Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A comment on universal pre-K

As the graduate student who presented on Early Child Education, it is obvious that I think your post is right on target! Early education is an important addition to the public school system (or funding system in general). First, parents (especially low-income and working-class parents) may have difficulty finding and affording supervision for their children. Second, a child's early years are an opportunity to decrease the disparities between high and low SES students. Because these disparities are seen even before entry into traditional public schooling, and because we may "harvest" the benefits of early education for longer periods of time (Heckman, 2004), we should be pushing for federal, state and local initiatives that make early childhood education a priority. Unfortunately, traditional ideas about who should care for children (i.e. Why should the "government" take care of children?)seem to impede progress towards making quality early childhood education available to all families.
One note of caution, however: It may not be true that *any* type of childcare is beneficial for children. There has been an extensive amount of research showing that only *quality* early childcare can have these positive developmental impacts on children's social, emotional and academic functioning. In fact, some studies find that lower quality care may have detrimental influences on development such as weaker reading and academic skills (i.e. NICHD ECCRN, 1999). Vandell & Wolfe (2000) discuss some of the indicators of quality care. These include, but are not limited to, low child-adult ratios, small class sizes, formal education/training for teachers, adequate health and safety provisions within the site, warm interactions with caregivers and peers, using age-appropriate materials, and involvement in language reasoning experiences, motor activities and creative activities. Obviously, the list is extensive! This may be the reason that most early childcare and education offered in the U.S. is of fair to poor quality (see Vandell & Wolfe, 2000).

In other words, not only do we need to advocate for early child care, but *quality* early childhood education. Interestingly, a government initiative that almost reached fruition in 1971 included both these features. The Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971 called for universal funding for early child care and after-school care. It also included quality requirements and a focus on children in poverty. The comprehensive bill was certainly ahead of its time, and it was passed by both the House and the Senate. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by Nixon! If you’re interested, you should definitely take a look at this act and compare it to the segmented system we have now. My how things could have been different!


No comments: