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Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2000)

Chapter: 8	Program and Practice Standards

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Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

8
Program and Practice Standards

AS THE UPBRINGING OF AMERICA’S CHILDREN, and therefore the transmission of its culture, relies more and more on out-of-home providers of early education and care, there is a growing public interest in ensuring that this happens well and safely. In this vein, this report recommends the adoption of program standards and professional requirements. Still, it is important to note at the outset that establishing standards of quality for early education in a country as large, diverse, and rapidly changing as the United States is challenging. There is the danger that attempts to set common standards, or even to formulate what children need, may reflect the preferences of a particular group rather than the American population as a whole.

At their best, the promise of standards is that they provide a floor for program quality; they ensure that what we know children are capable of mastering in the early years they indeed have the opportunity to master in all state-approved programs. At their worst, standards put a ceiling on quality; they become an end rather than a departure point for the design and aspirations embodied in a program. Standards that are too low encourage mediocrity. Standards that are too high can be stressful and demoralizing. Standards that are too specific can undermine creativity and diversity; standards that are too broad can encourage compliance with the letter, but not the spirit of accountability.

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Any effort to use standards to ensure quality must therefore be a dynamic one that involves continual evaluation, and that allows for revision when the outcomes are counterproductive.

PROGRAM STANDARDS

The more we emphasize instructional assessment, the more necessary it becomes to confront the issue of the standards against which children’s learning should be assessed. Standards consist of the values, expectations, and outcomes of education. Various national curricular organizations (e.g., the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Council for Teachers of English, the International Reading Association) and nearly all states have proposed standards of achievement. However, very few of the content area standards apply meaningfully to very young children. Instructional or performance assessments that relate to children ages 2 to 5 articulate standards that are consistent with developmentally appropriate practice, child development research, and Head Start performance standards, but specific standards of learning for the early childhood years are not well developed in all curriculum areas. Table 8–1 presents the standards for mathematics developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and those for reading and writing developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association.

It is important to deal with the issue of standards in early childhood, because standards provide a baseline of expectations to which pedagogy and assessment can be aimed. Standards also help us understand and define the goals of early childhood pedagogy.

Currently, more than 30 states sponsor some type of prekindergarten program for at least some of the children in their boundaries (only Georgia has a universal pre-K program). Most of these states have published standards for what should be taught and what should be learned. Table 8–2 summarizes these standards as of 1996.

A national survey of state-funded preschool initiatives was conducted in 1997–1998 (Ripple et al., 1999). Data collected for

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 8–1 Examples of Children’s Development in Early Reading and Writing and in Mathematics

Continuum of Children’s Development in Early Reading and Writinga

Goals for preschool: Children explore their environment and build the foundations for learning to read and write.

Children can:

enjoy listening to and discussing storybooks;

understand that print carries a message;

engage in reading and writing attempts;

identify labels and signs in their environment;

participate in rhyming games;

identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches;

use known letters or approximations of letters to represent written language (especially meaningful words like their name and phrases such as “I love you”)

Standards for Children: Grades PreK-2b

Standards: Grades (PreK-2 Selected items): Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems

Students should:

count fluently with understanding and recognize “how many” in small sets of objects;

understand the cardinal and ordinal meaning of numbers in quantifying, measuring, and identifying the order of objects;

connect number words, the quantities they represent, numerals, and written words and represent numerical situations with each of these;

develop an understanding of the relative magnitude of numbers and make connections between the size of cardinal numbers and the counting sequence;

use computational tools and strategies fluently and estimate appropriately;

develop and use strategies and algorithms to solve number problems;

understand various types of patterns and functional relationships;

sort and classify objects by different properties;

order objects by size or other numerical property (seriation);

identify, analyze, and extend patterns and recognize the same pattern in different manifestations;

use mathematical models and analyze change in both real and abstract contexts;

make comparisons and describe change qualitatively (e.g., taller than)

aThis list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive. Children at any grade level will function at a variety of phases along the reading/writing continuum.

b0nly a few of the items listed in this section in order to give a sense of the standards for the younger children.

SOURCES: For reading and writing, information from Newman et al. (1999); for mathematics, information from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000).

