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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers
formance. In this rapidly growing sector of education, there are many choices to be made concerning goals, pedagogies, programs, and means of ensuring quality.
America has come late to mass preschool education compared with other wealthy industrialized countries. Some Western European countries have long had nearly universal enrollment of young children in preschools, with high standards of teacher training and impressive curricula. What was until the mid-19th century a matter of private charity, became in the course of the 20th century a public responsibility. In most of Europe, public financing is at this point the dominant mode of support and these early childhood programs are increasingly viewed as a public obligation (Kamerman, 1999). In some countries, preschool service is free regardless of parents’ employment status or income; in others, the programs combine government funding and income-related parent fees. France, for example, provides free preschool programs for all children ages 2–6. Germany and Italy make preschool available to all 3- to 6-year-olds and social welfare child care to the children under age 3, with something less than 20 percent of costs borne by parents (see Table 1–1).
But as the United States embarks on a voyage previously taken by others, certain advantages are evident: we have a strong research community investigating early childhood learning and development and producing evidence on which to base the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. We have a tradition of experimentation and observation in preschools that gives us access to a wealth of experience before preschool attendance becomes a universal feature of American childhood. Thus we can begin the latter part of the voyage with better maps and navigational instruments than might be expected at this point in our history; we are better able to know where we’re going and how to measure our progress. This report is intended to help prepare for the journey by reviewing what is known about early childhood development and preschool programs and suggesting how to proceed in educating young children in the 21st century.
At present, more than 60 percent of American mothers with children under age 6 are in the labor force (U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1998; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1999). There are approximately 3.8 million children in each age cohort with