SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza with students.

The month of June marked transitions for many of our students, but few more so than the very youngest. This month, thousands of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds completed their first years of formal education in San Francisco Unified. Research suggests they will be significantly better prepared to succeed in school because of their high-quality preschool experience.

What these children don’t know – and it should be invisible to them – is that they are on the leading edge of our district’s strategy to align pre-K–3rd grade instruction. Our goal with this approach is to shrink a stubborn achievement gap by aligning primary school teaching to a formerly separate pre-K system. If we are going to bridge the gap, we have to start earlier, and that early work must be connected and coherent with the work in the grades that follow.

Initial signs suggest the impacts of our shift to pre-K–3 will be felt by these children next year and beyond in a number of important ways – from their sense of comfort and self-confidence in the classroom, to their familiarity with books and other printed matter, to their early understanding of the concepts of quantity and relative size, to their negotiating skills on the playground. This year, the percentage of district pre-K graduates who were ready for kindergarten was 43 percent, up from 18 percent in the 2012–13 school year.

Recently New America, a nonprofit policy organization based in Washington, D.C., published a case study (“The Power of a Good Idea: How the San Francisco School District is Building a PreK-3rd Grade Bridge“) that tells the story of the hard work that went into this transformative shift. The study details the steps – and the commitment and patience – required to achieve this change in district systems, practice and culture, including:

  • Coordinating often-confusing federal, state and local funding streams;
  • Bringing pre-K programs under the authority of elementary school principals;
  • Collaborating with teachers and their union representatives on necessary scheduling and other adjustments;
  • Aligning curriculum and targeting professional development for teachers across the four grade levels;
  • Elevating early childhood administrative leadership to the superintendent’s cabinet level; and
  • Building data systems and kindergarten readiness measures from scratch.

Together, these measurements gave teachers, principals and administrators snapshots of how classrooms were performing, where students were and were not developing, and where to focus instruction.

The New America study reminds us why we committed to this work in the first place. We now know, from decades of long-term research in the fields of education, health and economics, that early education is one of the smartest and most effective public investments we can make. Done well, it reduces the need for special education placements and grade retention, increases high school graduation rates and earnings in adulthood, and reduces crime and incarceration. These are important benefits to students and the communities where they live. These benefits represent savings to taxpayers, too.

We also had good evidence from other school districts nationally that have seen significant reductions in achievement gaps after implementation of well-conceived pre-K–3 alignment.

San Francisco Unified did not embark on this pre-K–3 transformation alone. We had essential implementation, funding and thought partners in First 5 San Francisco, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Miriam and Peter Haas Fund, Stanford University and others. But the investment of the district’s own resources, beginning during the height of California’s recession, was both paramount and carefully considered.

The payoff is evident at Drew Elementary, located in Bayview, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Pre-K–3 teachers there are collaborating and communicating regularly, with an especially strong partnership between the pre-K and kindergarten teachers. They engage in joint professional development and work closely to align their teaching. Kindergarten teachers tell us that, more than ever before, the students in their classrooms who had pre-K the prior year are ready to learn to read.

In many ways, the hard work has just begun. To gain a clear view of student achievement in pre-K and kindergarten, our educators needed multiple sources of data. Stanford researchers developed kindergarten readiness measurements that give teachers, principals and administrators snapshots of students’ literacy, math, social-emotional and other skills based on teacher observations. These measurements help guide where to focus instruction. We also continue to tailor professional development and cross-grade teacher collaboration to fit the new structure. We are learning as we go.

We know there are no easy answers to challenges in large urban school systems. But with support from our school board, teachers and community partners, SFUSD’s pre-K–3 strategy has charted a path to real and lasting change, and that is worth celebrating.