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 8–2 Summary of State Content Standards for Teaching Children in Prekindergarten Programs

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

AR

Arkansas Better Chance

NAEYC guidelines used as basis for state child care accreditation, and program appropriateness

Indoor, outdoor play that encourages development of habits; gross and fine motor skills

Encourage good health and safety

AZ

At-Risk Preschool Program

State guidelines for comprehensive early childhood programs

Opportunity to acquire and refine fundamental movements

Encourage appreciation for health and safety

CA

State preschool

State Preschool Program Quality Requirements

Facilitate physical and motor competence

Provide a developmentally appropriate nutrition component and a healthy environment that refers children to appropriate agencies based on their health needs

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Support cognitive development

Not specified

Promote language development by means of reading materials

Foster communication skills, social skills, positive self-esteem, and an appreciation for cultural diversity

Creative expression, art, music, dramatic play

Learning, using strategies such as experimentation, thinking games, play, self-directed learning, investigation; children encouraged to explore, question, participate in group discussions, give responses

Encourage math vocabulary, concepts, and math-directed activities

Library (reading-listening); reading/writing, curriculum materials multilingual as appropriate; day structured to facilitate child-to-child talk

Encourage growth of social skills, communication, self-confidence, independence, respect, manners; appreciation for cultural diversity and current events

Become competent artistically and musically; encourage child-initiated play

Developmentally appropriate activities that facilitate a child’s cognitive development

Foster social and emotional development

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

CO

Colorado Preschool Program

Standards based on NAEYC, cross-referenced to Head Start and state licensing

Nutrition and health services by local decision

DE

Early Childhood Assistance Program

Head Start

FL

Pre-K Early Intervention Program

NAEYC encouraged but not required

Developmentally appropriate practices (DAP)

DAP

GA

Georgia Prekindergarten Program

 

Move with balance and coordination; indoor/outdoor activity; facilitate development of large and small muscle skills

Make health referrals; provide breakfast, snack, and lunch

IA

Child Development Coordinating Council

NAEYC, Head Start

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

DAP

DAP

DAP

Enhance emotional maturity and social confidence

DAP

Encourage exploration, observation, and communication of knowledge

Activities dealing with counting concepts and resorting objects; shape and size comparison

Recognition of pictures words, ABCs, and stories; understand and tell stories; understand that writing is communication

Encourage cooperative play and work; positive interaction with other children, self-help skills; pride; care and self-control

Express ideas and thoughts in creative ways, including crafts, drawing, and music

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

KY

State Preschool Program

State regulations reflect NAEYC, Head Start standards

Indoor/outdoor activities; play areas with safe and appropriate equipment

Assist understanding of nutrition

LA

Preschool Block Grant

Local school district policies

Indoor/outdoor play

 

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Encourage exploration; concrete experiential learning; integrate skills across content areas (integrative learning)

Materials for math and problem solving

Language experience approach (language understanding and use among children and adults, language arts, library area)

Assist development of interpersonal skills, self-management and independence; positive self-esteem, self-regulation of behavior; multicultural curriculum

Space and material for dramatic play, art, block building, cooking, house-keeping; opportunities for self-expression

Activities including active exploration; problem solving; experimentation with hands-on, real-life materials; integrated learning through all developmental areas; learning through themes

 

Language stimulation through varied opportunities of self-expression

Child-initiated play, child-to-child and child-to-adult; positive guidance and encouraging of expected behavior

Development of creativity and imagination

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

MA

Community Partnerships for Children

NAEYC and state-established Early Childhood Standards

Indoor/outdoor play; enhance physical development and skills by use of developmentally appropriate equipment, materials, and activities

Routine tasks (eating, toileting, and dressing) incorporated into the program to further children’s learning; access to a health care consultant; enhance health and safety of children; meal times as social learning experiences; nutritious food

MD

Extended Elementary Education Program (EEEP)

Standards for Implementing Quality Pre-K Programs (similar to NAEYC)

ME

 

Family Focused Standards for Early Intervention (in keeping with serving the child and family as outlined in the state created Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP))

Indoor/outdoor environment provide basic health activities management should be

Snack provided; required school nurse, needs. Behavior age appropriate, environment should be safe and minimize the risk of transmission of communicable disease

