Tying Early Childhood Education More Closely to Schooling: Promise, Perils and Practical Problems

Jan. 01, 2013

Source: Teacher College Record, Volume 115, No. 1, January 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author uses the framework of prek-3rd as a vehicle for exploring the implications of more closely linking Early Childhood Education (ECE) and schooling, focusing especially on philosophical and practical issues raised by this objective.
He will examine the reasoning of proponents and raise questions about their assumptions.


The broad goal of prek-3rd is to encapsulate formal learning experiences in the 3–8 years age period and create a distinct, coherent whole out of them.
The prek-3rd posits a heterogeneous population of children moving up through a matrix of diverse learning and developmental tasks at different rates.

The prek-3rd proponents argue that educators have to ask who children are, where they come from, and whom and what they are attached to.
Teachers would have to be sensitive to children’s emotional security, individualized patterns of mastery and times frames for growth, and the interaction among domains.
Educators are encouraged to consider equally a child’s developmental profile, his or her experiences, and the nature of institutional demands.

Prek-3rd is being promoted in a societal context with many countervailing pressures.
These include growing standardization of expectations for children’s knowledge and skill throughout the age 3–8 years period, intensifying academic pressures and a push to organize learning around high-stakes standardized tests.


A child development orientation gives the school some responsibility to attend to the full range of developmental tasks of the age period.
It encourages educators’ attention to the classroom as a community and on the need to work to foster a psychologically safe, well-regulated classroom environment with predictable routines, clear norms, and shared responsibility.
Hence, teachers would have to be prepared, supported, and recognized for attending to a variety of tasks that get little attention in prescribed, often commercial, curricula.

The prek-3rd will require a variety of policy and substantive supports.
It will require working partnerships—and formal links—between diverse early childhood providers and the schools that their children transition into, and sometimes between a pre-k program inside a school and its larger school community.


The example of prek-3rd suggests that there are many positive aspects to the idea of bringing ECE and early schooling closer together.
These aspects include an extended time frame for holding on to a developmental orientation; a complex view of the child and sensitivity to individual differences; the longitudinal perspective on learning and mastery; the balance in attention to teaching and learning; and the broadened time frame for considering the transition to school.
Initiatives like prek-3rd will provide one more opening for downward pressures on early childhood providers.
The needs of schools are just too powerful and end up overwhelming the identity of institutional partners.

Ultimately, the risk in binding ECE and schooling more closely together derives from a set of related cultural problems.
The first can best be described as losing the present to the future—the very problem with school readiness as the central goal of ECE.
The second problem is a misunderstanding of the processes at the heart of child development.
Children are not raw human capital to be carefully developed through schooling to meet the demands of a globalized labor force.
Americans urgently have to rethink how they wish to account for children, the virtues that are important to nurture, and the role of adult institutions in the process.

The last part of the cultural problem is about losing what remains of civic spaces to the market.
We need a distinct ECE because we cannot afford the loss of another institution that expresses and nurtures such nonmarket values as sense of community, empathy, and the importance of diversity to a healthy society.

Updated: Aug. 04, 2014