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Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2000)

Chapter: 4	Preschool Program Quality

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Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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4
Preschool Program Quality

THE DEFINITION OF QUALITY IN EARLY childhood education and care has many dimensions, including political and social dimensions, not all of which lend themselves to research and analysis (Bruner, 1985). Views of how and what children should learn at an early age are guided by cultural values that may be so transparent as to be invisible to most of us. Research can, nevertheless, inform the definition of best practice by providing information about the consequences of pedagogy for young children’s learning, development, and well-being. This chapter summarizes research findings from five separate, but somewhat overlapping, literatures:

  1. Studies of preschool programs designed to enhance the learning and development of economically disadvantaged children, including studies of model programs. These programs provide information about effective practices and the potential magnitude of preschool program effects on learning and development for this population.

  2. Studies of the relationship between preschool program quality, or components of quality, and children’s learning and development. These results are drawn both from research on model programs for disadvantaged children and from research on “naturally occurring” variations that compare children’s experiences

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

and outcomes in community programs with different features. This research provides information about the effects of typical variations in program quality on the general population of children (including, but not limited to, economically disadvantaged children).

  1. Studies of programs for English-language learners. This relatively small literature is similar to the first two, but it focuses specifically on the effects of variation in the approach to second-language acquisition on competence both in the primary language and in English.

  2. Descriptions of exemplary international programs. This literature suggests features that contribute to program quality, but provides relatively little empirical verification.

  3. Studies of clinical and program interventions for children with disabilities and the relationship of salient child and family characteristics to intervention methods. This research confirms the value of educational, therapeutic, and social services for infants and young children with disabilities.

PROGRAMS FOR ECONOMICALLY DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN

Beginning in the early 1960s, preschool programs were developed to provide educational experiences to young children growing up in poverty. These programs sought to improve learning and development for these children in response to growing awareness of social inequalities and changing beliefs about the role of the environment in development. The context for these new efforts was vividly described by Caldwell and Richmond (1968:341):

During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a sure path to ostracism in the field of early childhood education was to emphasize attendance at nursery school as an influence on intellectual development. Debunking the Iowa studies [conducted at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station of the State University of Iowa by Skeels, Wellman, and colleagues], which demonstrated intellectual gains associated with nursery school attendance, became a popular sport…and the implication that such an experience could have lasting cognitive effects was subject to ridicule.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Changing views led to a more positive reconsideration of the Iowa research (Skeels and Dye, 1939; Wellman, 1940; Skodak and Skeels, 1949; Skeels, 1966) and other studies (Spitz, 1945; Spitz and Wolfe, 1946). Theoretical support came from scholars who built on the work of Hebb (1949) and, later, Piaget. New work by Kirk (1958), Hunt (1961, 1964), and Bruner (1962) provided more support for a renewed emphasis on environmental intervention in the early years. Perhaps no one pushed the environmentalist view further than Bloom (1964), who argued that development was most sensitive to the influences of environment during periods of rapid growth and that half of adult intelligence was developed by age 5.

The preschool programs developed for disadvantaged children in the 1960s and 1970s not only built on this new work but also incorporated views of theory and practice from a wide variety of traditions in psychology and education. Despite the programs’ emphasis on their potential cognitive benefits, most sought to enhance the development and well-being of the whole child (Day and Parker, 1977). Especially in the early years, they had to address concerns that preschool programs might negatively affect social and emotional development by separating children from their mothers (Caldwell and Smith, 1968). Researchers developed “model” programs specifically to investigate the potential for preschool education to influence the learning and development of economically disadvantaged children. Much of what is known about the nature and magnitude of preschool education’s influences derives from rigorous studies of these model programs. Such studies also provide considerable information about the characteristics of highly effective programs.

Over the past four decades, many studies have been conducted of the immediate and short-term (one or two years) effects of programs on the learning and development of children from low-income families. Both quantitative research syntheses (that pool estimates across studies and apply statistical tests) and traditional best-evidence reviews have found that such programs produced meaningful gains in cognitive, social, and emotional development during the preschool years (White and Casto, 1985; McKey et al., 1985; Ramey et al., 1985). Although the studies of Head Start and public preschool programs have tended to em-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ploy weaker methodologies, these studies indicate that public programs have been able to produce the same types of immediate and short-term effects (Barnett, 1995, 1998). Also, public preschool programs have successfully provided broader services to improve children’s nutrition and access to medical and dental services (Fosburg et al., 1984; Hale et al., 1990; Barnett and Brown, 2000).

The average size of the immediate effect of these preschool programs on cognitive development and achievement was about one-half of a standard deviation; effects in other domains tended to be slightly smaller (Barnett, 1998). Cross-study comparisons and a few planned within-study comparisons indicate that the magnitude of initial effects varies with the intensity and duration of the program (Ramey et al., 1985; Barnett and Camilli, in press; Wasik et al., 1990; St. Pierre et al., 1998). The programs with the largest initial effects on learning and development tended to be those that provided the greatest quantity of services (operating for more hours per year and continuing for more years) with high staff-to-child ratios (e.g., 1 to 3 for infants, 1 to 6 at ages 3 and 4) and highly qualified staff (Barnett and Camilli, in press; Frede, 1998).

There is some disagreement about the extent to which the effects of preschool education programs persist (Barnett, 1998; McKey et al., 1985; Woodhead, 1988; Haskins, 1989; Locurto, 1991; Spitz, 1986). In many studies—of both model programs developed by researchers and less intensive public programs—some of the estimated effects decline over time and are negligible several years after children leave the programs (see reviews by Barnett, 1998; White and Casto, 1985; McKey et al., 1985; Ramey et al., 1985). Some scholars have argued that fade-out occurs because of weaknesses in the schools that disadvantaged children attend after leaving the preschool programs (Lee and Loeb, 1995). Others (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994) have concluded that public programs like Head Start do not improve cognitive functioning, although more intensive and more costly preschool programs may do so. Close examination of the results from these studies suggests that there are long-term positive effects on children’s learning and subsequent school success, although the effects on IQ decline over time (Barnett, 1998; Barnett and Camilli, in press).

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

A substantial body of empirical evidence indicates these preschool programs have prevented grade repetition and special education placements for disadvantaged children over the long term. A review of over 30 longitudinal studies by Barnett (1998) concluded that preschool programs serving disadvantaged children also produced long-term gains in achievement as measured by standardized tests. In drawing this conclusion, Barnett relied heavily on the findings of controlled experiments with sound longitudinal follow-ups that lost few study participants over time. The few studies that have examined high school graduation rates found sizable effects on these as well (Barnett, 1998).

In contrast to the findings for other outcomes, initial effects on IQ tests clearly disappear over time in the vast majority of studies. Why this occurs and how important it is are much less clear. There is considerable controversy about how well IQ measures intelligence in the way it is commonly understood by the general public (Sternberg and Detterman, 1986; Neisser et al., 1995). The lack of long-term gains in IQ, at the same time that such gains are produced in subject-matter-specific knowledge and skills and school success, raises similar questions. However, two of the most intensive programs, which began full-day, year-round educational child care in the first year of life and continued to age 5, produced very large initial IQ effects and some IQ advantage that persisted years after leaving the program (Garber, 1988; Campbell and Ramey, 1993). Even in these studies, the size of the effect on IQ declines over the years, while the improvements in achievement and school success do not (Barnett, 1998). It is also interesting that a similar program, with a primary focus on parents and relatively greater emphasis on social-emotional development, did not sustain effects on IQ even up to the end of the program (Lally et al., 1987).

The programs that researchers developed specifically to investigate the influence of preschool education on economically disadvantaged children are a useful source of information about positive influences on development. These programs have been found to be highly effective in producing immediate benefits for children and to produce longer-term effects in at least a dozen rigorous longitudinal studies. Some of the studies with the strongest outcomes were highly controlled random assignment experi-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ments. Moreover, these programs seem to produce larger effects than ordinary public programs that have been less well funded and thus more constrained with respect to quality. These programs provide models for best practice. In developing these models, researchers drew on the wide range of theoretical and practical traditions that have influenced early childhood education in the United States, going back to Froebel and Seguin and including McMillan, Montessori, Dewey, Smith Hill, Gesell, Thorndike, Freud, and Piaget (Condry, 1983; Spodek, 1991).

Frede (1998) investigated commonalties and differences among the model programs with evidence of long-term effectiveness. The models she examined had been subject to outcome studies at least through elementary school, provided center-based preschool experiences for low-income children, and included in their reports written descriptions of their curriculum and classroom practices (see Table 4–1). Based on close analyses of these descriptions, the following factors were found to be present in most programs:

  • Curriculum content and learning processes that cultivate school-related skills and knowledge, with a heavy focus on language development,

  • Qualified teaching staff who use reflective teaching practices aided by highly qualified supervisors,

  • Low teacher-child ratio and small class sizes,

  • Intense and coherent programming, and

  • Collaborative relationships with parents.