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Encourage children to think, reason, and question and opportunities to make comparisons, analyze, observe, plan, and discuss experiences, observations, and feelings; science activities in work areas

Provide an area to accommodate and encourage math

Encourage language development (in children’s native language and English)

Foster a positive self-concept, respect cultural and economic diversity, develop social skills; ability to have child-initiated play and teacher-initiated play; smooth transitions between activities; encouraged good manners

Encourage creative expression and appreciation for the arts by means of dramatic play, art, and music

Age-appropriate

Encourage self-esteem, behavior management

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

MI

Michigan School Readiness Program

Standards of Quality and Curriculum Guidelines

Encourage indoor/outdoor play; small and large muscle development; body awareness

Safe and secure facility; nutritious snack available during each school day; program structured to ensure that children’s biological needs are met

MN

Learning Readiness

Follow NAEYC guidelines but not part of requirements

Develop appropriate physical skills

Meet children’s daily nutritional needs

NE

Early Childhood Projects

NAEYC

NJ

Early Childhood Program Aid

Localities Determine their own standards within general state guidelines

DAP

Provide supplementary health, nutrition and social services

NY

New York State Prekindergarten Program

DAP outlined in state regulations

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Encourage exploration, spontaneous learning experiences, creative problem-solving skills, decision-making skills utilizing different methods and techniques, asking questions

Each child’s primary language valued and used for communication; auditory discrimination; listening and speaking skills

Receive positive attention, constructive discipline, respect; encourage child-to-child interaction, interpersonal relation; build esteem, autonomy, respect for others, multicultural awareness

Development of imagination, appreciation of art, music, poetry, prose, and wonders of the natural world; dramatic play

Help develop cognitive skills

Help develop appropriate social skills and emotional well-being

DAP

DAP

DAP

DAP

DAP

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

OH

Head Start, Public School Preschool

Head Start

OK

Early Childhood Four-Year-old Program

State standards and individual programs coordinators given Department of Education model for early childhood education: “Four-Year-Old Developmental Learning Skills”

Provide a playground area that is accessible and safe

Environment must have restroom facilities that accommodate the children, be safe, and accessible; snack provided

OR

Oregon Head Start Prekindergarten

Head Start

SC

Early Childhood Program

State appropriate standards and adequate physical facilities provided

One nutritional supplement (snack) provided daily; program complies with appropriate state board of education requirements

Provide a developmental educational program in classroom setting

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Curriculum appropriate for children’s developmental level

DAP

DAP

 

Instructional models reflect a comprehensive study of current test data, instructional trends and research, and school and community demographics

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

TX

Public school prekindergarten

DAP guidelines

VA

Virginia Preschool

VT

Early Education Initiative

Core Standards for Center-Based Programs in Vermont

Indoor/ outdoor physical development; strengthening large and small muscles; encouraging eye-hand coordination; body awareness, rhythm, and movement; age appropriate equipment

Encourage good nutritional, health, and safety practices; provide a safe, clean, and healthy learning environment; provide a meal/snack at least every three hours

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Integrated developmental approach, with opportunities to think, reason, solve problems, and make decisions; information linked to meaningful, relevant, concrete experiences

Promotes understanding and application of skills

Encourage teamwork, collaboration, self-help, and personal management skills

Encourage problem solving, experimentation, mastery through learning by doing; science

Provide opportunities in numerical concepts

Language arts, language, and literacy activities encouraging children’s emerging interest in writing

Enhance children’s social skills, positive self-concepts; provide opportunities for success (i.e., praise effort, allowing children to be independent); cultural diversity

Creative expression and appreciation; opportunities in art, music, dance, dramatic play, doing artwork to explore rather than for product

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

State

Program Name

Standards

Motor

Health, Safety, and Nutrition

WA

Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program

State Program Performance Standards

Appropriate environment for physical growth

NOTE: States not listed did not have programs as of 1996.

this endeavor were based on information from fiscal year 1996 that was provided by contacts from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. From this information, Ripple and colleagues identified 31 states with preschool education programs that met their criteria for inclusion in the study.1 It should be noted that the preschool education standards differ from, and in most case are more stringent than, state licensing standards for child care programs serving children ages 2 to 5.

