Universal Pre K : Wellesley College Education Professor Emerita Barbara Beatty

Universal Pre K

Universal Pre K has become a neccessity!

Barbara R. Beatty Professor Emerita of Education of Wellesley College

Historian of education and of childhood, teacher education, and education reform; preschool policy and advocacy

After teaching kindergarten in the Boston Public Schools, directing a laboratory preschool, and studying developmental psychology, I became interested in the historical question of why the United States, unlike most developed countries, does not provide universal preschool education, the topic of my book Preschool Education in America. I’ve also written about teachers, teacher education, and the relationship of psychology to education reform, particularly Jean Piaget’s psychology and the fate of child-centered education. I do research on the history of childhood, as well, particularly on young, “educationally disadvantaged” children. All of these themes relate to attempts to increase social equity through education.

I teach courses on the history of American education and on the history of childhood and child welfare. By closely examining documents from the past, I think we can learn a lot about how Americans fought over what education should be like, for which students, and why. We can also see how teachers struggled to deal with society’s increasing demands for schools to solve social problems. By studying children’s lives in the past we can try to get a sense of the gap between adults’ prescriptions and policies and children’s experiences and needs, and of how children are historical actors who create their own cultures.

I’ve been an Associate Editor of History of Education Quarterly for more than ten years and am also active in the American Educational Research Association and the Society for the History of Children and Youth. I’ve worked with colleagues to edit books and journals on kindergartens, preschools, parenting, and child welfare. As an advocate for universal preschool education, I’ve participated in the national debate over preschool policy. As a teacher educator and member of the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education, the group of Ivy League and other selective colleges to which Wellesley belongs, I’ve worked for many years to raise the status of teaching as a profession. I think increased access to high quality preschool and teacher education and better support for teachers will go far to help close achievement gaps in American education.Barbara Beatty on LinkedInBarbara Beatty on Compensatory Education & “the Disadvantaged Child”Barbara Beatty on Universal Pre-KBeatty on WBUR

Univesal Pre K : Universal preschool is an international movement to use public funding to ensure high quality preschool (pre-k) is available to all families. Schools rate their education systems on academic performance of their students and compare them to schools nationwide as well as globally. There is a constant competitive drive for schools to be among the top in performance and achievement. Introducing a universal preschool program would allow for young children of different socioeconomic backgrounds to build and improve their academic and social skills to better prepare them for kindergarten and the rest of their academic career. Additionally, The introduction of universal preschool would allow for many financially struggling families to send their children to preschool which would allow for many women to enter or re-enter the workforce.[1]

After analyzing and citing nationwide and international research that show the short-term and long-term benefits preschool has for low to middle income families, the movement to advance publicly funded preschool has resulted in the successful passage of preschool legislation in 44 states in the US. While some legislation for funding preschool has been passed on the federal level (including the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant) much of the advocacy still focuses on building broad support from diverse leaders in business, educators, child activists, philanthropists, law enforcement, and healthcare to lobby state legislatures.

According to an article by N.P.R., even though preschool programs and numbers have improved, the quality and enrollment percentages are still uneven between states. For example, as stated in the NPR article, “Washington, D.C. spends $15,748 per child. Mississippi spends less than $2,000 per child, roughly half of what states spend on average.”; this portrays an example of the disparities ranging in the current preschool programs as well as why quality universal preschool should be a top priority.[2]

While variations in implementation are numerous, state-funded pre-k consistently offer programs on a voluntary basis for children and families, unlike compulsory elementary, which is mandated by law with exceptions to allow for homeschooling and alternative education. Variations include how states deal with the following pre-k implementation elements:

  • age of children eligible for the service of preschool (usually three-, four-, or five-year-olds, but sometimes only four-year-olds),
  • wrap-around services, including whether special supports such as home visiting, and playgroups are provided to support children from at-risk families,
  • full-day versus part-day pre-k, and whether programs should be offered year-round or only during the school year,
  • role of parents in paying for part of their child’s pre-k tuition,
  • quality requirements for state-funded programs, including requirements for teacher education and preparation, class size, teacher to child ratios, and the use of evidence-based curriculum,
  • whether universal state-funded programs should be provided in the existing diverse delivery system for early childhood programs (including Headstart, public schools, non-profit and for-profit centers, programs hosted by churches that are non-religious, or in home settings such as regulated family day care).

Wellesley College Education Professor Emerita Barbara Beatty on Universal Pre-K

Supporters of publicly funded preschool for all children cite research that shows:

  • Because the brain is developing rapidly during the early years, stimulation from high quality preschool can support the development of neurologic pathways that serve a child in lifelong learning,
  • Longitudinal studies (Abecedarian, Chicago Parent Child Centers, and the Perry Preschool Project) show significant longterm benefits for children who attend preschool, including improved health, social and behavioral outcomes, and well as higher income than the control group.
  • Advocates for those in poverty cite research related to the achievement gap, where many at-risk children start out behind in school for a variety of reasons and never catch up. Pre-k programs help to eliminate this gap.
  • Business organizations cite the need for pre-k to improve school-readiness and literacy by age nine, in order to impact universal achievement of all children.
  • The Information below was provided by: DLC | Model Initiatives | July 20, 2006
  • Studies of high-quality preschool programs in North Carolina and Michigan have found that public investments in such programs could, in fact, deliver a 7-to-1 return in the long run, in the form of increased productivity and decreased social spending.
  • A University of Georgia study found that the pre-k students improved their school readiness scores relative to national norms. It also found that the pre-k system eliminated the skills gap between universal pre-K students and the more affluent students whose parents sent them to private programs.
  • A Georgetown University study found gains in the children’s cognitive and language assessment scores from the Oklahoma pre-k program—particularly among African-American and Hispanic children, whose scores improved by an average of 17 percent and 54 percent, respectively. As of 2006, 98 percent of Oklahoma school districts offer pre-k programs, up 30 percent since 1998.

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