•••

Richard Carranza is Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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  1. Terri Morris 1 year ago1 year ago

    I am a Kindergarten teacher and feel very strongly that we need to find a way to get preschool into our school systems. We also need it to be free for parents. The only draw back would be that it would probably need to be all day. This way every child that walks over my threshold on the first day of school has a great chance at succeeding all through school and not dropping … Read More

    I am a Kindergarten teacher and feel very strongly that we need to find a way to get preschool into our school systems. We also need it to be free for parents. The only draw back would be that it would probably need to be all day. This way every child that walks over my threshold on the first day of school has a great chance at succeeding all through school and not dropping out. I have had students that didn’t have preschool and didn’t know how to hold a pencil or a crayon. Having these instruments in their hands is the first steps to learning. We need to start a movement or I am afraid the gap is going to get larger. If I can join a group that is going for this please let me know, I am for it, I just didn’t know how to get it started.

  2. TONY PEREZ 1 year ago1 year ago

    I support 100%. I like what SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza is investing with pre-K–3 students.

  3. Concerned parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    If a school district has the monies, OK preschool is nice and it can front load and get children for their flight pathmtomfirst grade…sure…

    I say find ways to offer full day kindergarten instead of half days.

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    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      SF went from half day to full day for Kindergarten. I'd say it wasn't a big difference. Getting kids memorizing sight words by flash words, doing basic reading and counting to 100, and getting used to being away from their parents and in an educational environment at age 3 or 4 is probably a more valuable expenditure of money. Both are ideal. There is some difference and it allows for more … Read More

      SF went from half day to full day for Kindergarten. I’d say it wasn’t a big difference. Getting kids memorizing sight words by flash words, doing basic reading and counting to 100, and getting used to being away from their parents and in an educational environment at age 3 or 4 is probably a more valuable expenditure of money. Both are ideal. There is some difference and it allows for more play, but the biggest key is teaching kids to study with diligence and intensity and prioritizing reading and studying over TV as a core habit, being focused on achievement from a young age.

  4. Pilar Mejia 1 year ago1 year ago

    I appreciate that SFUSD is trying to "close the gap" but where is the research for what they are doing? What I have observed is that many years ago Kinder became nothing more than prep for 1st grade (not research based and developmentally inappropriate and frustrating for many children). There is little, if any play allowed. Now it is happening in PreK. In SFUSD, K students are taught to write paragraphs...or else! If you want … Read More

    I appreciate that SFUSD is trying to “close the gap” but where is the research for what they are doing?

    What I have observed is that many years ago Kinder became nothing more than prep for 1st grade (not research based and developmentally inappropriate and frustrating for many children). There is little, if any play allowed.

    Now it is happening in PreK. In SFUSD, K students are taught to write paragraphs…or else! If you want more info about this, go observe or contact me.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

      Pilar, Kindergarteners get 2 recesses and about an hour for art projects, plus often play games and have story time. They are by no means constantly working. They also mostly play at home. The idea behind pre-K I've seen isn't to entirely eliminate play but by contrast to make certain the entire day isn't pay. If you could get 2 hours a day of serious flashcards, math, writing and reading you'd … Read More

      Pilar, Kindergarteners get 2 recesses and about an hour for art projects, plus often play games and have story time. They are by no means constantly working. They also mostly play at home. The idea behind pre-K I’ve seen isn’t to entirely eliminate play but by contrast to make certain the entire day isn’t pay. If you could get 2 hours a day of serious flashcards, math, writing and reading you’d be way better than most Pre-K Programs I have seen. The reason behind this is that Asians are the gold standard for parenting and academic achievement in California and research shows 60% send their kids to Kindergarten having learned basic reading and writing and math, vs. 16% of whites, and that leads to 13.8 hours studied vs. 5.6 for whites in middle and high school and 33.5 percent making a UC vs. 8.7 for whites. Studies show Latino kids and white kids are already behind by age 2, and by 3d grade the gap is so large it is rarely bridged in a lifetime. If you want to solve the achievement gap problem, more early education is the way to go. Even if you improve instruction dramatically, that will make it better for all kids so it won’t reduce the gap. To reduce the gap, parents need to step up and do flashcards with their kids and teach their kids to base their sense of self-esteem and pride on academic ability more than inherent physical or artistic or athletic beauty, or style, personality, etc. Children by middle school spend over 40 hours a week playing games and watching TV because they find school boring by then because no one taught them the wonders and joy of reading and intellectual exploration. We have to internalize certain attitudes early or it becomes too late. This is a basic tenet of human development and child psychology. We internalize attitudes at a young age which we carry with us for an entire lifetime.