In order to summarize these state-funded programs in terms of the standards that they adopted to guide program implementation and practices, we identified seven domains that were addressed by most of the guidelines. As shown in Table 8–2, each of

1  

In order to be considered as a state-funded preschool initiative, programs had to provide classroom-based education services directly to preschool-age children, had to be mounted and implemented by the state, did not exclusively serve children with disabilities, and were universal or targeted children from low-income families. Title I programs, or those funded solely by localities or school districts, were not included.

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Cognitive (General)

Numeracy

Language

Social-Emotional

Aesthetics

Consistent with sound child development practices; minimum of 10 hrs/wk of child participation in center activities; foster intellectual growth; expose children to new ideas concepts and experiences

Language skills curriculum by local decision

Meet unique local community needs; cultural and ethnic pride; appropriate environment for emotional and social growth

the 31 states’ standards varied across these domains: (1) motor development, (2) health, safety, and nutrition, (3) general cognitive development, (4) numeracy, (5) language, (6) social-emotional, and (7) aesthetics.

Generally speaking, state preschool programs followed one of three overarching frameworks for their guidelines. One group of three states (Delaware, Ohio, and Oregon) reported that they adopted Head Start standards and require that all state-funded preschool programs adhere to those guidelines. A second group of states (Massachusetts2 and Nebraska) adopted National Association for the Education of Young Children guidelines.

The third group, consisting of the remaining 26 state-funded preschool education programs, developed and implemented their own standards. Although many of these individualized standards are based on Head Start or NAEYC guidelines (in some cases these guidelines are recommended but not required), each

2  

In Massachusetts, all programs must be NAEYC accredited. In addition, programs located in public schools must meet state standards.

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

state developed its own unique approach to establishing program requirements. General observations based on data provided by these 26 states are provided below.3

Structural Components

Preschool program standards typically guide both structural and program components or activities. Structural specifications include materials available in the classroom, the site and layout of work and play areas, safety demands that ensure appropriate classroom and playground equipment, health and nutrition, class size, teacher-child ratios, and teacher qualifications.

With regard to classroom materials, standards require reading materials to promote language development (Arkansas) and “real-life materials” to provide hands-on experimentation (Louisiana). Classroom layout is addressed in required space for dramatic play, art, and block building (Kentucky) and areas to accommodate and encourage mathematics skills (Massachusetts). In general, state standards regarding structural aspects of programming addressed both materials and classroom environment.

In terms of health, nutrition, and safety standards, guidelines ranged from basic (e.g., Oklahoma programs must provide bathroom facilities) to more detailed descriptions (e.g., Massachusetts and Vermont). Preschool education program regulations for class size and teacher-child ratios were comparable from state to state and are related to the ages of the children in the program. The majority of programs limited class size to 15 to 20 students and permitted a teacher-child ratio of no more than 1:10. Standards addressing teacher qualifications varied widely: many states required a bachelor’s degree in early childhood or elementary education, whereas other states recommended a designated number of documented hours or years of experience in the child care field

3  

Incomplete information exists for the following states: Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In 1998, legislation was passed in New York mandating the implementation of a universal state-funded preschool program (subsequently defunded).

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

along with a teaching certificate. Overall, state standards in this domain were more stringent than those for Head Start, for which a child development associate (CDA) degree is currently sufficient. Certification issues are discussed in more detail below.

Program Components

Standards related to program components determine what goes on in the classroom. These may include guidelines for curriculum content, daily activities, and peer or teacher-child interactions. Standards may be very specific (e.g., in specifying the activities children should participate in, such as those activities that develop numeracy and shape recognition, aid in the development of gross and fine motor skills, and encourage vocabulary development), such as those developed in Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan. In contrast, some standards were less specific and established a general approach to teaching (e.g., recommending developmentally appropriate practices), as in California, New Jersey, and Maine. As shown in Table 8.2, standards for program process tended to consist of creating opportunities for learning. Language that builds on terms such as “encourage,” “facilitate,” and “promote” is typical, as is appropriate to preschool settings. Program standards also addressed the domain of socioemotional development. Most state program standards mentioned aspects of developmentally appropriate practices, such as positive self-esteem, social skills, emotional well-being, and behavioral self-regulation.