Detailed descriptions of the curricula used across the longitudinal studies exist for some programs (Bereiter and Engelmann, 1966; Garber, 1988; Karnes et al., 1972; Lally and Honig, 1977; Miller and Dyer, 1975; Palmer and Siegel, 1977; Ramey et al., 1982; Weikart, 1972; Weikart et al., 1967, 1978). Data based on actual classroom observation of the teacher practices are rare, although Weikart et al. (1978) provide an important exception. On the basis of the descriptions, Frede (1998) derived several generalizations about the process and content of the curricula employed by the model programs.

While classroom interactions are different from those at home

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 4–1 Longitudinal Studies

Researcher

Age Group

Ratio

Group size

Duration

Abecedarian Project (Campbell and Ramey, 1994)

Infants,

1:3

14

5 years

preschool

1:6

12

 

Brookline Early Education Project (Hauser-Cram et al., 1991)

Infants,

1:1

 

5 years

preschool

1:6

18

 

Early Childhood Education Project (Sigel et al., 1973; Cataldo, 1978)

2–3 years

1:7

22

3 years

Early Training Project (Gray et al., 1982)

Preschool

1:5

20

2 or 3 years

Family Development Research Program (Honig and Lally, 1982)

Infants, preschool

1:4

8

5 years

Harlem Training Project (Palmer, 1983)

Preschool

1:1

NA

1–2 years

Infant Health and Development Program (Ramey et al., 1992; Infant Health and Development Program Consortium, 1990)

1–2 years

1:3

6

3 years

2–3 years

1:4

8

 

Milwaukee Project (Garber, 1988)

2 years

1:2

?

6 years

3 years

1:3

 

 

preschool

1:7

 

 

Perry Preschool Project (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1993)

Preschool

1:5

20–25

2 years

Project CARE (Wasik et al., 1990)

Infants,

1:3

14

5 years

preschool

1:6

12

 

 

SOURCES: Data from Frede (1998) and Lazar et al. (1977).

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Intensity

Curriculum

Teacher Qualifications

Activities for Parents

Full-day

Interactive

Experienced paraprofessionals to certified teachers

Group meetings, home visits

Part- or full-day

Interactive

Certified teachers

Home visits, guided observation in classroom

Half-day

Interactive

Certified teachers and 2 paraprofessionals

None

Part-day 10 weeks summer

Structured interactive

Certified teacher

Weekly home visits during academic year

Full-day

Interactive but less structured

Paraprofessional— Home visitors/ professional teachers

Weekly home visits— informal class visits and daily notes home

2 week

2 tutoring approaches: concept training or discovery

Tutors change every 6 weeks—high school to Ph.D. candidate

None

Full-day

Interactive

Bachelor’s degree with Early Childhood Education specialty

Home visits

Full-day

Cognitive curriculum

Paraprofessional/ certified teacher at 4 years

Job training, social services, home visits

Half-day

Interactive

Certified teachers

Weekly home visits

Full-day

Interactive

Experienced paraprofessionals to certified teachers

Group meetings, home visits

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

for all children, they were most dissimilar from the home settings of low-income and minority children (Heath, 1983). At least some of the time, teachers used a discourse pattern that engages children in an initiation-reply-evaluation sequence (Mehan, 1979). As an example, the teacher might ask, “Which of these do you think will float in water?” The child replies, “The cork.” The teacher says, “Let’s see if you are right.” Preschool children also were introduced to such strategies for remembering as rehearsal and categorization (Cole et al., 1971; Wagner, 1978).

Although the models differed philosophically with respect to methods, program content was similar across programs because to some extent they all drew on traditional kindergarten and nursery school practices in the United States (Frede, 1998). Typical classroom activities and materials involved shapes, colors, sizes, numbers, animals, transportation, prepositions, seasons, and holidays. Programs shared a strong emphasis on language. Teachers provided a model of standard English and a context that provided opportunities and incentives for children to learn to speak so that they could be understood, to learn to understand others, and to express symbolic concepts through speech.

Of course, these model programs also differed in the focus of the teachers and the program developers. For example, some focused most intensely on cognitive development, while others focused more on social and emotional development (Day and Parker, 1977; Lazar et al., 1977). Despite their differences, the commonalties reported above appear to be sufficient to ensure that all of them produced significant gains in cognitive development. However, program differences may have produced some differences in cognitive effects and, to a greater extent, in social and emotional development. Research comparing these programs and others developed based on these models has accumulated over the years and provides significant insights into the importance of differences among the models.

Questions have been raised about the extent to which the results from longitudinal studies of high-quality interventions for preschool children from low-income families can be generalized to widespread, poorly funded programs (Barnett and Camilli, in press; Chubrich and Kelley, 1994; Haskins, 1989; Woodhead, 1988). The critics suggest that the public programs are not repli-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

eating the quality and intensity of the preschool programs in the original efficacy studies, and thus the same effects cannot be expected. Others believe that one preschool intervention is much the same as the next, and the positive benefits of the experimental programs studied in longitudinal research will automatically devolve on community-based programs. The empirical evidence supports the former view, namely, that less well-funded public programs do not provide the same quality of education and result in smaller benefits for learning and development. Barnett and Camilli (in press) note that studies of Head Start and public school preschool programs found smaller long-term effects on school success than did studies of model programs. Seppanen and colleagues (1993) found that preschool classrooms for disadvantaged children (Title I) did not provide regular activities dealing with mathematics, language, and science and were lacking in small-group interaction and individual attention. The Cost and Quality Team (1995) found that the majority of child care programs provide mediocre to low-quality experiences. These studies remind us that the quality of specific services provided in preschool programs determines the benefits low-income children will derive from them.

PRESCHOOL PROGRAM QUALITY AND CHILDREN’S LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

Model Programs

As Frede (1998) makes clear, determining the effects of curricula or teaching methods on young children is a complex and difficult task. A number of problems result from the difficulties of measuring learning and development in young children. Standardized tests of cognitive ability in early childhood are of questionable validity (Kamii, 1990). Measures of social development are problematic, since they often fail to discriminate adequately among children (Datta, 1983). Different curricular approaches have different goals; thus different outcomes should be expected, and comparing the programs on the same outcome measures can bias findings in favor of one approach or another. The same type of bias can occur in trying to measure treatment implementation:

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

the appropriate observation techniques for one approach may fail to discern important practices or failures in implementation of another approach.

Significant limitations of many early education comparison studies make it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the relative effectiveness of different curricula. Rarely are experimental methods used, which makes generalization questionable. When random assignment is not used, it is extremely difficult to disentangle the effects of the educational model from family characteristics that lead parents to choose a program using a particular approach, child characteristics that lead to the choice of a particular program that is thought to best meet the needs of the child, neighborhood characteristics, and other program characteristics that may be associated with choice of model. Another complication is that children’s development is influenced by many factors, children influence their own environments, and development occurs in multiple domains, which may be differentially affected by particular methods.

Since the expansion of early childhood education that began in the 1960s, several studies comparing the effects of various program models have been reported and reviewed. The comparison studies were designed to determine whether a program based on one theory of learning and development was more beneficial to children’s learning and development than one based on another theory. Children who attended classrooms using one program model were compared with children in classrooms using other models (Karnes et al., 1983; Miller and Bizzell, 1983, 1984; Weikart et al., 1978). Other possibly important sources of influence on learning and development, such as teacher-child ratio, class size, teacher training, and child characteristics, were held constant.

Reflecting the dominant interests of the era, the comparison studies reviewed here contrasted three basic types of curricula, which Coffin (1994) describes as direct instruction, traditional, and cognitive. In direct instruction, the teacher presents information to the children in structured, drill-and-practice group lessons that are fast-paced, teach discrete skills in small steps, and involve frequent praise. Traditional approaches flow from a belief that children must direct their own learning and will learn when they are ready, as long as the teachers provide stimulating materi-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

als and support for the children’s choices. Socialization is often the main goal of this curriculum. Cognitive curriculum adherents view learning as an active exchange between the child and her environment, one key element of which is the teacher. In this model, teachers initiate activities designed to foster children’s reasoning and problem-solving abilities, and they interact with children during child-designed activities to add new ideas or enhance learning. The open classroom and interactive curricula are both considered nondidactic because teachers rarely instruct children in groups on discrete skills, although they do use direct instruction with individual children.

Table 4–2 presents characteristics of the major curriculum comparison studies. Looking at results across these studies does not reveal consistent differences in child outcomes among the various curricula. Some studies report apparent differences in outcomes for subgroups, but these are all post-hoc comparisons.

