We know that setting the foundation for student achievement begins early, even before the child sets foot into a public school setting. Recent research on early brain development has shown that from birth to five years, children’s brains build the foundation for academic, emotional, and social functioning for the rest of their lives. The research also highlights the importance of high-quality early learning experiences to ensure that children are ready for kindergarten and that cognitive gains may ‘fade out’ if not followed through aligned and integrated experiences in the early elementary years (Kauerz, 2006).
At the core of this problem is the disconnect that occurs because of a lack of communication and partnership between educators in early learning care -- whether it be in home-, center-, or school-based early childhood experiences -- and the K-12 school system. Little if any research exists that focuses on the extent in which elementary schools coordinate students' Pre-K experiences with pedagogical approaches in the elementary years(Bogard and Takanishi, 2005), nor with the role of early childhood and K-12 leaders in aligning this approach. This requires particular attention as quality leadership is an essential component of any school reform efforts directed at improving student achievement (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004; NCSL Task Force on School Leadership, 2002; Peterson & Finn, 1985). From this perspective is the critical problem: early childhood and K-12 school leaders’ lack of awareness, training, and practice in providing instructional leadership that bridges the divide between early learning and creates a continuous aligned learning system aimed at the how children learn and develop best.
Recognizing this problem, the McCormick Foundation granted funding to researchers at the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University to identify the current state of the alignment in the early childhood (including home-, center-, and school-based) and K-12 sectors in Illinois, primarily uncovering the gaps in the birth and beyond learning continuum.