  5. Edwin Ferran 1 year ago1 year ago

    While creating smoother transitions for children between the pre-school and K-12 systems makes good sense (as long as its done in developmentally appropriate ways that do not force feed the academic model downward and earlier in each child's life), if one's goal is to truly have an effect on the achievement gap then it will be too little, too late. What we know now from the latest science on child brain development shows that … Read More

    While creating smoother transitions for children between the pre-school and K-12 systems makes good sense (as long as its done in developmentally appropriate ways that do not force feed the academic model downward and earlier in each child’s life), if one’s goal is to truly have an effect on the achievement gap then it will be too little, too late. What we know now from the latest science on child brain development shows that the foundations for literacy and learning are pretty much established by the time a child is 18 months old. The toxic effects of chronic stress that children in poverty experience also create biological changes in the brain that act to create incredible barriers to learning that last a lifetime. Also, by the time poor children reach the preschool environment they have been exposed to thousands of fewer words than their more well-off peers.
    To really have a measurable effect we need to start way earlier, at the prenatal stage even, giving parents-to-be the knowledge, tools, resources, and supports needed for them to provide the healthy, nurturing environments that young children need to thrive.
    A good start would be to have every school administrator, teacher, etc., read the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University’s ‘InBrief’ series that clearly lays out this science in simple terms. See: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index.php/resources/briefs/inbrief_series/inbrief_the_science_of_ecd/

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  6. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    Mr. Carranza, when you refer to aligning "instruction" does that include directed play, story time, and other developmentally appropriate activities or are you talking about academics as in learning how to sight read? Can you give us an idea of the curriculum that is presented to 3 and 4 year old children in your bridge program or refer us to sources that do? As you know, at such tender ages developmental differences are … Read More

    Mr. Carranza, when you refer to aligning “instruction” does that include directed play, story time, and other developmentally appropriate activities or are you talking about academics as in learning how to sight read? Can you give us an idea of the curriculum that is presented to 3 and 4 year old children in your bridge program or refer us to sources that do? As you know, at such tender ages developmental differences are dramatic. Using the example of my own son, when circle time and directed activities came around he was totally unable to participate due to what was later revealed to be ADHD. Pressed fruitlessly to comply, this “instruction” was entirely counterproductive and were solutions to problems that didn’t exist except in the minds of those pre-school practitioners who believed that 3 and 4 year olds should learn how to read. This is in contrast to my own efforts at reading aloud to him which were more focused on listening followed by talking/inquiry around a story. Are the pre-K students of the bridge program in fact engaged in formal reading instruction?

    I want to acknowledge that your article was much more measured than the study which claimed you’re closing the achievement gap. As a proponent of Common Core, your success is locked into the SBAC for better or worse. Let’s see what it reveals when the results come in.

  7. Darla Williams 1 year ago1 year ago

    I love the article and the concept. As a pre-k teacher I’ve been doing this for years; talking to and collaborating with kindergarten teachers to help the transition from pre-k to kindergarten easier for the student, socially and academically.

  8. Jim Mordecai 1 year ago1 year ago

    Danger of this approach is what has happened with 1st grade curriculum being new Kindergarten. Will SF's school reform result in the new pre-school being the old 1st grade curriculum? Will preschool to 1st grade become data driven instruction with developmentally appropriate curriculum left behind? Will preschoolers get a head start with feeling they are not up to standard of success? Play with these questions. But, take note that … Read More

    Danger of this approach is what has happened with 1st grade curriculum being new Kindergarten. Will SF’s school reform result in the new pre-school being the old 1st grade curriculum? Will preschool to 1st grade become data driven instruction with developmentally appropriate curriculum left behind? Will preschoolers get a head start with feeling they are not up to standard of success?

    Play with these questions. But, take note that play is often not valued by curriculum reformers when these reforms to close the performance gap between zip code/economic classes is ventured.