In studies comparing direct instruction and cognitive-interactive curricula (Cole et al., 1991, 1993), researchers found that the different approaches failed to produce consistently differential results on measures of general cognitive abilities (McCarthy Scales), language development (TELD, PPVT-R), or highly specific skills similar to those taught in the direct instruction approach. These findings suggested that the direct instruction approach is not so narrow that children fail to obtain general learning gains and that the cognitive approach is not so general that children fail to learn specific skills. The researchers found some evidence of treatment-by-aptitude interactions, with children who scored lowest on pretest measures gaining more in the cognitive curriculum. However, these interactions were sufficiently small to raise questions about their practical significance (Cole et al., 1993; Mills et al., 1995).

In an experimental comparison with long-term follow-up, Schweinhart et al. (1986) found no significant differences in cognitive (IQ and achievement) outcomes. However, they found that a direct instruction model in preschool did not have the same effects on socialization as child-centered approaches. Children who attended the direct instruction program had higher rates of delinquency and were less willing to help others and participate in civic activities. The direct instruction model also appeared to be

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

TABLE 4–2 Curriculum Comparison Studies Completed*

Researcher

Ratio

Group Size

Duration

Miller (4 curricula)

1:7

15

1 year

Dale and Cole (2 curricula)

 

 

2 years

Karnes (5 curricula)

1:5

15

8 months

 

1:8

16

 

Weikart (3 curricula)

1:8

15–16

2 years

*Studies completed by a researcher who was a developer of one of the models compared.

SOURCES: Data from Dale and Cole (1988), Karnes et al. (1977, 1983), Miller and Bizzell (1983, 1984), Miller and Dyer (1975), Weikart et al. (1978).

less effective at preventing emotional impairments, as measured by placements in special education for emotional impairment or disturbance when compared with a cognitively oriented model and a “traditional” nursery school that allow for substantial initiation of activities by the child. These results have been questioned on methodological grounds by, among others, the developers of the direct instruction curriculum (Bereiter, 1986; Gersten, 1986). Their major complaint is that model developers should not evaluate the effects of their own models. If evaluator bias was introduced, it does not appear to have been through faulty program implementation. Training in the direct instruction model was provided by that model’s developers. All three approaches were observed by 12 national experts in the field of early childhood education and care, who concluded that the classrooms and the teachers’ explanations of their teaching were faithful examples of the differing models (Weikart et al., 1978).

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

Intensity

Curriculum

Teacher Qualifications

Activities for Parents

Full-day

4 curricula comparison: varying from highly structured to traditional

Unclear for all, some teachers had master’s degrees

Head Start parent involvement

Part-day

2 curricula comparison: direct instruction and cognitive curriculum

 

 

Part-day

5 curricula comparison: varying from highly structured to traditional

Certified teachers in at least 3 programs

2 curricula held parent conferences and school visits by parents

Part-day

3 curricula comparison: direct instruction, interactive, traditional

Certified teachers

Biweekly home visits

The Planned Variation Head Start study (Rivlin and Timpane, 1975), in which multiple curricula were implemented in Head Start Programs throughout the country, produced inconclusive results about differential effects. Maccoby and Zellner (1970) reviewed 10 contrasting models used in Project Follow-Through, which followed preschool children from Head Start. These programs were referred to as experimental intervention programs and were designed or modified to continue the preschool models into the primary grades. Miller (1979) classified the competing program models as “regular” or “traditional,” the latter based on “the prevailing wisdom at established child development institutes” (p. 196). The regular models were generally school-like in that they offered formal instruction in preacademic skills involving letter recognition and learning sounds and numbers (Miller, 1979). Roopnarine and Lohnson (1993) use the term approach rather than model to suggest main elements or directions of the program

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

rather than ideal and detailed versions of how they should be implemented.

No significant differences in child cognitive outcomes were consistently found among the different models or between the model programs and typical Head Start. There was considerable variation within different classrooms using the same model as well as between classrooms using different models. However, the comparisons were fraught with possible confounds. Fidelity of implementation was highly variable; the same supervisors were used for model and regular Head Start classrooms, making treatment diffusion likely; and, as stated above, outcome measures appropriate for one curriculum are unlikely to be appropriate for another.

One of the difficulties in making cross-program comparisons is that programs can vary on many dimensions that are hard to control and may be related to program quality (Frede, 1998). Many characteristics influence a program’s capacity to provide children with frequent optimal interactions with adults, other children, and the physical environment. If experimental studies were conducted on a large scale with large numbers of classrooms, variations in the other program characteristics could be expected to average out. But most curriculum comparison studies have been quite small.

The Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) provides some recent evidence regarding Head Start outcomes, though it is at best suggestive as the research design is weak for addressing questions of outcomes. The study employed no pretest or comparison group. Zill and colleagues (1998) found the median standard score on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) to be 89.5 for Head Start 4-year-olds in the spring prior to kindergarten entry. They suggest that this score is 4 to 8 points higher than would be expected for a typical low-income child of the same age. They also find that PPVT-III scores increase with program quality. This would be expected if the program was responsible for gains, but it would also be true if less disadvantaged children attended better Head Start programs. Unfortunately, there is no way to judge accurately how Head Start children in the study would have scored on the PPVT-III without intervention. Findings of very small effects on child development in randomized

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

trials of the Comprehensive Child Development Program and Even Start (where Head Start provided much of the service) suggest that an estimated effect of 4 points might be an upper bound (St. Pierre et al., 1998). Estimates in this range are smaller than the estimates in randomized trials of more intensive interventions (Barnett and Boocock, 1998).

Research on Natural Variation

A second major source of information about “what works” is provided by research that takes advantage of naturally occurring variations among early childhood programs. Such studies draw inferences about what works by examining the correlation between program characteristics and program outcomes. Some studies relate program structure (e.g., class size, teacher qualifications) directly to child development and learning. Others relate program structure to program processes, i.e., teacher practices and children’s activities in the classroom. Finally, some studies relate measures of program processes to child development and learning. Thus, program quality (what works) may be thought of at the levels of both structure and process, and structure is thought to affect child development and learning through its influence on process. A limitation of these studies is that program characteristics and child outcomes may vary together because both are influenced by another variable such as family background, and it can be difficult for statistical procedures to correctly adjust for the effects of these other influences.

One strand of this research investigates the effects on children of programs that follow professional guidelines for developmentally appropriate practices, called DAP (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997).

The research on developmentally appropriate practices, focusing on natural variations across many community settings and with different groups of children, indicates that developmentally appropriate practices, similar to those used in the child-centered curricula, do promote better child development outcomes than non-DAP practices in preschool and child care settings. One study (Charlesworth et al., 1993; Burts et al., 1990) found that the developmental appropriateness of the kindergarten classroom

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

was particularly important for low SES children. Such children, placed in developmentally inappropriate kindergartens, experienced more stress (e.g., nail biting, fighting, tremors, feeling sick) and received lower grades in school than did their counterparts in developmentally appropriate programs. Another study (Holloway and Reichart-Erikson, 1988) found more positive interactions among children in child care classrooms rated as developmentally appropriate. In a more recent study of preschool programs for children from low-income families, those who attended developmentally appropriate programs as opposed to direct instruction classrooms were more successful academically as assessed by teacher grades of the extent to which they mastered basic skills in elementary school (Marcon, 1992, 1994). At least one study of preschool programs serving children from middle-class families (Hyson et al., 1990) found results similar to those for low-SES children. The middle-class children who attended developmentally appropriate programs did slightly better than those in highly academic ones on measures of academic skills and creativity. They also exhibited fewer anxious behaviors. In this study, Hyson and colleagues noted a relationship between parental beliefs and practices and the type of center their child attended.

FINDINGS ACROSS EARLY EDUCATION APPROACHES

In our review of program approaches, we found the following converging results across studies.

Teacher-Child Ratio and Class Size

Both class size and staff-child ratio critically influence program quality and children’s learning and development. Class size in the model preschool programs that provide much of the research on positive outcomes for children tended to be low even compared with the recommendations of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For example, the two best-known programs—the High/Scope Perry Preschool and the Abecedarian programs—had class sizes of 12 to 13 children with 2 teachers (Weikart et al., 1967; Ramey and Campbell, 1984). Small classes and better ratios enable teachers to provide more indi-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

vidual attention and nurturing interactions. They are associated with higher scores on global measures of quality and, more specifically, more extensive teacher-child interaction, more individualization, less restrictive and controlling teacher behavior, and children engaging in more social interaction, more extensive and complex language, and more complex play (McGurk et al., 1995; Layzer et al., 1993; Clarke-Stewart and Gruber, 1994; Howes, 1997; Kontos et al., 1997; Howes et al., 1992). Smith (1999) found that smaller group size was associated with more child initiations and more opportunities for teachers to work on extending language, mediating children’s social interactions, and encouraging and supporting exploration and problem solving.

