A landmark survey of state preschool programs found that the states are “failing our nation's children” with ten states spending nothing at all and the level of funding “embarrassingly low in many, perhaps most other states.” The 2003 State Preschool Yearbook released today also found that the quality standards of many state-funded preschool programs are “far too low.” The Yearbook is the first evaluation that ranks the preschool commitments of all 50 states.
“The research demonstrates conclusively the need for greater state and federal investments in high quality preschool programs,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, which conducted the research.
“Low quality standards and funding levels in most states means too many kids will start school ill-prepared to succeed or even to behave,” Barnett said. “That hurts those kids and all the other kids in their classrooms. States need to do more. And, since many states do not have the resources to fully fund good preschool, the federal government also needs to make a major new investment.”
Most children attend a preschool program prior to kindergarten, yet, they do so in a “system that is highly uneven in access, educational quality, and the financial burdens imposed on families.” according to the Yearbook.
“Even the disadvantaged children targeted by most state preschool programs are not assured of access to high-quality programs. Most children and their families receive even less help. Children's learning and development suffers as a result.”
The Yearbook cited numerous studies showing that high-quality preschool programs increase test scores and decrease grade repetition and special education placements of economically disadvantaged children. Long-term, follow-up studies showed high quality preschool programs resulted in higher high school graduation rates, increased college attendance, decreased crime and delinquency, and improved employment and earnings.
“No other public expenditure can reasonably claim to produce higher economic returns,” Barnett said.
The Yearbook credited Georgia and Oklahoma with providing far more access to preschool programs than any other states, and noted that Oklahoma also requires that all its preschool teachers be certified. New Jersey's “Abbott District” preschool program set the highest quality standards in the nation and is required to provide preschool free to all children, beginning at age three, in 30 of the state's largest and most disadvantaged school districts.
At the other end of the scale were ten states that provided no preschool funding. They were Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Two states--Florida and Rhode Island--failed to provide sufficient data for evaluation by the researchers.
The Yearbook focused exclusively on state-financed preschool programs during the 2001-2002 school year. Not included were evaluations of private programs that receive no state funds.
Head Start serves more than 900,000 children nationally. It is so under-funded, however, it leaves out four out of ten 3- and 4-year-olds from families below the poverty line, and it doesn't serve any significant number of children from other low- and moderate- income families. Moreover, the Yearbook said, Head Start's standards fall far short of what is required to insure that programs are highly effective, particularly its teacher qualifications and compensation.
The 200-page Yearbook, which will be issued annually, ranked the states on three criteria: percentage of 4-year-old children served, percentage of 3-year-olds served and resources committed to preschool education. Each state also received a quality score. The major findings of the research are listed below.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (www.nieer.org), a unit of Rutgers University, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported through a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The Pew Charitable Trusts serve the public interest by providing information, policy solutions and support for civic life. Based in Philadelphia, with an office in Washington, D.C., the Trusts make investments to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues. With approximately $4.1 billion in dedicated assets, in 2003 the Trusts committed more than $143 million to 151 nonprofit organizations.
When it came to quality, states were measured against a checklist of ten standards covering such matters as degree and training requirements for teachers and assistants, curriculum, class size, staff-child ratio, family support services and meals. The findings:
Researchers totaled each state's spending on all preschool programs and related activities (including some federal government funds that states administer, but not federal Head Start funds) and divided the result by the number of children served. The findings: