By the Book: Approaches to Curriculum in State Pre-K Programs

June 28, 2010

There is no simple answer to the question of what, and how, preschoolers should be taught. The 51 state-funded preschool programs profiled in The State of Preschool 2009 Yearbook present a wide range of program interests and state priorities, and this continues to be true in the realm of curriculum.

Thirty-three prekindergarten programs in 26 states have no state-approved comprehensive curricula. Of the states with approved comprehensive curricula, most give programs a number of options to choose from; each program with approved curricula offers at least two curriculum options. Some well-known curricula are more
widely used than others. Of the 18 programs specifying comprehensive curriculum, all programs allow the use Creative Curriculum and all but two have approved HighScope. Additionally, seven programs allow the use of Montessori; seven use Curiosity Corner; five use Bank Street; four allow High Reach; three use Tools of the Mind; and one program allows the use of Reggio Emilia. Eleven programs offer other alternative curriculum options.

Fewer states make provision for subject-specific preschool curriculum; only five programs have state-approved subject-specific curricula. Rather than mandating the use of a particular curriculum as seen with comprehensive curricula, most programs with approved curricula require aligning them with state standards or require a focus on particular domains.

To see the state-approved curriculum policies in your state, click on the image below. For complete information on state-funded prekindergarten programs, see the 2009 Yearbook Interactive Database.

For more information about preschool curricula please refer to the NIEER policy brief Preschool Curriculum Decision Making: Dimensions to Consider by Ellen Frede and Debra J. Ackerman. Below is a checklist from the brief of things to consider when selecting a curriculum:

1. How does the curriculum define the roles of the teacher and the child in the learning process?
2. What domains of learning are addressed? Are they integrated or treated separately? Will the curriculum lead to achievement of state early learning standards?
3. Does the curriculum provide guidance for differentiating teaching for students with special behavior, linguistic, or learning needs?
4. Do the curriculum’s developers provide an assessment system that is consistent with the teaching philosophy and learning content?
5. What research evidence exists to support the value or effectiveness of the curriculum?
6. Is the curriculum appropriate for all teachers, regardless of their qualifications? What kind of professional development is provided?
7. Are specific materials required to implement the curriculum?
8. Does the curriculum model provide guidance for such services as parent involvement and the transition to kindergarten?

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER
– Dale Epstein, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

Yearbook Curriculum Data

Getting Child Care Right

June 22, 2010

Related Reading

Child Care Today: Getting It Right for Everyone
Penelope Leach
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
New York
350 pp., ISBN 978-1-4000-4256-2

Parents in need of child care are faced with many important decisions. To whom are they willing to entrust their children while they are away? How much of the day and what part of the week will children spend in child care? Which type of setting best meets their needs? How much of the family budget can and should be spent? Some parents will select from a broad menu of choices, including in-home care by another family member, enrolling in a child care center, or even hiring a private nanny. Others, due to circumstances such as poverty and geography, will have many fewer options. Regardless of their specific circumstances, many parents will struggle in choosing the right child care option for their families.

Even though child care is a fact of life for most families with young children, Penelope Leach emphasizes that “nothing about child care choices is simple or obvious….” (p. 58). In this book, Leach offers a wide-ranging overview of the current landscape of child care, with a particular emphasis on the United States and the United Kingdom. As a key researcher for the large-scale Families, Children and Child Care (FCCC) study in the U.K. and as author of the well-known Your Baby & Child, she is well qualified to succeed at that ambitious goal. This hefty volume is primarily geared toward making parents and the general public more aware of the nuances of child care and the options that may be possible for today’s families.

Leach organizes her book around four major issues, each represented by its own section: the status of child care today, the types of care that are available, the importance of quality, and how the future of child care might look. Since the sections are reasonably self-contained, readers have the option of focusing on topics that are of greatest interest, although the book as a whole makes for compelling reading.

Leach begins by highlighting societal changes that have shaped our current need for child care. Though parents’ (and especially mothers’) lifestyles and work schedules have evolved over time, children below a certain age will always need constant care. This can lead to complex balancing acts. A parent seeking a return to the workforce must arrange for child care that meets the family’s standards of quality while not costing more than the new job brings in. Grandparents and free or low-cost public options may not be readily available. Families must be comfortable with leaving their children in the care of others – sometimes for significant portions of the day – and be able to accept the tradeoffs between work and home life.

With this context established, Leach offers individual research-based summaries of what is known about different types of child care. These helpful chapters address home care by various types of family members and non-family caregivers, as well as more formalized care in child care centers and schools. She also provides overviews of the critical issue of child care quality from the perspectives of researchers, parents, and children. These perspectives are of course part of the difficult calculus in selecting a child care provider. For example, parents’ real-life child care choices may not reflect the features of child care that parents rate as most important, and types of preferred child care arrangements may differ by the age of the child. Leach wraps up her summary of quality by identifying important features of a high-quality child care setting as well as tips on what to avoid.

This book is particularly relevant because in order to get child care right, there is much more hard work that still needs to be done. Parents, child care providers, and governments all bear responsibility for their part in this work. Leach favors national models that have secure funding and integrate both care and education. One possible model is the “social investment state” in which parental self-sufficiency is key but public funding of early care and education is viewed as an important investment in global competitiveness. Leach concludes with a powerful statement on the status of child care today and a guidepost for the future: “Right now, scarcity of child-friendly attitudes throughout the English-speaking world weighs even more heavily against high-quality child care than scarcity of financial or other resources. We can do better.” (p. 297).

