A nationwide survey conducted by researchers at Yale University that focused exclusively on state-funded preschool programs finds that states can implement good, comprehensive pre-kindergarten programming, and some states are already doing a good job of promoting school readiness.(14) In the survey, states reported on characteristics of their programs, such as teacher-child ratios, class size, teacher qualifications, and parent involvement. These characteristics are widely recognized as indicators of high quality and research has shown them to be associated with positive child outcomes.(15) States also reported on their curriculum standards and comprehensive services in the eight areas mandated by Head Start: nutritious meals, vision and hearing tests, immunization, mental health services referrals, physical health services referrals, dental services referrals, family caseworkers, and home-visits. Survey data were obtained by mail and a telephone update from state-level program administrators. Data were collected initially in 1996(16) and updated in 2000.(17)
- Thirty-three states funded state preschool initiatives, showing broad interest in and dedication to funding early childhood education programs.(18)
- 77% of the 33 state-funded programs met or bettered the 1:10 teacher-child ratio for four-year-olds required by Head Start and recommended by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
- 78% of the 33 states mandated that programs serve 20 or fewer children per classroom, consistent with NAEYC recommendations and Head Start Performance Standards for class size.
- Qualifications for teachers in state-funded pre-kindergarten programs were generally more stringent than for Head Start. Fifty-five percent of the 33 states required a bachelor’s degree, most often specific to early childhood education and development. Head Start has not required a bachelor’s degree, although the Congress is currently considering this requirement. The Head Start Amendments of 1998 (42 USC 9831) require that, by September 30, 2003, at least 50 percent of all Head Start teachers nationwide in center-based programs have an AA, BA, or higher degree in early childhood education (ECE), or, if the degree is in a related field, experience teaching preschool children. The 2001-2002 Program Information Report (PIR) verifies that this requirement was met by 2002. Thirty percent of lead teachers were reported as having an ECE-related BA or graduate degree, and another 22 percent were enrolled in an ECE-related degree program.(19)
- Half of the 33 state-funded programs already mandate five of the eight Head Start comprehensive service ares (nutritious meals, vision and hearing tests, immunization, mental health services referrals, and physical health services referrals), and in addition, report having English as a Second Language services that are as comprehensive as Head Start.
- 61% of the 33 states require or encourage parental involvement, with 35% requiring parent involvement in program governance or implementation and 26% having mechanisms that encourage parent involvement. Three states already adhere to Head Start Performance Standards in this area.
- Half of the 33 state-funded pre-kindergarten programs already require or request that program providers adhere to nationally accepted guidelines for quality early childhood care and education, such as the NAEYC guidelines or the Head Start Program Performance Standards.
While not all states with pre-kindergarten programs are prepared to offer high quality early childhood education and services, the data show that most state-funded pre-kindergarten programs have characteristics that research has linked to positive child outcomes. Moreover, many state-funded pre-kindergarten programs have standards that generally meet or exceed Head Start standards, though there is limited information on whether states monitor adherence to the standards and procedures used to monitor programs.
Recent reports from Education Week(20), the American Federation of Teachers(21), and the Education Commission of the States(22) present data that show a similar picture of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. For each report, information was collected on several key indicators of program quality. The particular data collected and the methods used varied somewhat across sources. However, all involved gathering information from a state administrator, such as an early childhood specialist, who had knowledge of the program and who was given an opportunity to update the information and correct errors prior to the data being published. Compiling data across these three sources, Table 1 shows states with pre-kindergarten programs that meet at least four of six widely accepted and research-based indicators of quality. (States that provide funding exclusively through supplements to Head Start were not included.) Data were compiled across the three sources in order to obtain the most recent information available across the six indicators. However, pre-kindergarten programs are continually evolving, and thus the overall pattern of findings is more relevant than the data for any particular state program.
Table 1. State-Funded Pre-Kindergarten Programs that Meet at Least Four of Six Quality Indicators: A Compilation Across Reports