Summary of State Standards

State standards are generally very vague in their reflection of current understanding of children’s thinking and learning. They were generally strong on requiring adequate teacher training. However, one aspect of program implementation and administration is a potential cause for concern: in some states—notably Louisiana and New Jersey—legislation guiding the program gives full control of program details to local areas. Whereas this level of devolution from central to local control could be seen as a positive move, because it allows individual sites to tailor the program

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

to local needs, it also makes it virtually impossible to determine the nature of the program as a whole.

STANDARDS OF PRACTICE

Over the past 20 years, there have been a number of attempts to improve the quality of programs for children by setting standards for practice. Some efforts have focused on centers and homes as the point of entry and created accreditation systems, while others have stressed certificates or credentials for individuals. Approaches also differ in whether systems are mandatory, as are state licensing, public school teacher certification, and Head Start performance standards, or voluntary, as are certification by the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards and center accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Teacher Certification

As a general rule, most early childhood educators have neither certification nor standard preservice preparation. Public schools and Head Start are the only two systems that require certification: public schools usually require a certificate before beginning to teach, and Head Start requires that a percentage of the teachers in a program have a credential. Both systems serve children at risk of school failure because of poverty, home language other than English, and developmental disabilities. Currently 17 states require preschool teaching certification for early childhood teachers in the public schools (Knitzer and Page, 1996). In special education, teachers often first have a B.A. and a regular early childhood education teaching credential and then specialized education in early childhood special education. Because of the legal and regulatory requirements that children be placed in the least restrictive environment which serves their educational needs, most young children with disabilities will be included in regular early childhood programs. According to National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education guidelines, all teacher credentialing programs must integrate the special education content throughout all teacher education courses; however,

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

most regular early childhood education programs do not adequately prepare teacher candidates to work with children with special needs.

Standardized tests sharply limit the number of students who complete the requirements for teacher certification. As a result, racial and cultural imbalance between the population of children in public schools and their teachers affects early childhood programs (Meek, 1998). Fields reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education that in 19 states in which test failures were reported by race, 38,000 blacks, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, and other minorities did not pass the state exam (Fields, 1988). The high failure rate of these potential teachers is presumably explained by the poor quality of their general education, as well as by the teacher preparation program. Many critics of competency examinations claim that the minorities who fail them are the same ones who do poorly on other standardized tests because of their linguistic and cultural differences. The disproportionate failure rate of blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians is also reported by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. While test makers assert that the tests correct for cultural bias, the failure rate of minorities nevertheless reinforces the imbalance between students of color and their teachers (Fields, 1988).

In 1972, Head Start established the child development associate program nationwide, in order to meet the needs for skilled early childhood teachers (Hinitz, 1998). The CDA identifies six competencies indicating basic skills that a teacher must master to teach young children: (1) establishes safe and healthy environment, (2) advances physical and intellectual competence, (3) builds positive self-concept and individual strength, (4) promotes positive functioning of children in groups, (5) brings about optimal coordination of home and center childrearing practices and expectations, and (6) carries out supplementary responsibilities related to programs. Kontos, et al. (1997) found that teachers with a CDA credential or its equivalent were warmer and more sensitive and had higher-quality classrooms than teachers with less education.

Candidates for the CDA demonstrate their competence through the preparation of portfolios and are assessed by parents, a trainer/supervisor, and an independent observer. The

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

CDA credential is awarded to teachers who are judged competent. In the early years, few teachers applied for or received the credential because early childhood programs seldom gave additional compensation to teachers with a certificate. However, the program has gradually expanded; since 1990, as a part of the efforts of the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, it has experienced considerable growth. Its value to the quality of children’s programs has been increasingly recognized (Kontos et al., 1997), and it is now required by Head Start. Currently the council provides an assessment and credentialing process for teachers in three settings—center-based, family child care, and home visitor—with endorsements for working with infants or toddlers, preschool, and bilingual children.

Education for the CDA is provided by qualified trainers; in 1996, all but four states had colleges and universities that provide CDA education (postsecondary education institutions offering CDA training), and many schools give 12 hours of college credit to students who complete a CDA in nonacademic systems.

Professional Standards

Professional communities have also influenced education through the development of standards of good practice. In response to the school reform movement of the 1980s, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was established in 1987. Probably the best known standards were published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children under the title, Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP).

