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January 2018

Ask A REL Question:

What does research say about alignment, collaboration, and coordination between early learning programs (e.g., Head Start, state-funded Pre-K, IDEA Part C, Title I Pre-K) and local educational agencies to ultimately ensure successful transition from early learning and help children become school ready?


Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding early learning programs and local education agencies. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. We identified only two resources that addressed the question, and one is in an international context. Other relevant studies may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Ryan, S., Whitebook, M., Kipnis, F., & Sakai, L. (2011). Professional development needs of directors leading in a mixed service delivery preschool system. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 13(1).
    From the abstract: “This paper reports on an interview study with directors of Head Start and child care programs who are collaborating with local education authorities to provide publicly funded preschool in New Jersey, USA. A standardized interview protocol was utilized with 98 directors chosen to represent a range of center types from across the three main regions of the state. Interviews were conducted over the phone. The study examined the kinds of preparation that these directors received for their work as program leaders, the areas that these directors identified as strengths and weaknesses, and the kinds of professional development that they perceived as necessary to perform their jobs well. Results indicate that given the wide range of qualifications and work experiences among directors in this mixed service delivery system, targeted professional development focusing on both administration and early childhood content is needed. These findings suggest that policy makers and administrators of preschool programs should conduct needs assessments of their preschool directors and school leaders to ensure that professional development opportunities address different levels of experience and expertise appropriate for leaders working in these systems. Because of the complexity of leading programs with mixed sources of funding and policy mandates, it is also suggested that competencies be articulated for preschool leaders and that institutions of higher education develop early childhood leadership preparation programs.”
  2. White, J., Connelly, G., Thompson, L., & Wilson, P. (2013). Assessing wellbeing at school entry using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: Professional perspectives. Educational Research, 55(1), 87-98.
    From the abstract: “Background: Emotional and behavioural disorders in early childhood are related to poorer academic attainment and school engagement, and difficulties already evident at the point of starting school can affect a child's later social and academic development. Successful transfer from pre-school settings to primary education is helped by communication between pre-school staff and primary school teachers. Typically, in Scotland, pre-school establishments prepare individual profiles of children before they start school around the age of five years, highlighting their strengths and development needs, for transfer to primary schools. There is, however, no consistent approach to the identification of potential social, emotional and behavioural problems. In 2010, in one local authority area in Scotland, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was introduced for children about to start school as a routine, structured, component of the transition process to help teachers plan support arrangements for classes and individual children. The SDQ assesses emotional, conduct, hyperactivity/ inattention and peer-relationship problems as well as pro-social behaviour. In order to be an effective means of communicating social and emotional functioning, the use of instruments such as the SDQ needs to be practicable. Finding out the views of pre-school education staff with experience of assessing children using the SDQ was, therefore, essential to establish its future utility. Aim: The purpose of this study was to explore the views of pre-school education staff about assessing social and emotional wellbeing of children at school entry using the SDQ. The objectives were to examine the opinions of pre-school workers about completing the SDQ and to elicit their thoughts on the value of doing this and their perceptions of the usefulness of the information collected. Method: Pre-school establishments were approached using a purposive sampling strategy in order to achieve a mix of local authority (n=14) and "partnership" establishments (n=8) as well as different socio-economic areas. Semi-structured interviews (n=25) were conducted with pre-school head teachers (n=14) and child development officers (n=11) in order to explore the process of completing the SDQ along with perceptions of its value. The interviews were transcribed "verbatim" and analysed thematically. Results: In general, staff in pre-school establishments viewed the use of the SDQ positively. It was seen as a chance to highlight the social and emotional development of children rather than just their academic or educational ability. Most felt that the SDQ had not identified anything they did not already know about a child. A minority, nevertheless, suggested that a previously unrecognised potential difficulty was brought to light, most commonly emotional problems. Completing the SDQ was felt to be relatively straightforward even though the staff felt under pressure from competing priorities. Concerns were, however, raised about the potential of labelling a child at an early stage of formal education. Conclusion: The findings from this small scale study suggest that, from the point of view of pre-school education staff, it is feasible to assess children systematically for social and behavioural problems as part of the routine transition process at school entry.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Build Initiative:
    From the website: “The BUILD Initiative works with early childhood leaders within states and nationally to better prepare young children to thrive and succeed. We support state leaders from both the private and public sectors as they work to set policy, offer services and advocate for children from birth to age five. Specifically, the BUILD Initiative helps state leaders develop an early childhood system – programs, services and policies tailored to the needs of the state’s unique young child population. This work focuses on connecting programs and services that may have functioned in isolation, been redundant, lacked resources to meet critical needs and/or operated at cross-purposes.”
  • Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO):
    From the website: “One of 22 Comprehensive Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) will strengthen the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to lead sustained improvements in early learning opportunities and outcomes. CEELO will work in partnership with SEAs, state and local early childhood leaders, and other federal and national technical assistance (TA) providers to promote innovation and accountability.”
  • Leadership to Integrate the Learning Continuum (LINC):
    From the website: “The LINC initiative, funded by the McCormick Foundation, is focused on supporting educators and educational stakeholders to develop and nurture a seamless P-12 learning continuum focused on developing the whole child and families. The intended outcome of this initiative is to develop and implement policies and practices that address the missing links in creating a learning continuum to support the whole child from birth to beyond and the role that early childhood and K-12 school leaders play in their efforts to collaborate with families, support agencies, and community and state stakeholders to provide high quality learning and developmental opportunities for all children.”

Search Strings. Agency collaboration and early childhood transition OR early learning alignment and district OR early childhood agency alignment OR early childhood agency coordination OR district and early childhood collaboration OR district and early childhood coordination

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google Scholar)

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

REL Mid-Atlantic serves the education needs of Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This Ask A REL was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0006 by Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic administered by Mathematica Policy Research. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.