Given the effects of group size and ratio on classroom processes, effects on learning and child development should be expected to follow. Research widely confirms this result. Studies of large samples of programs that encompass the range of class sizes and ratios currently experienced by children in the United States consistently find that smaller preschool classes and higher teacher-child ratios are associated with greater cognitive gains as measured by IQ, achievement tests, and school success and better social outcomes, including classroom behavior, for children (Phillipsen et al., 1997; Dunn, 1993; Clarke-Stewart and Gruber, 1994; Howes, 1997; Howes et al., 1992; Kontos et al., 1997; Phillips et al., 1987, 1986). The National Day Care Study (Ruopp et al., 1979) determined that even when ratios were held constant, smaller classes were better for children.

Research on kindergarten and the early grades provides further evidence of the importance of class size for young children. Moreover, some of these studies are experiments or quasi-experiments in which class size was systematically varied so that they provide greater confidence that the results are not due to some coincidental factor (Achilles et al., 1995; Russell, 1985). In Australia, Russell (1985) found that reducing kindergarten class size led to more staff interaction with children and less teasing and annoying of others by children. In the United States, smaller class sizes were found to increase student achievement, and children from lower-income families and inner cities benefited most from smaller classes (Achilles et al., 1995; Ferguson, 1998; Krueger, 1997; Wenglinsky, 1997; Mosteller, 1995). Large-scale studies in

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Tennessee, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have found that reducing class size to 15 in the early grades produced substantial long-term gains in student achievement (Achilles et al., 1995). The largest of these studies found that reducing class size from 22–26 to 13–17 children in kindergarten through grade 3 increased student achievement in reading, math, and science through middle school, decreased grade repetition, and increased high school graduation rates (Boyd-Zaharias and Pate-Bain, 2000; Krueger, 1999; Finn et al., 1999).

The distinction between ratio and class size is important, although it is difficult to disentangle class size and ratio in most studies. Undoubtedly, both are important, but the studies that are able to disentangle them (e.g., Mosteller, 1995; Boyd-Zaharias and Pate-Bain, 2000) indicate that improving the ratio without reducing class size does not yield the same effects. Randomized trials in kindergarten through grade 3 compared the effects of adding an aide to the classroom to reductions in class size that produced the same adult-child ratio and found that the added aide did not produce the substantial, persistent gains in achievement obtained from reducing class size (Mosteller, 1995). Thus, a class size of 22 with a teacher and two aides is not an adequate substitute for a class size of 15 with a teacher and one aide.

The existing research is not sufficient to suggest the optimal class size for children at each age. However, it does indicate that smaller class sizes and better ratios than are now commonly required would benefit children, especially children from low-income families. Ratios in the experimental literature rarely exceeded one teacher for every 7 children, which is better than prevailing practices in many education and care programs today (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995). Only one state requires child care centers to maintain a ratio of one teacher for 7 or 8, 3-and 4-year old children, and regulations in other states range from 10 to 20 children per teacher. Class sizes in early care and education rarely are as small as 15 and frequently exceed 20 (Gormley, 1995). Moreover, unless they are in a Head Start program (where standards are relatively high), low-SES children, who would benefit most from small class sizes, tend to have the largest class sizes in early care and education as well as in kindergarten programs.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Program Intensity and Coherence

Although one would expect the most effective programs to be those with the most intense and long-lasting interventions, comparisons among the longitudinal research studies allow only general conclusions regarding the benefits of program intensity and duration (McKey et al., 1985; Ramey et al., 1985). As Tables 4–1 and 4–2 show, some effective programs offered only a half-day program during the school year, and others began intervention in infancy and continued through to elementary school; one of these continued intervention in the early grades for some of the children. Another study began in preschool but provided intervention into the elementary school. Two of the studies that began in infancy are the only longitudinal studies to find lasting IQ gains for the experimental group, with the exception of the Harlem Study (where design limitations raise questions about this finding). The Harlem Study offered one-to-one tutoring to boys in Harlem twice a week at age 2 or 3. In addition, the Perry Project that offered one or two years of preschool intervention has shown remarkable effects of the program into adulthood (Schweinhart et al., 1993). Given the number of ways in which intensity and continuity of service can vary, these must be viewed as more than a simple function of time in a program. Obviously, two 1-hour sessions per week one-on-one with a teacher is intensive in a different way than 6–10 hours every weekday in a classroom. Other programs have sought to increase intensity with lower ratios, home visiting components, and high levels of engagement.

Responses to Parents

The attitudes of early childhood practitioners toward parents also show both similarities and differences across early childhood programs. Early in the century, parents came to be considered crucial players, as the new social and health sciences informed them about the best ways to rear their children. William John Cooper, then U.S. Commissioner of Education commented, “No longer may we assume that it [parenting] is an inborn capacity. So to mother’s heart must now be added mother’s head” (Powell, 1991:93). In early childhood classrooms, parents were encouraged

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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to observe or to work with children under the guidance of a professional teacher, thereby joining parents’ involvement and children’s education (Schlossman, 1986).

Attitudes toward parents varied according to social class. Unlike preschools and centers serving low-income children and those with special needs, middle-class nursery schools assumed that parents were interested in and capable of educating themselves. They were offered voluntary opportunities for learning and involvement in their children’s education, and their participation was expected but not required. This contrasted with the view that poor parents need to be encouraged to change their childrearing practices. Child care programs, organized and administered by social service agencies, tended to view families as distressed and instructed poor and immigrant families on appropriate childrearing. The interest of early childhood programs in educating parents about child development was spurred by new research. In general, over the century, parent education moved from a focus on physical health (primarily sanitation and inoculations), to mental health at midcentury (relationships and emotional well-being), and to cognitive and social development (school success and social tractability) as the century ended (Bowman, 1997).

Many believe that helping parents improve their skills as caregivers is an effective method of improving children’s life chances; however, according to St. Pierre et al. (1998), experience has shown that programs for parents alone do not influence children’s development as strongly as do programs that involve children directly. Most of the longitudinal studies reviewed earlier in this chapter combined center-based experiences for children with extensive parent involvement components. Weekly or biweekly home visits by the child’s teacher, parent group meetings, and parent involvement in the classroom were methods used by many of the programs. In most programs, the staff strove to establish a collaborative relationship with the parents in which knowledge about the child was shared from both the home and the classroom perspective. Frede (1998) suggests that this intimate and collegial relationship would further two goals. First, it would help parents in their interactions with the child. Second, it would help the teacher understand the child better and thereby

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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facilitate more effective teaching in the classroom. Not only would this understanding of the child as an individual be beneficial, but the teacher would also have a better understanding of the contexts in which the child must function, of the parent’s aims and hopes for the child, and of the values of the child’s culture. Frede (1998) posits that this collaboration would result in the adults helping the children make sense of their worlds, rather than leaving it up to the child to integrate dissimilar contexts.

Few current early childhood programs continue to offer the kind of parent involvement characteristic of programs in the experimental studies. In most Head Start programs, if home visits are offered, they are infrequent, and the child’s classroom staff (Brush et al., 1993; Zigler and Styfco, 1994) does not conduct them. Child care centers and other community programs are unlikely to involve most parents in activities other than occasional meetings or parent conferences (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1995). The extent to which program effects on children could be enhanced by improved parent involvement is unclear. Although the theoretical basis for efficacy is clear, many current efforts to work with parents do not appear to be effective (Boutte, 1992; White et al., 1992; Gomby et al., 1999). Given this apparent discrepancy, rigorous research aimed at identifying highly effective parent involvement strategies would be extremely valuable.

Staff Qualifications

Decades of research on teaching have found the teacher’s intellectual abilities to be a strong predictor of how much a child learns from a teacher (Hanushek, 1971; Murnane and Phillips, 1981; Ferguson, 1998). In addition, teachers who attended “better” (more selective) colleges are associated with higher student achievement (Ballou and Podgursky, 1997; Ferguson, 1998). Findings of research on early childhood care and education are entirely consistent with the larger literature on teacher effectiveness.

