Universal Pre-Kindergarten Research Paper Starter

Universal Pre-Kindergarten

(Research Starters)

Universal preschool is a program that may be offered by a state, province, or country to provide access to preschool for all children of a particular age (often 4, sometimes 3- and 4-year-olds, sometimes a wider age range). Universal programs are not necessarily (or often) compulsory; they are generally voluntary. If states or countries do not offer universal programs, they may offer targeted programs, which generally aim to provide services to particular groups of children considered at risk of school failure, due to poverty, limited English skills, or other issues.

Keywords Achievement Gap; Collaboration; Developmentally Appropriate Practice; Head Start; High Quality; Play-Based Learning; Pre-Kindergarten; Preschool; Targeted Program; Universal Program

Overview

What is Universal Preschool?

Preschool is generally understood to be school provided for children before they enter publicly funded Kindergarten to grade 12 programs. More typically, it may specifically refer to 3- and 4-year-olds. Preschool can include public school programs, private or church-sponsored daycare or child-care programs, Head Start, Early Head Start, or similar programs. Family child-care may be considered a form of preschool by some, but for the purpose of this article "preschool" will include center-based care for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Universal preschool is a program that may be offered by a state, province, or country to provide access to preschool for all children of a particular age (often 4, sometimes 3- and 4-year-olds, sometimes a wider age range). Universal programs are not necessarily (or often) compulsory; they are generally voluntary. If states or countries do not offer universal programs, they may offer targeted programs, which generally aim to provide services to particular groups of children considered at risk of school failure, due to poverty, limited English skills, or other issues.

Targeted Programs

Studies have shown that greater benefits of preschool accrue to low-income children or those otherwise at risk of school failure, than to children from higher income families. Therefore, some argue, scarce resources should be focused on these poorer children, to maximize the benefits of each dollar spent on programs-and because those children need programs most.

Examples of such targeted programs include Head Start, which provides services to children from low-income families; and Special Education programs supported by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) funding, which provide services to children with special needs. As indicated by the name, Head Start, these programs are thought to provide a necessary jump-start on the educational process, in order to close the achievement gap for children whose families may not have the resources to find or provide necessary services for their children before they enter public school at kindergarten.

Preschool is currently seen to be a useful addition to the array of public education, particularly for low-income children, or children otherwise at risk for school failure. Even by the time they enter kindergarten, some children may lag behind others in their knowledge, vocabulary, social skills, and achievement (Hart and Risley, 1995). Participation in high quality preschool has been shown to reduce this gap for many children (Barnett et al, 2005; Peisner-Feinberg et al, 2001), and to lead to other benefits to individual children, and to society as a whole, further down the educational line. Such benefits include:

• Reduced need for special education programs,

• Reduced grade repetition,

• Reduced participation in crime,

• Less dependence on welfare programs,

• Reduced dropout from high school,

• Less out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and

• Improved job and health outcomes over the long term. (Campbell & Ramey, 1994; Reynolds et al., 2002; Schweinhart et al., 2005).

Measuring Program Quality

It is important to note that most studies on preschool relate the quality of the programs to improved outcomes for children. Quality is defined in terms of various criteria, which may be divided into two kinds of groups.

Process quality refers to activities and processes that occur in the program, including what the children do; how teachers communicate with children and each other; and parent involvement. Structural quality refers to elements of the quality that are more fixed, such as teacher-child ratios, class size, teacher qualifications, teacher pay, and the physical structure of the program areas. Both have found to have an impact on outcomes, and there are measurements and assessments for all kinds of quality measures (Espinosa, 2002).

Opposition to Universal Preschool

As preschool programs of all kinds have developed and expanded, they have faced opposition, for various reasons. Some people believe that young children should be at home with a parent, rather than out in school for all or part of the day, for example. Others believe that it is not the job of the state (or any political entity) to provide resources for care or education to very young children.

Historically in the U.S., the state has generally been prepared to provide education and care to children of poor parents, in order to transmit mainstream values and models of behavior, and to provide care for children while parents worked outside the home (Barnett et al., 2004, p. 2). This was continued and institutionalized with the development of Head Start, in 1964, a comprehensive child care program designed to provide high quality preschool education - along with additional health, nutrition, and parental work training services for parents - to children from poor families, as part of the "War on Poverty" begun in the 1960s. The state has not, however, necessarily been prepared to offer such services to families who are considered able to find such resources and fund them without state assistance.

Private providers of child care may also be opposed to universal programs in states where collaboration is not encouraged or supported. Some states, however, have worked hard to collaborate with existing providers to raise standards in all programs, provide high quality care, and serve all children. This can be helpful for states as it eases problems related to lack of space to start programs, and provides an existing set of teachers already committed to the field and working in a range of neighborhoods.

For the current generation of children, staying home with a parent may not always be an option. Many children are already placed in child care programs and/or preschools from a very early age, since their parents are working. State-funded or state-managed universal preschool programs can provide a means of ensuring that the care they do receive outside the home is of high quality, is beneficial to them, and is preparing them for K-12 education and for their future as contributing citizens of the country.

Applications

Which States Have Universal Preschool Programs?

In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barak Obama called for substantial expansion of preschool education in the United States, including increasing the number of children age 0 to 3 served by the Early Head Start Program, and providing universal pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year odds from families whose income is 200% or less of the federal poverty level. This proposal builds on a pattern of expanding access to preschool programs that has already begun in many states. State programs generally use one of two approaches to move towards providing universal pre-kindergarten: building on existing programs, or by beginning with targeted programs and adding on to them as funds and other resources allow. However, the resources to expand these programs have not always been available, due to limited state revenues, particularly since the recession that began in 2007.

According to The State of Preschool 2012, a report by The National Institute for Early Education Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, in 2012, over 1.3 million children enrolled in 52 state-funded preschool programs in 50 states, including Head Start programs; 32 of the 52 programs included an income requirement. Nationally, 4% of 3-year-olds and 28% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state pre-kindergarten or Head Start programs. This is a substantial increase over 2002, when 3% of 3-year-olds and 14% of 4-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool program, but a slight decrease from 2011, as enrollment in 2012 was not sufficient to keep up with population growth. Total preschool spending came to over $5.1 billion, with an average expenditure of $4,596 per child enrolled, with state spending per child enrolled coming to $3,841, a substantial decrease from the $5,020 per child (in 2012 dollars) spent by states in 2002.

Georgia was one of the first states to develop a universal preschool model, in 1993. Funded by state lottery, the program began by serving low-income 4-year-olds, and was opened to all 4-year-olds in 1995. Private providers of child care were included in the program to increase access, and the program has continued to grow, and serve as an example to other states...

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