Northwestern University Professor Cynthia Coburn has received one-year, $70,000 grant to study the way schools can create stronger and more seamless connections between preschool and elementary school.
Early childhood education and K-12 education have historically been housed in separate buildings and on different campuses. Even when students gather under the same roof, policies, teachers and curriculum are frequently disconnected.
With the grant, Coburn and her team will analyze data from two California school districts that have spearheaded changes to help children transition more easily from prekindergarten through the elementary grades.
For example, one district has established single-site leadership for schools that include prekindergarten – fifth grade, meaning the principal is in charge of both the prekindergarten and the elementary school. Often each has different leadership.
It also has developed a repertoire of professional development strategies that bring together prekindergarten, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten teachers.
The researchers will focus on math because the disconnect between prekindergarten and elementary school may be especially acute, said Coburn, an organizational sociologist who studies policy implementation.
“Prekindergarten and elementary teachers are typically more comfortable, familiar with and spend more time teaching literacy than mathematics,” Coburn said. “The mathematics disconnect between pre-K and early elementary school can compromise student learning and hinder the gains children made in preschool.”
The grant, “Fostering Prekindergarten – 3 Alignment and Continuity in Two California School Districts” was provided by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, via a subcontract from Stanford University’s DREME Network.
Coburn studies the relationship between instructional policy and teachers' classroom practices in urban schools. She focuses on looking at how research can improve reform efforts.
In 2015 Coburn was named a fellow to the American Educational Research Association (AERA). She received the Early Career Award from the AERA in 2011 for her contributions to the field of educational research. She earned her doctorate from Stanford University.
Coburn is a faculty member in the Learning Sciences program in the School of Education and Social Policy, which founded the nation's first Learning Sciences doctoral program in 1991. In 2016, the School of Education and Social Policy launched the first undergraduate Learning Sciences major in the world.