by Graciela Borsato, Stanford University
Early childhood education enjoys bipartisan public support, and for good reason. Children who attend high-quality preschool are better prepared for kindergarten than children who do not. And while all children benefit from preschool, low-income children and children designated as dual language learners experience greater preschool learning gains than their more economically advantaged and English-proficient peers. In other words, high-quality preschool education is a critical lever for reducing early opportunity gaps.
Yet we also know that if we want the effects of quality preschool to persist, we need to look at what comes after. We cannot expect preschool gains to last unless followed by high-quality instruction in elementary school.
In addition to consistent high-quality instruction, policy makers, educators, and researchers are paying increasing attention to the need for alignment(also referred to as continuityor coherence) between preschool and elementary school education. Many districts across the country are implementing preK–3 initiatives designed to ensure high-quality AND coherent learning experiences for young children. This interest in alignment springs from concerns about the detrimental influence on student learning of disconnects between preschool and elementary curricula, assessments, instructional strategies, and teacher professional development. These misalignments, some educational experts argue, contribute to the fade out of preschool effects.
Increasing understanding of learning trajectories, or developmental progressions, in core subject areas including math, English language development, literacy, and science, also provides impetus to preK–3 alignment efforts. Armed with knowledge of how students acquire increasingly sophisticated levels of thinking to reach a learning goal, teachers can target instruction to promote children’s growth from one level to the next.  Sequencing curriculum and instruction to match typical learning trajectories helps children connect with and build upon what they learned previously, which we know from cognitive science facilitates further learning. 
While there are good reasons to anticipate that children would benefit from seamless educational experiences, systematic research on alignment is scarce and offers limited guidance as to what needs to be aligned, what are effective alignment strategies, and what are factors that facilitate or hinder alignment.
One of DREME’s projects, Preschool Through Elementary School Coherence (COHERE) is working to address that gap by studying the efforts of two urban California school districts, Almond Valley Unified and Cypress Unified,  to connect math educational experiences from preK through the early elementary grades. The study follows children over time and is ongoing, but we recently published a set of findings describing the districts’ approaches to fostering preK to elementary math alignment based on data we collected during the 2016–17 school year. We found similarities and differences in the ways Almond Valley and Cypress Unified pursued the goal of alignment. For example,
For a detailed account of preK–elementary alignment strategies at the two districts and implications of our findings for district leaders, state policy makers, and funders, please access our full report by following this link: Fostering Pre-K to Elementary Alignment and Continuity in Urban School Districts: Challenges and Possibilities.
COHERE research is ongoing, and ultimately our goal is to study the extent to which the districts’ alignment efforts are accompanied by changes in teacher instruction and student learning. Check back often for upcoming findings, or sign up to receive periodic updateson the research and resources of the DREME Network.
Graciela Borsato, PhD, is the Managing Director of the DREME Network and a member of the COHERE research team.
 Clements D. H., Sarama J. (2010). Learning trajectories in early mathematics – Sequences of acquisition and teaching. In R. E. Tremblay, M. Boivin, & R. D. Peters (Eds.), Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/numeracy/according-experts/learning-trajectories-early-mathematics-sequences-acquisition-and
 Stipek, D., Clements, D., Coburn, C., Franke, M., & Farran, D. (2017). PK–3: What does it mean for instruction? Social Policy Report, 30(2). https://dreme.stanford.edu/publications/pk-3-what-does-it-mean-instruction
 District names are pseudonyms