Early childhood teachers’ education and training have been linked to global measures of program quality, language and social exchanges between teachers and children, enhanced classroom literacy environments, more positive and less negative teacher affect, and better child behavior and development

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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(Barnett et al., 1999; Barnett et al., 1987; Clarke-Stewart and Gruber, 1994; Howes and Olenick, 1986; Whitebook et al, 1989; Howes et al., 1992; Ruopp et al., 1979). While any teacher education related to early childhood development or education is better than none, teachers with bachelor’s (or higher) degrees in early childhood development appear to be most effective (Arnett, 1989; lizard et al., 1976; Ruopp et al., 1979; Finkelstein, 1983; Whitebook et al., 1989; Dunn, 1993; Howes, 1997). Teacher compensation also is strongly related to program quality. Teacher compensation rates in early education and care are quite low compared with other fields; higher pay allows programs to attract and retain more highly qualified teachers (Whitebook et al., 1993). Employing qualified teachers who are satisfied with their compensation is associated with programs providing higher-quality early childhood experiences for children (Phillipsen et al., 1997; Scarr et al., 1994).

Why does a teacher of preschool-aged children need a college degree and specialized preparation in early childhood education? The research suggests that while young children are capable of learning a vast amount quickly and with enthusiasm, what and how much they learn are highly dependent on the adults with whom they interact. Adults provide the structure and support for children’s learning through the activities they choose, the concepts they stress, and the frequency of their interactions with children. For example, the frequency of meaningful conversation with adults, along with the adults’ uses of vocabulary and grammar, strongly influences a child’s verbal knowledge. If early childhood teachers are to meet the needs of children individually and in groups and to design curricula and plan interactions that are meaningful they require a grounding in the content and methods of early childhood education and a sound knowledge of early learning and child development. They also need a rich, integrated subject matter mastery, if they are to artfully weave skill and content learning into activities. In most programs reporting increased social and educational achievement, the teachers are highly educated, specially trained to work with young children, well supervised, and actively involved in program planning and evaluation.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Teachers as Reflective Practitioners

Another important commonality across effective programs using specific models was that the teachers/caregivers were involved in conducting research and in model development (Frede, 1998). There is good reason to believe that this led them to be more effective teachers and was not simply an example of the Hawthorne effect, in which involvement in any innovation enhances outcomes. In most programs, the teachers were either highly educated or specially trained to work with young children or already had years of supervised experience. In addition, teachers were engaged in regular reflection on their teaching practices, with support from the research and curriculum specialists. As Neilson (1990) has suggested, teaching at its best is research: teachers generate questions, gather data, test hypotheses, and draw conclusions. In the studies reviewed by Frede (1998), this process was systematized and augmented by teachers’ interactions with the research teams. As the following sample excerpts from program descriptions indicate, in the experimental programs, teachers and other staff met often to discuss the program and the development of individual children:

The research staff offered consulting service on all aspects of the program. Weekly seminars were held for the entire preschool staff in order to discuss with authorities in various fields the topics pertinent to the operation of the program…. There was a constant effort to meet individual needs…to evaluate each child’s understanding of an experience (Weikart et al., 1967:76, 24).

During the year, staff held weekly case conferences, in which the progress, problems and strengths of a particular youngster were discussed in depth…. Plans were drawn up for possible ways to enhance the child’s participation in the program…. Input from every staff member was valued when such a problem arose and over time many became more skillful in helping individual children (Lally et al., 1987:8–9).

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Teachers are given inservice training and consultative help in assessing children’s needs, setting objectives, planning and implementing activities that will stimulate particular kinds of communication and in evaluating their own interactions with children…. Consultants helped them to select objectives to work on in the classroom each week, and guided them in devising activities that would help children reach the objectives set (Ramey et al, 1982:163–165).

An ongoing training program that included group meetings, on the job training, and annual seminars was implemented by the curriculum supervisor…. The second portion of the group meetings centered around the personal needs of the caregivers and sensitizing the caregivers to the needs of the children…. Discussions emphasized personal attitudes toward specific children, education,…specific behavior…. This enabled placement of each child with a caregiver who felt positively about him/her (Garber, 1988:42–43).

This attention to teacher thinking, planning, and evaluating with outside support can be seen across very different curricular approaches and is an essential feature of some curriculum models (e.g., see the discussion below of Reggio Emilia). In discussing the traditional, child-centered curriculum employed in the High/Scope Curriculum Demonstration Project, Weikart quotes the classroom teachers: “The specific plans are formulated on a day-to-day basis, since the plans for one day depend on the successes or failures of the day before. Just as important as the planning is the evaluation immediately following each day” (Weikart, 1972:196). But this approach was not limited to the nondidactic programs. Joseph Glick commented, after observing all three of the classrooms in this study, “Common to all of the groups is the tremendous amount of preparation” (cited in Weikart et al., 1978:50). There is evidence in both the Curriculum Demonstration Project and the Karnes comparison study (Karnes, 1983) that even the teachers in the “programmed” approach spent time reflecting on their practice, meeting with curriculum experts, and making adjustments to make the program fit the children they were teaching. By contrast, caregivers who work in community

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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child care programs and even many preschool teachers in public programs lack time for planning, reflection, and assessment, and few receive regular supervision by trained educational leaders (Fenichel, 1992; Jorde-Bloom, 1988).

The proponents of the teacher as a reflective practitioner hold the view that reflection leads to improved and more expert teaching (Richardson, 1994). In the model programs studies in the 1960s and 1970s, teachers were given time to reflect and evaluate. Time was structured for this to occur through interactions with other teachers and with outside experts. The outside experts came into the classroom to conduct observations, by which they enhanced their ability to facilitate the teachers’ reflections. In addition, teachers had opportunities to discuss their reflections with children’s parents on a regular and intimate basis.

Influences of Classroom Activities on Children’s Learning and Development

A considerable number of studies have investigated the effects of the quality of early education and care environments on children’s abilities. These studies examine teachers’ behavior and their interactions and relationships with children, as well as child behavior and children’s interactions with their peers and the physical environment of the classroom and playground. The most commonly used measure of quality is the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale—ECERS (see Box 4–1; Harms and Clifford, 1980). However, evidence of the relationship between classroom processes and child outcomes is not limited to any one approach to measuring process quality.

McCartney (1984) examined the quality of nine child care centers in Bermuda using the ECERS. The range of ECERS summary scores for these nine centers was moderately large (ranging from 66.5 to 191). McCartney found that the ECERS summary scores for the child care centers were moderately correlated (r=0.23) with the children’s receptive vocabulary scores (PPVT-R). In a related study, McCartney et al., (1985) compared 22 disadvantaged children in Bermuda attending a high-quality, government-run intervention program with 144 children attending other child care programs in Bermuda of varying quality on intellectual, lan-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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BOX 4–1 The Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale

The ECERS is a rating scale designed for preschool classes, which provides an assessment of aspects of the curriculum, the environment, teacher-child interactions, and teaching practices in the classroom (Bryant et al., 1989). Based on a three-hour observation in the classroom, each item on the ECERS is scored from 1 to 7. Descriptions are anchored at odd numbers (1=inadequate, 3=minimal, 5=adequate, 7=excellent). A summary score can be obtained by totaling scores on the 37 subscales.

guage, and social skills. Children were age 3 or older. Although the mothers of the children in the intervention group had lower IQ scores and were of lower occupational status than mothers of children in the comparison group, the intervention group children were rated by their caregivers as having better communicative skills than the children attending other child care programs. There were no differences between the two groups on ratings of maladjustment or dependency. When the children in the intervention group were compared with children of similar family background, these findings held and, in addition, the children in the intervention group had higher scores on both the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test—Revised (PPVT-R) and the Preschool Language Assessment Instrument.

In contrast to the previous findings, Kontos and Fiene (1991) found near-zero correlations between ECERS scores for Pennsylvania child care centers and children’s language ability (Slossom-IQ and a subscale of the Classroom, Behavior Inventory, and language scores Test of Early Language Development), a finding that may be attributable to the relatively restricted range of the ECERS scores for the centers in this sample (from 111 to 176), compared with the McCartney sample.

Simple correlations between ECERS scores and children’s receptive vocabulary scores are potentially misleading because they do not account for the entering abilities of the preschool children. Entering abilities may covary with the quality of child care cen-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

ters for the same reasons that better public schools are found in neighborhoods with more advantaged families (Coleman et al., 1966; Jencks, 1972). Thus the higher-quality child care centers as measured by the ECERS may have more advantaged children at their exit from child care because those children were more advantaged upon entry into child care.

ECERS is a global measure of quality that has many components. Researchers have attempted to reduce the causal ambiguity in ECERS analyses by controlling for family background and home environment and by using additional measures of quality (e.g., Kontos, 1991; Phillips et al, 1987; Goelman and Pence, 1988). A recent example is provided by a study in which Bryant et al. (1994) measured the quality of 32 Head Start classrooms in North Carolina. It also measured the cognitive ability of 145 children from these classes using the Kaufman ABC (K-ABC), a normed test that provides a mental processing composite standard score and an achievement standard score. The quality of the home environment was assessed using the Home Screening Questionnaire, completed during an interview with the parent. The Home Screening Questionnaire included questions about the language stimulation in the environment, schedule and organization at home, use of punishment by parents, and family activities. When home environment was controlled statistically, ECERS scores were still predictive of children’s K-ABC mental processing composite and achievement subscales. These data provide further evidence that the preschool environment can have positive effects on children’s abilities, although in this case the abilities measured were more generally cognitive, rather than strictly linguistic.

