- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The nation’s state-funded preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds are mostly “low quality” and do not provide a good education for children, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) is a nonpartisan unit of Rutgers University in New Jersey, which supports early childhood education policy by providing objective nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and other donors.

“Children who attend high-quality preschool programs gain experiences that can dramatically change their lives for the better, … yet few programs exist of the quality necessary to bring about the benefits promised by research,” according to the first comprehensive study of taxpayer-funded pre-kindergarten programs in 38 states.

W. Steven Barnett, the institute’s director at Rutgers University, said about 700,000 children enrolled in publicly funded preschools “are not guaranteed access to high-quality programs.”

“State programs are failing the nation’s children,” he said.

“Low-quality standards and funding levels in most states mean too many kids will start school ill-prepared to succeed or even to behave,” Mr. Barnett said. “That hurts those kids and all the other kids in their classrooms. States need to do more.”

Problems also include inadequate teacher qualifications, classes that are too large, poor curriculum, failure to give health screenings to children, lack of parental involvement and failure of preschools to meet other important “benchmarks” at a very minimal level, Mr. Barnett said.

“They are not high bars,” he said of the benchmarks. “We expect that most states should be able to meet them.”

“Although no state met all 10 benchmarks for state quality standards, three state programs met nine out of 10 — Arkansas, Illinois and New Jersey’s Abbott District program,” the study reported.

Mr. Barnett said Head Start programs “have the same problems of inadequate access and funding, and low-quality standards.”

The study said Head Start serves more than 900,000 children nationally, but leaves out four of ten 3- and 4-year-olds from families below the poverty line and doesn’t serve a significant number of children from other low- and moderate-income families.

The study did not review private preschool programs, which have more than half the nation’s preschool enrollment, because data were unavailable, Mr. Barnett said.

Only Georgia and Oklahoma seek to provide universal access to state-funded preschools and have more than half their 4-year-olds enrolled, he said.

Seven other states enrolled more than 20 percent of their 4-year-olds in 2001-02. They were Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

Total state spending for pre-kindergarten programs exceeded $2.4 billion in 2001-02, with 10 states accounting for 83 percent of taxpayer funding. The average cost per child was $3,429.

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