    Replies

    • Don 1 year ago1 year ago

      Good point, Jim. Given the District's gung ho Common Core stance, cancelling honors math middle school for example, I suspect that CCSS will be drilled down to 3 year olds. Now I understand that LEAs have no choice but to implement CCSS, but Superintendents don't work for the State and neither do they have to be point men or women for the high stakes testing/reform movement in the current reincarnation that is Common Core. They … Read More

      Good point, Jim. Given the District’s gung ho Common Core stance, cancelling honors math middle school for example, I suspect that CCSS will be drilled down to 3 year olds. Now I understand that LEAs have no choice but to implement CCSS, but Superintendents don’t work for the State and neither do they have to be point men or women for the high stakes testing/reform movement in the current reincarnation that is Common Core. They could take a patient “wait and see’ position. But Superintendent Carranza is a big CC fan and has gone in both barrels cocked. So that probably answers your question.

      Moving on – in the Building a Bridge Executive Summary it says:

      “It (SFUSD) boasted the highest academic performance of any large
      urban district in California, yet its achievement gap was
      widening, as too many African American, Latino, and
      low-income students fell far behind their classmates.”

      Boasted is the operative word. For years on end SFUSD told the public it was highest performing urban district. What it didn’t tell the public was that the ONLY reason SFUSD had (past tense) the highest API was the unusual demographic of a very large Asian population. In fact, without that SFUSD would likely have one of the lowest APIs among urban districts in the state. In other words, SFUSD wasn’t doing something right for that honor, but they were willing to accept it anyway because it made good copy. In fact, they were just lucky to have so many diligent Chinese kids. Moreover, these kids actually underperformed Asians statewide. Though the author does mention the widening achievement gap, hemanages to put in the old plug for SFUSD anyway.

      A few paragraphs later it says:

      “This is the story of how the district began narrowing
      the gap by rethinking its approach to teaching and
      learning in pre-K, kindergarten, and the early grades
      of elementary school.”

      What proof does the author have to make this claim? Kindergarten readiness? The latest 2013 STAR data doesn’t support this contention dating back to 2008 and it’s highly unlikely that the data soon to be released will support it either. Is this just another plug for a program the authors want to promote? It reminds me a great deal of the bluster around the School Improvement Grants and the Superintendent Zones, two coinciding initiatives that were billed as successes despite their lackluster performances in the main. Now we have the PreK- 3 bridge and more bluster. There’s a difference between good intentions and actual results. But why bother.

      Now, look, I’m not opposed to these reform and I support aligning PreK with kinder. It totally makes sense, though I have the same concerns as Jim when it comes to providing developmentally appropriate curriculum, particularly in light of the lack of it in Common Core. I’d just like to read something real once in a while,not some pumped up, hyped rendition. I want to see actual results from these efforts, like the results the Asian kids posted to which SFUSD leadership used to make themselves out as heroes rather than the kids who did the heavy lifting… Actual results before the “study” deems it a success.

      And by the way, SFUSD shouldn’t align itself with NAF which is one of the few organizations, maybe the only one to give the crank anti-semite Max Blumenthal a mouthpiece in order to spew his debunked brand of anti-Israeli propaganda and Jew hatred. And, yes, he’s the son of Sidney of the Hillary email scandal fame. New America calls itself a non partisan organization, but it probably has more Obama access than any think tank with Gates money and a State Department grant to boot. Don’t tell me it isn’t a vehicle for Common Core implementation.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        Don is right. Hey Carranza, why not teach all parents how Asians dominate scholastic performance and encourage them all to put as much time and effort into child raising? Parent education would go a long way. Even poor Asians excel in school. 60% teach their kids to read before Kindergarten. 16% of whites do. You see what works in front of you in this district, let's get all parents … Read More

        Don is right. Hey Carranza, why not teach all parents how Asians dominate scholastic performance and encourage them all to put as much time and effort into child raising? Parent education would go a long way. Even poor Asians excel in school. 60% teach their kids to read before Kindergarten. 16% of whites do. You see what works in front of you in this district, let’s get all parents to do this. Then we’ll have no gap and no poverty in the next generation.

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