Schliecker et al. (1989) also accounted for home variables in their analyses. They examined the quality of 11 Montreal child care centers using the ECERS. The range of ECERS summary scores was moderately large (from 93 to 239). Schliecker and colleagues found relations between ECERS scores and children’s receptive vocabulary scores (PPVT-R) (beta=0.29) after the socioeconomic status of the family was controlled (R2 increment=0.07; p<0.01).

That correlation has been observed between ECERS scores and children’s development is consistent with the view that ECERS measures a general construct related to center quality.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Harms and Clifford (1980) report high content validity (78 percent agreement of importance among experts), and subscales provide some information about specific program components and activities (e.g., physical environment and resources, language and reasoning activities, teacher-child interactions). Yet it is possible for similar totals to mask important differences between programs and even for the subscales do not capture all of the differences among programs that one would expect to contribute to quality. Additional measures with greater specificity are required to investigate the relative importance of various aspects of quality for enhancing children’s experiences and development. A number of other quality measures have been developed, some with a much more specific focus (e.g., Arnett, 1989; High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, 1998; Howes and Stewart, 1987; Stipek et al., 1992). Two examples of research with other measures are provided below.

Frede et al. (1993) investigated the effects of specific preschool teacher behaviors associated with developmentally appropriate practice on children’s cognitive skills at entry to first grade (Cognitive Skills Assessment Battery, Boehm and Slater, 1981). An advantage of this study was that a pretest measure (DIAL-R, Mardell-Czudnowzki and Goldenberg, 1984) was employed to adjust for preexisting differences in children’s abilities. Frede and colleagues not only found that the magnitude of child gains varied with their global assessment of program quality, but also that more positive child cognitive development was predicted by such specific teacher behaviors as modeling appropriate communication techniques, extending children’s activities and problem solving by making suggestions, and using a variety of strategies to make children’s recall time (reporting back to the group) interesting.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1996) is a 10-site longitudinal study of 1,364 children assessed at 6, 15, 24, and 36 months of age in five types of nonmaternal child care (center, child care homes, in-home sitters, grandparents, and fathers). Assessments included observations of the child’s child care environment, of the child’s home environment, and standardized measures of the child’s cognitive and lan-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

guage development. In contrast to other instruments such as the ECERS, an observational instrument, the Observational Record of Caregiving Environments (ORCE), was developed to focus on caregivers’ behaviors with a specific child in addition to observations of what was happening in a classroom as a whole.

Results from the NICHD study so far indicate that child and family characteristics are the most significant predictors of child cognitive and language outcomes. Child care variables, however, consistently make an additional small but statistically significant contribution. Quality of provider-child interaction (more positive caregiving and language stimulation) was related to better language scores when the children were 15, 24, and 36 months old. The number of hours of out-of-home care was unrelated to language outcomes.

PROGRAMS FOR ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LEARNERS

In the United States, at least one in seven people speak a language other than English in the home (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997). Head Start (SocioTechnical Research Applications, Inc., 1996) reports that 74 percent of its students speak English, 22 percent speak Spanish, and 4 percent speak one of 139 other languages. What is the most beneficial language environment for use in early childhood programs that include children who have home languages other than English?

Tabors (1997) asserts that early childhood education and care programs functioning currently can be divided in three major groups: first-language classrooms, bilingual classrooms, and English-language classrooms (described in Table 4–3). Below we present examples of these types of programs.

The Carpinteria Preschool Program is an example of a first-language classroom. The teachers and children are native speakers of Spanish, and Spanish is the language used in the program. An evaluation study of the Carpinteria Preschool Program shows positive effects of first-language (L1) use on second-language (L2) acquisition when the children are older (Campos and Rosemberg, 1995). Even though their preschool program was conducted entirely in Spanish, by first grade almost half of the Carpinteria children were fluent in English on the Bilingual Syntax Measure, com-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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TABLE 4–3 Types of Preschool Education Settings for Children from Other than English-Speaking Homes in the United States

 

First-Language Classroom

Bilingual Classroom

English-Language Classroom

Teachers

Native speakers of L1a

Bilingual in L1 and English or native speaker of L1 paired with native speaker of English

Native speakers of English

Children

Native speakers of L1

All native speakers of L1 or mixture of L1 and English speakers

Native speakers of L1 or native speakers of different L1s or either of above and English speakers

Classroom Organization

All interaction in L1

Interaction split between L1 and English

All interaction in English

Language Outcomes

Development of L1; no development of English

Maintenance or development of L1, while also developing English

Development of English; no maintenance or development of L1

SOURCE: Tabors (1997:4); used by permission.

aL1=any specific native language that is not English.

pared with fewer than 10 percent of English-language learners from child care and other programs. Campos and Rosenberg concluded (p. 46):

There was no evident delay in the rate of English acquisition by the Carpinteria Preschool students, and they demonstrated competency in applying their English language skills. When compared with the language-minority comparison preschool group, they acquired English language fluency faster, transitioned out of bilingual education classrooms sooner, and achieved in English language classrooms and on English language standardized tests better. First language development in their preschool program did

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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not interfere or delay their second language learning. Instead the results suggest that they were better prepared to understand and utilize opportunities in their learning environment.

Furthermore, the investigators reported that these students had apparently maintained their bilingual skills and that almost all were expected to graduate from high school.

Several studies have examined bilingual programs and English-language programs on overall language and cognitive development (see August and Hakuta, 1997). Recall from Table 4–3 that bilingual programs have teachers who are bilingual in L1 and English or are native speakers of L1 paired with a native speaker of English. Children in bilingual programs are all native speakers of L1 or a mixture of L1 and English speakers. Classroom interactions are split between L1 and English. Winsler et al. (1999) compared low-income, Spanish-speaking Mexican-American children in a bilingual (Spanish and English) preschool program with those staying at home. The 3- and 4-year-old children in the study were living at a poverty income level and had a demonstrated need for child care. The comparison group was equivalent in income level and neighborhood/school zone but did not attend formal child care. Children who attended the bilingual preschool had gains in Spanish-language development parallel to those of children who stayed home; they also had greater increases in English-language proficiency over time, replicating the findings of a similar study by Rodriguez et al. (1995). Paul and Jarvis (1992) compared English-language learners in bilingual and monolingual prekindergarten classrooms and found positive outcomes for the children in the bilingual classrooms on a criterion-referenced test, the Chicago Early Assessment and Remediation Laboratory.

An English-language classroom (Language Acquisition Project) has been described by Bunce (1995), Rice (1991), and Rice and Wilcox (1990, 1995). Recall from Table 4–3 that in English-language classrooms, the teacher is a native speaker of English and the children are native speakers of one or more L1s, possibly including English. All classroom interactions are in English.

The Language Acquisition Project served two groups of English speaking students (typically developing and those with specific language impairments) and students speaking languages

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

other than English. The program focussed on verbal activities and the encouragement of verbal interaction among the children. All three groups of children made significant progress in learning English.

While all three approaches to teaching language-minority students have been shown to have positive effects on langugage development, the research does not allow for direct comparison of the three methods with each other. As with much of the research reviewed here, the design of the studies does not allow for a definitive conclusion.

EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS IN OTHER COUNTRIES

Taking a close look at early childhood programs abroad brings into relief what the United States has in common with other countries, what features are in some sense distinctively American, and what options are foreclosed and left open as we consider how best to educate young children in America. We are accustomed to thinking of the United States as being part of the industrialized world, as represented by the G-7 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and we share with others in those wealthy groups low rates of infant and child mortality and high rates of school enrollment. In certain other respects, however, the United States resembles the poor countries of the world: a central government that takes little or limited action in the area of early childhood, and a lack of collective standards for the care and education of young children. What is distinctively American is the amount and quality of thinking, imagination, research, analysis, and debate about young children that goes on, as about families generally.

Programs first imagined and experimented with in the United States have become national policy elsewhere. In Europe there are countries in which publicly funded and regulated programs for preschool-aged children are the norm. These programs permit us to see what can happen when early education is taken on as a public responsibility.