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

The primary mission of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is to establish high, rigorous standards and develop a voluntary accreditation system to recognize exemplary teachers. Committees of teachers and experts in a variety of grade levels and disciplinary fields were given the tasks of defining specific standards, and the national board developed an assessment and certification system. Standards committees were guided by five core propositions in defining what teachers should know and

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

be able to do: (1) teachers are committed to students and their learning; (2) teachers should know the subjects they teach and how to teach students; (3) teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning; (4) teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience; and (5) teachers are members of learning communities.

Among the first set of standards developed were those for early childhood generalists, teachers working with children ages 3 to 8. Eight standards, equally important, define excellent early childhood teaching: (1) understand young children, (2) promote child development and learning, (3) knowledge of integrated curriculum, (4) multiple teaching strategies for meaningful learning, (5) assessment, (6) reflective practice, (7) family partnerships, and (8) professional partnerships.

Each standard contains more specific required knowledge or skills, but they do not mandate a particular philosophical or theoretical bias. Unlike best practice documents, no research rationale is provided for the standards; rather, they represent the professional judgment of teachers and other experts about what excellent teachers know and can do. Teams of professional assessors, arriving at consensus judgments, decide if certification candidates’ work meets these standards.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

The document Developmentally Appropriate Practice was first approved by the Board of National Association for the Education of Young Children in 1987 and was disseminated broadly. To convey the implications of developmental principles in determining practices, examples of good and bad practice were given, with the rationale for why they were so judged. This format led to considerable misunderstanding, with many practitioners viewing DAP as a set of good practices instead of principles of practice. In 1996, the NAEYC board charged a new committee to review the principles and make clearer the relationship of the practices to developmental principles.

The current version of developmentally appropriate practices (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997) was approved by the board of NAEYC in 1997 and focuses on three developmental principles as

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

relevant to early childhood professional practice: children’s ages, their individual differences, and their home language and culture. The revised version of DAP continues to reflect a constructivist orientation and directs teachers’ (and parents’) attention to children’s need to make meaning from their experiences. It wisely cautions against either/or approaches that pit child-initiated against teacher-directed curricula. As Chapter 5 of this report emphasizes, research suggests that many teaching strategies can work, and no teaching strategy is sufficient for all purposes. The key is for a teacher to be attuned to the child’s current level of development and developmental challenges, and to select from a toolkit of possible pedagogical approaches one that complements the learning opportunity in question.

The principles of developmentally appropriate practice have been widely accepted and endorsed by other professional groups and incorporated into teacher education programs through the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Colleges and universities offering teacher certification in early childhood and seeking NCATE approval are expected to explain in their applications how their program meets these standards. A number of states have incorporated the NCATE standards into their state accreditation process, further expanding the acceptance of DAP as the underlying structure for early childhood teachers.

The heavy emphasis in DAP on play and self-selected activities for children and the teacher as an observer has led to criticisms of it as a model for practice. Objections include that teachers misinterpret it to mean that children learn by themselves; that it lacks subject-matter substance; that it fails to provide the information children need, particularly low-income and minority children; and that it does not take advantage of new information regarding young children’s intellectual potential.

As educators become conversant with the new research on learning, they will be better equipped to understand the implications of constructivist learning theory for teaching in a way that guides and supports learning. Two useful sources of guidance for early childhood educators who want to enrich their DAP-oriented classrooms are the joint NAEYC-IRA (International Reading Association) statement clarifying the expectations for literacy

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

and language stimulation and a book by Neuman and Copple (2000), published by IRA.

Regulation of Early Childhood Education and Care

Often neglected, the regulation of child care and early education facilities is a critical part of quality programs. Facility regulations are important because there is a clearly documented and unequivocal relationship between regulation and quality. States with more demanding licensing requirements have fewer poor-quality centers that put children at risk of harm and do little to enhance their development (Kagan and Newton, 1989; Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes Study Team, 1995).

When facility regulations are more stringent, children show more advanced cognitive, social, and language development and have more secure attachments to teachers and fewer behavioral problems (Galinsky et al., 1995; Howes et al., 1995; Kontos, 1992; Kontos et al., 1995).

