained, compensated, and supported in the classroom. And expectations for children and for educators include all aspects of early childhood development and learning, rather than only subjects addressed in standardized achievement tests.


The Steps

To achieve this vision, the task force recommends 10 action steps for policymakers and other stakeholders:

  1. Better integrate and align federal policy, regulation, and funding to enable states and communities to build a coherent system of early learning from pre-K through third grade.
  2. Coordinate and streamline state and local governance.
  3. Expand funding for pre-kindergarten through third grade learning to ensure that all children—particularly the most at-risk children—have access to high-quality, full-day learning experiences.
  4. Ensure that funding for the full continuum of pre-K through third grade learning is directed to programs of high quality.
  5. Leverage and integrate private funding with public resources.
  6. Create an aligned continuum of research-based, age-appropriate standards for young children that include a focus on social, emotional, cognitive, language, and physical development, and creative learning, as well as school-related skills.
  7. Develop and support an effective, well-compensated work force with high-quality teacher and administrator preparation programs, professional development, and continuing education. These educators should be versed in the full continuum of early childhood education.
  8. Develop and administer age-appropriate assessments that include both formative and summative evaluations to help guide teaching and learning and to inform program effectiveness.
  9. Develop state and local longitudinal data systems that include pre-K student and program information.
  10. Evaluate models of early learning integration and alignment through research. As communities, state leaders, and federal policymakers struggle with the most challenging economic outlook in nearly 80 years, the task force urges stakeholders to invest in building a strong early learning continuum now to ensure a generation of successful learners, workers, and citizens.


The Call:

The need for states and communities to build an aligned system that supports children and youths from birth to career is clear. To that end, the task force urges policymakers and stakeholders to unite in an effort to break down the silos and co-construct the comprehensive, cohesive pre-K-3 system that our children need and deserve.