The Latest Controversy in ECE: Failure of Pre-K and We’re Surprised?

I have been reading about the Tennessee Study regarding their Pre-K program and their lack of success. Unfortunately, the goals of the program to help very disadvantaged children gain and sustain those gains overtime did not come to fruition according to the study authors. The latest findings are no surprise and have been demonstrated in many other previous studies involving large scale early care and education (ECE) interventions. However, are we designing the wrong interventions and measuring the wrong aspects of development. Play is and has always been the paramount intervention strategy in early care and education programs. But when we design and implement Pre-K we seem to be more concerned about academics and forget about the need for children to play. Curriculum is critical but the curriculum should be based upon developmentally appropriate practices and child development principles, and it should be play based and not academically focused.

When we are thinking about curriculum and assessment, do we need to shift the paradigm in which assessment comes before the curriculum intervention. Shouldn’t the curriculum be driven by each individual child’s specific strengths and areas needing improvement. Having a more individualistic approach based upon the needs of the child which helps us to better solve the “problem of the match”. There needs to be a more synergistic relationship between assessment and curriculum development and implementation.

The next area that is paramount are the overall qualities of the teachers. Teachers need to have a degree in early care and education and not in elementary education or any other degree that is not child development focused. It can be either an AA or BA degree, ideally an MA but that is probably unrealistic and too costly. But it must be in ECE. In the medical profession you don’t want podiatrists doing heart surgery; same thing in ECE, we want ECE teachers teaching in ECE classrooms.

It has become really clear from Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) that parent involvement and engagement is a key factor for overall ECE quality and positive child development outcomes. Without parental engagement, 75% of what needs to be accomplished is lost. And the environment that children are spending their days in ECE classrooms needs to be language rich and high quality exchange rates between teachers and children at a verbal level. Real exchange of meaningful dialogue and not commands that are uni-directional from teacher to child; but a real give and take between the child and the teacher. More of a dance rather than regimented marching.

And lastly, Pre-K should not be a separate program but rather one that is integrated with Head Start and child care classrooms. Pre-K classrooms should be part of Head Start classrooms and child care classrooms. We need to break down these structural barriers and have all children fully integrated and not in separate silos based upon funding streams.

About Dr Fiene

Dr. Rick Fiene has spent his professional career in improving the quality of child care in various states, nationally, and internationally. He has done extensive research and publishing on the key components in improving child care quality through an early childhood program quality indicator model of training, technical assistance, quality rating & improvement systems, professional development, mentoring, licensing, risk assessment, differential program monitoring, and accreditation. Dr. Fiene is a retired professor of human development & psychology (Penn State University) where he was department head and director of the Capital Area Early Childhood Research and Training Institute.
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