Although regulation is designed to safeguard children from harm and to provide parents with basic rights and consumer protections, the reality is that states vary significantly in their degree of regulation and in the stringency of enforcement (Azer et al., 1996). The situation is complex because, in a given state, regulatory authority is often delegated to one or more agencies, sometimes without the involved agencies realizing that regulatory responsibility is spread. Regulations may be contradictory and, in some cases, domains may be totally neglected (U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1994). The result is that often programs must figure out and bear the burden and cost of multiple regulatory entities, each of which is imperfect.

Many states have attempted to raise standards for teachers through their licensing requirements. All states have mandatory licensing regulations based on minimum standards for the care and education of young children and include requirements for the facility as well as for staff-child ratios and teacher education. The licensing standards vary enormously from state to state (see Table 8–3 for a recent review of child care licensing).

Variations in requirements usually involve the number of hours of operation and size of the center, and they differ for cen-

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 8–3 Child Care Licensing, State Requirement

Requirement or Guidelinea

Percentage of States with Requirement or Meeting Guideline

Require Preservice for Teachersb

 

CDA

23

BA

2

Require Preservice for Program Directorsb

 

CDA

45

BA

4

Specified Group Sizes for 2- and 3-year-olds

 

≤12%

18

≤18%

44c

≤24%

60c

Staff/Child Ratios for 2- and 3-year-oldsd

15

Staff/Child Ratios for 3- and 5-year-oldsd

3.8

NOTE: CDA, Child Development Associate; BA, Bachelor of Arts.

aData from The Children’s Foundation (1999).

bAzer and Hanrahan (1998).

cScores cumulative.

dData from Standards set forth in American Public Health Association and American Academy of Pediatrics Collaborative Project (1992).

ter-based staff and family child care providers. Some states exempt large numbers of family child care homes, church-sponsored programs, part-day programs, and school-sponsored programs from all licensing requirements. Indeed, it has been estimated that nationwide, more than 40 percent of all children in early childhood education and care attend programs that are legally exempt from state regulation (Adams, 1990). As an example, in 38 states, many family child care homes are not subject to facility licensing requirements.

Efforts to advance a more stringent and effective regulatory system at the federal level have taken place over time, but with little success (Garwood et al., 1989). Resistance to the develop-

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ment of regulations reflects not only a difficulty in building a national consensus around the content of the recommendations, but also the fear that more stringent requirements could result in higher parent fees, the need for additional government investment, and the reduced availability of care (Gormley, 1992, 1995).

Suggested Citation:"8 Program and Practice Standards." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Clearly babies come into the world remarkably receptive to its wonders. Their alertness to sights, sounds, and even abstract concepts makes them inquisitive explorers--and learners--every waking minute. Well before formal schooling begins, children's early experiences lay the foundations for their later social behavior, emotional regulation, and literacy. Yet, for a variety of reasons, far too little attention is given to the quality of these crucial years. Outmoded theories, outdated facts, and undersized budgets all play a part in the uneven quality of early childhood programs throughout our country.

What will it take to provide better early education and care for our children between the ages of two and five? Eager to Learn explores this crucial question, synthesizing the newest research findings on how young children learn and the impact of early learning. Key discoveries in how young children learn are reviewed in language accessible to parents as well as educators: findings about the interplay of biology and environment, variations in learning among individuals and children from different social and economic groups, and the importance of health, safety, nutrition and interpersonal warmth to early learning. Perhaps most significant, the book documents how very early in life learning really begins. Valuable conclusions and recommendations are presented in the areas of the teacher-child relationship, the organization and content of curriculum, meeting the needs of those children most at risk of school failure, teacher preparation, assessment of teaching and learning, and more. The book discusses:

  • Evidence for competing theories, models, and approaches in the field and a hard look at some day-to-day practices and activities generally used in preschool.
  • The role of the teacher, the importance of peer interactions, and other relationships in the child's life.
  • Learning needs of minority children, children with disabilities, and other special groups.
  • Approaches to assessing young children's learning for the purposes of policy decisions, diagnosis of educational difficulties, and instructional planning.
  • Preparation and continuing development of teachers.

Eager to Learn presents a comprehensive, coherent picture of early childhood learning, along with a clear path toward improving this important stage of life for all children.

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