Most children in the United States grow up in communities where concern for their education doesn't start until they enter the K-12 school system. Yet by that time, a vast amount of mental development has already taken place.
That's the motivating factor behind the National P-3 Institute being hosted by the University of Washington College of Education Oct. 27-30. Fifteen school systems from every corner of the country will gather to begin improving and integrating the education children receive from birth through their elementary school years.
"Our society and systems have tended to be reactive to achievement gaps," said Kristie Kauerz, a research professor and director of the National P-3 Center at UW's College of Education. "We react when we start seeing those gaps around the third grade, but we know that we can have a big influence on kids' learning trajectories if we begin to help them along the educational continuum before they reach kindergarten. We'll see much better learning outcomes if we do a better job of planning early education."
Kauerz said the conference is designed to address the two biggest problems in planning for cohesive early education: thinking about what happens before kindergarten as separate from the more formal education that begins in kindergarten, and the lack of time to thoughtfully plan.
In order to be selected for the National P-3 Institute, each state or district team had to already be actively working together on a comprehensive P-3 approach and be composed of leaders such as superintendents, chief academic officers, early learning administrators or leaders from non-profit or community-based early childhood services.
Among the teams attending the event are two from Washington, a combined team from Seattle Public Schools and the City of Seattle and a second combined team from the Lynden and Mount Baker school districts.
This year's institute will be the sixth organized by Kauerz, though the first on the West Coast. Since the first in 2008, she noted that many participating teams have successfully enhanced their early education efforts. A team from North Carolina, where early child programs had been spread across a variety of state departments, created a central early childhood office to improve coordination of the state's work. Other school districts have altered the professional development they offer to teachers, encouraging pre-kindergarten childcare providers from the community to participate in training activities alongside K-3 teachers.
"It's not just the kids we need to change," Kauerz said. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done to align, integrate and, most importantly, implement best practices from classroom to classroom and from grade to grade. We professionals need to get much better aligned with the work we're doing on behalf of kids."
Funding for the institute is being provided by the Foundation for Child Development, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications