Apr 8, 2024

Elevating Early Learning: Sarah McClusky's Take on Two Recent Developments in the Field

Sarah McClusky
A small group of early learners

Dr. Sarah McClusky is a member of the Capacity Building Team at the National Comprehensive Center (NCC). She has worked in the field of early learning/early childhood for the past 20 years, initially entering the field as a first-grade teacher. Prior to joining the NCC, Dr. McClusky was an Assistant Professor of Education in an early education teacher preparation program, and before that, an Assistant Director at Ohio Department of Education in the Office of Early Learning and School Readiness. Below, she weighs in on two recent developments and their implications for the field of early learning.

1. The intentional use of language to underscore that early experiences matter.

Recently, there has been a noticeable and purposeful increase in the use of the term “early learning” over “early childhood.” While this might seem like semantics, it really is much more as it underscores the critical point that early academic experiences in grades K–2 are just as important as those in later grades.  Moreover, the intentional use of the term “early learning” serves to elevate the critical nature of learning in the early grades, thereby elevating the workforce and, eventually, supporting recruitment and retention of highly qualified early educators.

2. An emphasis on transition support that will result in more equitable opportunities.

In September, the U.S. Department of Education introduced a new multi-state Community of Practice: Kindergarten as a Sturdy Bridge. This Community of Practice was focused on supporting the transition to and from kindergarten through collaboration and connection, an area of real need as early learning governance and funding structures are complex and vary by state. Focus is given to the kindergarten year serving as a sturdy bridge to improve the quality of transitions between the early years (birth to kindergarten) and early grades (grades 1–2). This initiative is exciting because it highlights the need for collaboration across agencies serving young children—agencies that may or may not have collaborated in the past. When these agencies begin to collaborate, students will experience more equitable and high-quality access to opportunities and outcomes. Smooth transitions across agencies shouldn’t be reserved for students whose families have the resources to effectively manage the transition on their own.


These are important and highly meaningful advances for the field of early learning; and, as we continue into 2024, it will be exciting to see all that is ahead.