Integration Between Pre-K and K-3 Programs Needs to be Strengthened, Princeton-Brookings Journal Finds

Oct 26 2016
By Staff
Source Woodrow Wilson School

High-quality pre-K programs can indeed play an important role in improving later outcomes for children, particularly for children from more disadvantaged families, according to evidence presented in the latest issue of Future of Children, a joint-publication of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

However, there is a lack of integration between pre-K and K–3 programs, the journal reveals. Because learning is cumulative, each level within the educational must build seamlessly on the previous one.

The fall 2016 issue, “Starting Early: Education from Prekindergarten to Third Grade,” takes a fresh look at the evidence for prekindergarten’s effectiveness, its role in setting the foundation for later academic learning and its integration with K–3 education — and what policymakers might do to both to strengthen preschool education and to ensure that children retain its benefits through the early elementary grades.

Key findings from the issue include the following:

  • There is a lack of integration. Pre-K and K–3 programs seem to exist in separate silos. For example, educational preparation, compensation and professional development look very different for preschool teachers than they do for the elementary school teaching workforce, with preschool teachers at a disadvantage in every respect. We must start considering the education of young children to be part of the educational system and integrating it with elementary and secondary education. Because learning is cumulative, our educational system — including prekindergarten — will be most effective only when each level builds seamlessly on the previous one.
  • Quality is crucial, and teacher-student interactions are key. Ensuring that children learn in high-quality classrooms throughout the pre-K–3 years is important in many ways, from reinforcing the gains children make in prekindergarten to helping young English language learners succeed. The key indicator of quality in early childhood classrooms is teacher-student interactions that are characterized by teachers’ sensitivity to individual needs, support for positive behavior and stimulation of language and cognitive development. However, we still don’t know the best way to prepare teachers to deliver high-quality interactions and learning in their classrooms. And taking high-quality programs to scale has proved difficult to accomplish.           
  • Children can learn more. All three articles that examine aspects of curricula — literacy; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and executive function — conclude that young children are capable of learning more than we currently teach them. Such content can be delivered in many ways. In each case, we have curricula and practices whose efficacy has been clearly demonstrated — if teachers receive the training and professional development to use them well.

There are 10 articles in this issue that examine:

  • the efficacy of prekindergarten in both the short term and the long run;
  • the economic benefits of pre-K programs into adolescence and adulthood, compared to their costs;
  • the development and evaluation of curricula focusing on several areas of learning—literacy, mathematics and science, and attention and behavioral regulation;
  • the ingredients of a quality learning experience, and the education, training, and compensation of teachers;
  • successful practices for teaching young children with special needs;
  • how best to teach English language learners; and
  • the effectiveness of integrating parenting programs into pre-K–3 education.

The fall 2016 issue was edited by Cecilia Rouse, dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Columbia University; and Lisa Markman-Pithers, associate director of Princeton’s Education Research Section.

Princeton and the Brookings Institution will release the latest Future of Children issue at an Oct. 26 event in Washington, D.C., titled, “Trouble in the Land of Early Childhood Education?” 

At the event, journal co-editor Brooks-Gunn will present an overview of the volume, and Ron Haskins of Brookings will review a policy brief about the controversy caused by a recent evaluation of Tennessee’s pre-K program. Following these presentations, a panel of experts will discuss the implications of the Tennessee results for preschool policy and research.


The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. For more information on The Future of Children, click here.