A new report from the Learning Policy Institute has examined the benefits of investments into the early childhood education system, suggesting that preschools can only reach their potential if the program is high-quality.
The brief, titled "The Building Blocks of High-Quality Early Childhood Education Programs," takes a closer look at research on programs that have shown positive results, as well as looking into the professional standards involved in an attempt to uncover the important elements of quality. Factors are considered that contribute to the creation of meaningful interactions between teacher and child.
The authors report that the findings hold particular interest for the state of California, as 493,877 of the preschool-aged children in the state currently live at or below the poverty line. Findings suggest that low-income children will especially benefit from high-quality pre-kindergarten programs. As such, it states that California would benefit from improvements made to the overall quality of the early learning system there.
Professional standards state that high-quality pre-kindergarten programs should be based on early learning standards that take into account a number of developmental domains, including academic, social-emotional, and physical, because this ensures that children are growing in all ways possible to prepare them for entering the public school system. In addition, the programs should use developmentally-appropriate curriculum with an emphasis on guided learning opportunities that are hands-on and offer lots of language examples.
According to the research, students who are deeply engaged in the content and are also creating a conceptual understanding are then better able to develop skills in other areas such as math or language development. However, in order for this to happen, the curriculum must be implemented correctly. The authors suggest strong teacher preparation programs and opportunities for in-class teacher coaching in order to increase the chances that the curriculum is effective.
The brief goes on to discuss the importance of appropriate child assessments, which take the entire child into consideration, saying that doing so will improve instruction and program planning when it is used as part of a coherent system of educational, medical, and family support services. For example, the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment that has been implemented by a number of states requires teachers to record observational data concerning the physical and social-economic development of their students as well literacy and math skills. The data is then used to track student progress and plan individualized instruction tailored to individual strengths and needs.
This and additional research is used by the authors to discuss outcomes, specifically for the state of California, which needs to determine a funding strategy for its early childhood investments. One cost model of high-quality programming suggests an estimated cost of between $8,521 per child for a 20-student class to $10,375 per child for a 15-student class when looking at a full-day, year-round program taught by a teacher that holds a bachelor's degree in early childhood education.
"Clearly states have an interest in ensuring that any investments they make enable strong outcomes that produce the desired benefits of stronger learning and school success, along with savings from reduced needs for special education, grade retention, remediation, or dropping out. As California policymakers consider ways of strengthening the state's early education system, the building blocks of high-quality early childhood education programs should be at the forefront of their minds."