- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

MIAMI - Politicians and educators agree that pre-kindergarten classes are a positive step, but there still are big questions such as how to do it and how to fund it.

Republican Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, Judy Martz of Montana and Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan met at Walt Disney World in central Florida last month to discuss ways of funding it. Twenty-four states were represented at the workshop.

Forty-two states provide some kind of preschool operation, although only a handful try to serve all their 4-year-olds.

A report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that state participation has helped pre-kindergarten education, which essentially began with the federal Head Start program in 1965.

The Department of Education is completing a comprehensive study in six states trying to find out the best ways to operate pre-kindergarten programs.

The study in California, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and New York is being conducted by the National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) at the University of North Carolina.

It covers programs for 4-year-olds that are fully or partially funded by state education agencies and are operated in schools under the direction of those agencies or local auspices.

Researchers from the Universities of North Carolina, California and Virginia studied 960 children in 340 classes in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. The youngsters entered the first grade in the fall.

“It’s the first study to include extensive classroom observations, child assessments and kindergarten follow-up,” the NCEDL says.

“I hope it will result in more attention focused on state-funded pre-kindergarten and help them do a better job,” said Donna Bryant, the co-principal investigator with Dick Clifford.

She said each state tends to have its way of doing things. She said the study addresses three policy issues:

• Where programs should be conducted — in schools or elsewhere?

cDoes teacher education matter? Some programs require a college degree, and some don’t.

• The length of the day. Some programs are half-day and some are full day. Does it matter?

“We’ve found a great diversity on all those issues,” Miss Bryant said.

Researchers are trying to determine the effect of the programs on the educational development of the children. They are looking into teacher education and training, classroom techniques, keeping teachers and administrators aware of the information available, and funding.

Researchers are careful not to create expectations that the study will tell all about pre-kindergarten education. Rather, it will provide an outline.

“While the data collected will not provide a precise description of child outcomes and classroom quality at the level of each state, it will give participating states a broad picture of their current pre-k and kindergarten programs,” a mission statement said.

A study released in June showed that children in Head Start have narrowed the achievement gap with the general population of preschool-age children for school readiness.

But the report said in general, “Head Start students still enter kindergarten with very low average abilities known to predict future school success.”

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