Early education should be integral part of elementary schools, foundation says

Preschool programs should be integral parts of elementary schools with comparable funding levels and school hours; child-care professionals should be trained as teachers, not babysitters; and state data systems should include information about early education, according to a blueprint for speeding up improvements in early education.

The report published Wednesday by the non-partisan New America Foundation includes wide-ranging policy recommendations for the future of early learning, spanning academic standards, teacher training, assessments, funding and evaluations that emphasize how well teachers interact with children.

“A strong start requires much more than just a year of pre-K, especially for children with multiple risk factors,” said the report.

It builds on an earlier study that found mixed results for early education, despite an infusion of enthusiasm in recent years, including President Obama’s proposal for universal preschool and a new wave of philanthropy, advocacy and research.

The recommendations include some familiar ideas and some surprising ones.

Here are a few:

*Strive for a new model of primary school that starts earlier. For example, some school districts have pre-K-to-3 schools, or link schools to child-care programs for infants and toddlers so they can provide more thoughtful transitions.

*Replace state K-5 teacher licenses with two licences, one that starts at birth or preschool and goes to third grade and another that starts at third grade and extends through middle school, to better reflect the developmental needs of children in these age groups.

*Expand the National Assessment for Educational Progress, a nationally administered test, so that it’s first administered in first grade, not fourth. “Students’ long-term struggles with reading start early — poor readers at the end of first grade have a one in 10 chance of ever catching up,” the report said.

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Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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