Website Helps Arizona Parents Navigate Pre-School Choices

The school choice movement might have opened more education options to students, but it has also created a lot of additional work for parents. This is as true in Arizona as in other states that have embraced school choice, but at least parents in AZ will now get a bit of help. They will be able to turn to a new website operated by First Things First – Arizona's early childhood education program – where they can get all the information they need to make the right decision about which pre-school option is best for their child.

The website, called Quality First, will not only serve as an information portal for parents. It will also offer tools to child care providers to help them better structure their programs to help students better prepare for their academic careers.

First Things First, created by voters in 2006 and funded by a tax on cigarettes, contributes to early-childhood education services around Arizona.

While Quality First is a new tool to aid parents, the Arizona Department of Education has had Early Learning Standards in effect since 2003 to promote quality early-childhood education.

"No matter where your child goes, we need to make sure they are experiencing quality interaction and quality engagement," said Amy Corriveau, deputy associate superintendent for early childhood education and Head Start state collaboration director.

Nicole Tropp, writing for the Cronkite News Service, explains that the creation of Quality First was an acknowledgment that parents are the best arbiters of what works for their kids. As assistant professor at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Wendy Oakes points out, families know their children best and will continue to serve as "their most important teachers" even as kids progress through the education system.

"Even when children are in care outside of their homes by an early childhood educator or caretaker, parents should be partners with their care providers," Oakes said. "Many families do need to rely on out of home care and trust caregivers to keep their child safe and nurture the child's development, and so the relationship between the parent and care provider is essential."

Barbara Swaby, an education professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, said providers of early-childhood education offer an academic base and socialization opportunity for children as well as a guide for parents.

"The relationship between the parent and the educator should be a coming together, working together for the best academic good of the child," she said.

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