Reviewed by Jason Hustedt
Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

What are State Programs Doing to Engage Pre-K Families?

June 16, 2010

Policies directed at encouraging family engagement continue to be of interest for the field as policymakers, researchers and advocates look for ways to improve early childhood education programs and child outcomes. The State of Preschool 2009 Yearbook collected data on family engagement activities in state-funded prekindergarten programs. Programs were asked about required engagement activities, as well oversight and monitoring of these activities.

Nine programs (out of 51) have no family engagement requirement at the state level, while 18 programs (35 percent) allow for locally determined family engagement activities. There is significant variability among the 24 programs (in 22 states) that do specify a family engagement requirement at the state level. Some programs require a wide variety of activities, ranging from newsletters to family workshops and classes to participation in parent advisory committees; other programs require only one family engagement activity. Four programs follow federal Head Start Performance Standards for their family engagement requirements.

The majority of states do not have personnel responsible for overseeing family engagement policies for their state initiative. Among programs that mandate specific activities or allow for local discretion in family engagement, 26 programs indicated that there is a state-level official responsible for overseeing these policies. Responsibility for overseeing these policies generally falls to the state’s department of education or an early childhood division within the department.

At least four programs conduct a separate evaluation of family engagement policies, while 26 programs monitor family engagement within a larger evaluation of the program or through some other evaluative method. Twenty-one initiatives do not monitor family engagement policies; 14 of these programs have family engagement requirements but do not monitor the provision of these activities at the state level.

To see the family engagement requirements in your state, click on the image below. For complete information on state-funded prekindergarten programs, see the 2009 Yearbook Interactive Database.

– Megan Carolan, Policy Research Coordinator, NIEER
– Dale Epstein, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

Yearbook Family Engagement Data

Enhancing Policy and Practice for Young Dual Language Learners: What Does the Research Base Look Like?

June 7, 2010

It’s critically important that more and better data on English Language Learners (ELLs) be collected so the early childhood field can move ahead with much-needed analyses that can help inform policy on a number of fronts. NIEER’s compilation of state efforts to collect data on the ELL population and support of ELLs is a welcome development. As language issues continue to assume a higher profile in the field, it’s also important to bring together in one place a comprehensive look at the extant research base and develop recommendations for developing data going forward.

I recently co-presented on the topic of ELLs at the NAEYC Professional Development Institute in Phoenix with Dr. Eugene García, NIEER Scientific Advisory Board member and vice president of Arizona State University, specifically on the research base for policy and practice for young dual language learners (DLLs). Drawing from our book Developing the Research Agenda for Young English Language Learners, which will be released at the end of June by Teachers College Press, we provided syntheses of the literature for young ELLs on critical topics such as demographics, development of bilingualism, cognitive and neurological benefits of bilingualism, and family relationships, as well as classroom, assessment, and teacher-preparation practices. Participants discussed the policy implications of the research such as:

1. Fund and establish quality data systems to provide information on who is being served and under what conditions and what the gaps are.

2. Form early learning councils in local communities to plan coherent provision of services and recruit underserved families, especially those of limited English proficiency.

3. Require bilingual education program improvement plans to ensure that programs assess their provision of service for DLLs and use that to improve.

4. Increase provision of high-quality dual language preschool.

  • Fund more and conveniently located high-quality preschool so that all families have access.
  • Improve systematic dual-language programming using:
    • Two-way immersion side-by-side classrooms,
    • Two- way immersion rotating times of day,
    • Push-in home language instruction (daily “specials” teacher).

5. Educate and hire qualified bilingual staff by recruiting and providing incentives for bilingual individuals to obtain early childhood education qualifications or by providing training in the home language of the children to the existing workforce.

6. Provide pre-service and in-service education on dual language acquisition and effective teaching practices for DLLs.

7. Support language minority family engagement and encourage parents to support home language use and read books in the home language.

8. Implement appropriate assessment measures that assess the knowledge base of the child (not just English proficiency), are validated for use with the DLL population, and lead to improved teaching.

We would appreciate it if you could take the time to review the entire power point presentation and give us your thoughts so we may continue the discussion begun at the conference.

– Ellen Frede, Co-Director, NIEER

Does State Pre-K Effectively Serve English Language Learners?

June 4, 2010

As the population of young children changes, there has been an increase in research focusing on English Language Learners (ELLs). For The State of Preschool 2009 yearbook, data were collected on the number of ELLs in state-funded prekindergarten programs, support services for ELLs and their families, and whether or not programs identify having non-English speaking family members as a risk factor for eligibility.

Twenty-four out of 38 states (63 percent) with state-funded prekindergarten initiatives were able to report the number of ELL students in their programs. Of these states, Texas reported the largest number of ELLs enrolled in their pre-K program with more than 85,000 children, while West Virginia reported having only 26 ELLs enrolled. To see the other state-funded programs that were able to report ELL enrollment, click on the image below.

During the 2008-2009 school year, 17 pre-K programs identify having non-English speaking family members as a risk factor used – in addition to income status – to determine eligibility. In addition, 31 pre-K initiatives in 24 states have at least one support service for ELLs and their families. Examples of these support services include permitting bilingual classes in pre-K, presenting information to parents in their primary language, or having translators available if children do not speak English. Nineteen initiatives in 16 states have policies that do not regulate services for ELLs.

For complete information on state-funded preschool programs, go to the 2009 Yearbook Interactive Database.

— Dale J. Epstein
Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

Yearbook ELL Data

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