In preparation for this report, the committee held a workshop, “Global Perspectives on Early Childhood Education.” Early childhood education in Japan and Reggio Emilia, Italy, drew par-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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ticular attention. Susan Holloway’s description (1999)1 of Japanese preschools emphasized their ideological and programmatic diversity, in contrast with the group-oriented preschools described in the literature. The directors and teachers of all ideologies and programs worked long hours and could be found in the schools in the evening, although the pupils were there only four hours a day. This can be interpreted in terms of the role perfectionism of Japanese workers, including housewives and mothers, as described in the anthropological literature on Japan. Workers identify with their jobs and strive to do well to an extent that looks extreme to a foreign observer. Similarly, in Reggio Emilia, Rebecca New (1999—see footnote 1) and Jerome Bruner (1999— see footnote 1), describe an extraordinary commitment and devotion to the children, quite apart from the content of the pedagogy.

These examples and others suggest that the overseas cases of early education taken to be exemplary are ones in which the teachers and others involved view their jobs as highly professional, whether inspired by a pedagogy that rests on philosophical and political premises, as in Reggio Emilia, or by an emotional identification with an educational role, as in Japan. This level of commitment and dedication, however inspired by ideology, does not occur in an economic and structural vacuum. As Boocock et al. (1999) say:

Some indicators of quality considered essential by American evaluators are accorded less importance elsewhere. For example, the highly regarded preschools in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia…, as well as the French ecole maternelle and most Japanese nursery schools, routinely have class sizes and child-to-staff ratios far in excess of NAEYC standards…. What these high quality programs do have, however, is well-trained personnel…. [I]n nations with high proportions of well-trained teachers and caretakers, salaries tend to be relatively high and staff turnover relatively low (p. 9).

In other words, in the European and Japanese preschools where teachers are observed to be devoted to their pedagogical tasks, they are not only trained and certified but also have good

1  

See the agenda book for the workshop, Global Perspectives on Early Childhood Education, held April 6–7, 1999, at the National Academy of Sciences.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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enough pay and security of employment to build socially respectable careers as early childhood educators. The authors imply that training and staff stability may to some extent offset the disadvantage (by American standards) of large child-to-staff ratios. These systems have chosen to invest in teachers’ careers rather than keeping classroom ratios small. While this suggests that programs in the United States might benefit from increased investment in teaching staff, it does not follow that this should be financed by increasing class size and student-teacher ratio. The large ratios in Japanese classrooms have been acknowledged to produce a tendency toward chaos in the classroom (McGurk et al., 1995). Moreover, the estimated effects of the French program on the school success of disadvantaged children are quite small by American standards, much smaller than the estimated effects of both model and public school and Head Start programs in the United States (Boocock et al., 1999).

Sheila Kamerman (1999—see footnote 1) pointed out at the committee’s workshop that there are great methodological difficulties in comparing early childhood education across countries, even though the countries being compared are the most developed and have the best record-keeping systems in other respects. Assessment is absent or rare in some countries with national systems of early education. Without a strong base in comparable empirical evidence, generalizations about the impact of policies on educational practices and child outcomes can only be crude and tentative. If we are to learn more from the wide range of variation in policies and practices among the OECD countries, more research leading to comparable data will be necessary.

In considering the role of culture in preschool pedagogy, a problem often raised is whether programs to improve children’s abilities to learn in school tend to impose the acquisition of middle-class American culture, particularly its interpersonal values fostering individualism and competition as opposed to cooperation, on children whose parents’ cultures favor more collective or cooperative values. This is an issue in the multiculturalism debate of American education, but it is relevant in many other places, virtually everywhere that agrarian peoples move to cities or to other countries more influenced by Western values.

In addressing the issue of multiculturalism, Cigdem

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Kagitcibasi (1996, 1999—see footnote 1) suggests there are two independent dimensions involved: interpersonal distance (a separateness-relatedness continuum) and agency (an autonomy-heteronomy continuum). Psychology as we know it, reflecting its American cultural values, confounds the two in positing separateness and autonomy as a single universal direction for child development. But it is possible and desirable, she argues, to foster the autonomy needed to become competent in school (and in later life in a contemporary urban setting) without imposing separateness as a value on children whose parental culture favors interpersonal relatedness. She illustrated this with the preschool program she devised for poor children in Istanbul, Turkey, demonstrating a long-term improvement in assessed academic proficiency from a program modeled on the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY; Baker and Piotrowski, 1995) that adds the instruction of mothers to the teaching of preschool children in centers. (In evaluating the generalizability of this program, it is important to bear in mind that the Turkish mothers had an average of only 5.36 years of schooling and the fathers 5.81. Thus the more modest gains for the HIPPY in the United States may have to do with the much greater school experience of the populations in the American studies.)

Kagitcibasi’s (1996, 1999—see footnote 1) claim that preschools can simultaneously promote a child’s academic competence and culturally preferred relatedness brings us back to the Japanese literature, particularly the synthesis by Catherine Lewis (1996). The model she describes for preschools is that of Holloway’s (1999—see footnote 1) “relational” centers, but it is also characteristic of Japanese pedagogy in many other settings throughout the lifespan, according to the ethnographic literature in English, and may be a foundational cultural schema for instruction. In this model, the assumption is that the first and most necessary step in instruction is to build a strong positive relationship between teacher and learner, with the teacher acting as an emotionally supportive coach, avoiding any expression of anger or confrontation that might threaten the relationship. Much time is spent in relationship-building, prior to the most important pedagogical content, in order to create a highly motivated learning relationship in which the pupil will eagerly engage the in-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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structional tasks as they are set. Thus the Japanese preschools that do not teach academic skills are nonetheless rationalized in terms of a long-term pedagogical sequence that takes motivation as the initial prerequisite for school learning, and a nurturing relationship as the prerequisite for academic motivation. This is our fullest example to date of a culturally distinctive pedagogy that seems to work as well, in terms of academic performance, as those with which we are more familiar. It is not independent of Western influence, of course, and some Japanese experts attribute it in part to Froebel and Dewey, but its focus on the social and emotional rather than the cognitive aspects of learning gives it a distinctive quality (similar to the “traditional” American nursery school) that merits further investigative attention.

The workshop and the research literature point to several conclusions. First is that the comparative data on what works at the preschool level, even among the OECD countries, is inadequate and needs to be improved in order to take advantage of wide variation in policy and practice for purposes of research and practical knowledge. Second is the suggestion that the examples of good practice in other countries rest in part on observations of exceptionally dedicated preschool educators and are associated with their superior training and stability, which in turn reflects the investment in their careers. Third, there are lessons to be learned from abroad in how to provide preschoolers with skills for academic learning without indoctrinating them in a single American model of interpersonal behavior. Here again, the evidence is suggestive rather than definitive but, as it addresses a central issue in the multiculturism debate, it is worthy of more intensive and systematic research.

CHILDREN WITH IDENTIFIED DISABILITIES2

Children with different gifts, abilities, challenges, and resources from a variety of cultural backgrounds come together in early childhood settings. In this report, we have pictured young children as being developmentally and experientially immature, while also being tremendously eager to learn. Do these same

2  

Mark Wolery provided extensive and helpful comment on this section.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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principles apply to young children with identified disabilities? What is needed so that such children’s eagerness to learn is realized?

In just a generation there has been a sea change in public attitudes about the care and upbringing of children with disabilities. Thirty or 40 years ago, children with mental retardation, autism, and other serious disabilities were routinely placed in institutions with little thought given to education or intervention strategies. In a recent compendium of articles on the effectiveness of early intervention, Michael Guralnick describes the prevailing conditions in those years: “the context for families [seeking early intervention] was one in which services were poorly developed and highly fragmented, access to information was limited, qualified professionals were not always available or were difficult to locate, expectations of children with disabilities or those significantly at risk were low, and families often found themselves isolated from the general community” (Guralnick, 1997:12). In her preface to that volume, Nancy Robinson, remarking on the distance we have come, makes the trenchant observation that the text on mental retardation she and her husband completed in 1964 (Robinson and Robinson, 1965) had no index entry for intervention, to say nothing about early intervention.

Over the next three decades, however, the idea took root in public opinion and in law that people with disabilities should be equipped to participate fully in American society. The theme appears in the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93–112): Section 504 “establishes a mandate to end discrimination and to bring handicapped persons into the mainstream of American Life” (Federal Register, May 4, 1977:22676). And the Federal mandate was extended beyond employment policy to education with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94–142), the predecessor to the current Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). This was an expression of the civil rights concerns of the era, buttressed by the advocacy work of parents on behalf of their children. The right to early intervention services has been available to all children with disabilities (and to many who are at risk as well) since the passage of the 1986 amendments to P.L. 94–142.

