For this edition of Quality Counts, the Commentary editors reached out to researchers and a policymaker, all of whom are known for their work in early-childhood education. These four contributors were asked:
What’s a research concern that we still need answered about early-childhood education?
What follows is Laura Bornfreund’s response to this question. See more responses.
From birth through age 8, children are building foundational knowledge in academic subject areas and developing key habits, mindsets, and skills to help bolster their success later in school and in life. Around the end of 3rd grade, children transition to really using and applying that key knowledge and those essential skills. But too many policymakers and education leaders focus on “early childhood” as if it ends at school entry and begins just a couple of years before.
This notion is reflected in significant attention on pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. But we need more attention on how to improve the quality of infant-toddler care and the K-3 grades—and how to connect both ends to pre-K.
While the ample research on child development, small-scale interventions, and brain science has told us a great deal about what children need from birth through 3rd grade, it hasn’t always made its way into policy and practice. Take research, for example, that says learning how to pay attention and persist at a challenging task is as important as learning how to read and do math. Or that young children need opportunities to learn through exploration and guided play. High-quality pre-K classrooms exhibit these kinds of environments, but they are much less common in 1st grade, where classes too often more closely resemble those for 5th graders than those serving pre-K students.
So we need to better connect research to what’s actually happening in classrooms and to ensure pre-K-3 and birth-through-3rd-grade initiatives reflect those critical needs. To be sure what works actually gets implemented well, in a recent report my colleagues and I say that publicly funded research should include tools used in implementation science, as well as greater understanding of how to coordinate and connect children’s transitions and experiences from the infant-toddler years to pre-K and into kindergarten and each grade thereafter.