The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Disabilities (under Part C of IDEA), and the Preschool Grants Program (under Part B of IDEA) are together designed to provide integrated service delivery for children with disabilities from birth through age 5. The Preschool Grants Program assists States in providing special education and related services to children with disabilities ages 3–5. To receive federal funds under the program, a state must provide a free and appropriate education to all 3-through 5-year-old children with disabilities. As with school-age children, children in the preschool years must be served in the least restrictive environment possible (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). In 1997–98, 571,049 children ages 3 through 5–4.69 percent of the total population of children in that age group— were served under the Preschool Grants Program. About half of those children were served in regular classroom settings (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Figure 4–1 in Box 4–2 displays the numbers of children in each type of setting.

The expression of a public interest in early childhood interventions is consistent with theory and research showing the importance of the first few years of life for cognitive, language, and social development in general (Kolb, 1995; Chugani et al., 1987; Ramey et al., 1992; Dunham and Dunham, 1992). There are clearly major effects of early experience on a host of developmental phenomena, though we should not lose track of the fact that development is also resilient in many key ways (Kagan, 1998). Research also establishes the specific value of interventions for infants and young children with disabilities (Guralnick, 1997; Greenspan and Wieder, 1998; Meisels et al., 1994; Shonkoff et al., 1992; Dunst et al., 1989). But as is the case with interventions for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we know more about the overall effectiveness of early intervention than about the particular program features that generate the desired outcomes (Ramey and Ramey, 1998).

While children with disabilities are often referred to as a single entity, the type and severity of the disability can vary enormously, from children with Down syndrome to children with hearing impairments; from children with autism to children with language delays; from children with single disabilities to those with multiple disabilities. The federal requirement that each child served under IDEA have an individualized plan that specifies needs, in-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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tervention components, and anticipated developmental progress or outcomes is an effort to respond to the individual manifestations of disability. In practice, however, a wide variety of assessment instruments are often used in an inconsistent fashion, (Johnson and Beauchamp, 1987) and most curricula for young children with disabilities are eclectic rather than tailored to the individual child’s assessment results (Hanson and Lynch, 1995).

In a review of research on curricula used in early childhood programs for children with disabilities, Bruder (1997) concludes: “contemporary adaptations of curricula in early childhood intervention seem to be influenced by a number of complex factors. Rather than subscribe to a particular theoretical perspective, it appears that curriculum development in early childhood intervention is dependent on factors such as an individual interpretation of child and family needs (see Sands et al., 1995), the availability of curriculum models and materials that fit these perceived needs (Odom et al., 1994), and professional training and orientation (McWilliam and Bailey, 1994).” Even for more narrowly defined disabilities such as Down syndrome, “second generation” questions regarding the effects of curricula, aptitude-treatment interaction, and parent involvement have not been answered (Spiker and Hopmann, 1997). In a review of 56 studies of children with communication disorders, McLean and Cripe conclude that early intervention is both effective and more efficient than intervention at later ages, but regarding intervention strategy they conclude “the interventionist must still rely on informed clinical judgment to determine specifically which treatment objectives, settings, and procedures are most appropriate for any one child” (McLean and Cripe, 1997:418).

Research syntheses and meta-analyses of interventions for school-aged children with learning disabilities suggest that the principles for effective teaching are not different in kind from those for typically developing children, although deliberateness of the intervention and attention to task difficulty must be emphasized (Vaughn et al., 2000). While second generation research may do much to improve our understanding of early intervention programs for children with disabilities, existing research, program and clinical experience, and guidelines for practice lead to a similar conclusion as that for interventions with school-aged stu-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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Box 4–2 Educational Environments for Preschoolers with Disabilities

FIGURE 4–1 Number of children with disabilities ages 3 through 5 served in different educational environments 1996–1997. SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education (1999: Fig. 11–7).

Regular class includes children who receive services in programs designed primarily for nondisabled children, provided the children with disabilities are in a separate room for less than 21 percent of the time receiving services. This may include, but is not limited to, Head Start centers, public or private preschool and child care facilities, preschool classes offered to an age-eligible population by the public school system, kindergarten classes, and classes using co-teaching models (special education and general education staff coordinating activities in a general education setting).

Resource room includes children who receive services in programs designed primarily for nondisabled children, provided the children with disabilities are in a separate program for 21 to 60 percent of the time receiving services. This includes, but is not

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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limited to, Head Start centers, public or private preschools or child care facilities, preschool classes offered to an age-eligible population by the public school system, and kindergarten classes.

Separate class includes children who receive services in a separate program for 61 to 100 percent of the time receiving services. It does not include children who received education programs in public or private separate day or residential facilities.

Separate school (public and private) includes children who are served in publicly or privately operated programs, set up primarily to serve children with disabilities, that are NOT housed in a facility with programs for children without disabilities. Children must receive special education and related services in the public separate day school for greater than 50 percent of the time.

Residential facility (public and private) includes children who are served in publicly or privately operated programs in which children receive care for 24 hours a day. This could include placement in public nursing care facilities or public or private residential schools.

Homebound/hospital includes children who are served in either a home or hospital setting, including those receiving special education or related services in the home and provided by a professional or paraprofessional who visits the home on a regular basis (e.g., a child development worker or speech services provided in the child’s home). It also includes children 3–5 years old receiving special education and related services in a hospital setting on an inpatient or outpatient basis. However, children receiving services in a group program that is housed at a hospital should be reported in the separate school category. For children served in both a home/ hospital setting and in a school/community setting, report the child in the placement that comprises the larger percentage of time receiving services.

   

NOTE: These categories will change for the 1998–1999 data on educational environments, which will be reported in the 23rdAnnual Report to Congress.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education (1999: Table II-1).

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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dents. The principles guiding high-quality early childhood programs for typically developing children are relevant and necessary for programs for children who have disabilities. Teachers’ practices need to be intentional, systematic, and individualized for all children. It is especially important to recognize this for children with disabilities, who in some cases require significantly more intensive and different practices than are used with children who do not have disabilities. Just as with other children, the skills taught to a child with disabilities will vary depending on the child’s development (e.g., learning to manipulate a toy as compared to playing with it in a symbolic manner.).

Similarities in the guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) for preschool age children generally and guidelines for children with disabilities suggested by the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children have been noted (Fox et al., 1994), including the importance of attending to the child’s individual development, the integration of curriculum and assessment, the importance of child-initiated activities, the importance of active engagement with the environment, an emphasis on social interaction, and attention to cultural diversity. For some children who have disabilities, precise, consistent, and frequent use of special intervention strategies may be required to ensure efficient learning (Holcombe et al., 1994), and programmed generalization of skill acquisition may be necessary (Bailey and Wolery, 1992).

Four program features common to quality programs are particularly emphasized when children have disabilities:

1. Emphasis on Communication

Language development should be a key feature of all early childhood programs both because the preschool years hold enormous potential for language development and because language, cognitive development, and social development are integrated in complex ways and are critical for survival in society. The U.S. Department of Education no longer collects data by disability category for children under 6 years of age. In 1987, however, they reported that 60 percent to 70 percent of the special education

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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population ages 3–5 had speech or language disorders (U.S. Department of Education, 1987), though some more recent estimates are considerably lower (McLean and Cripe, 1997:350). By ages 3 through 5, children with language delays talk approximately half as much as their peers (Warren et al., 1984). The DEC recommends that language interventions be considered for all children with special needs to help improve overall development (DEC Task Force on Recommended Practices, 1993). In addition, attention to language/communication is important because nearly every disability has a negative impact on the development of language and communication skills.

A large body of research suggests the efficacy of language intervention for a broad spectrum of communication disorders in young children (McLean and Snyder-McLean, 1987; McLean and Cripe, 1997), though no single intervention can be identified as best. Since the 1980s, language interventions have emphasized “naturalistic” approaches (McLean and Cripe, 1997), in which language learning is incorporated throughout the day’s activities rather than concentrated in a single block of time, and makes use of the child’s focus and interests. Incidental or milieu teaching combine more highly structured, didactic interventions with more naturalistic features; they use the child’s focus, but actively target specific language skills. Opportunities for the child to use the targeted language skill are created (waiting for the child to put a request into words, for example) and the adult responds to the child’s communication with requests and prompts for further language use as well as responding to the intent of the child’s request. (For additional discussion of naturalistic interventions, including mand-model and milieu teaching, see Chapter 5.)

Yoder, Kaiser, and Alpert (1991) compared the effectiveness of a milieu language program with a more didactic approach and found that the former was more successful in increasing language development, but the results suggest an aptitude by treatment interaction: children who benefited most from milieu teaching were those who scored lower before the intervention (had less intelligible speech and more limited vocabulary). Conversely, those who benefited more from the didactic approach scored higher during pretreatment.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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2. Emphasis on Social and Emotional Skills

Young children with disabilities often manifest difficulties in establishing relationships with their peers and developing friendships (Guralnick, 1990). They engage less in social interaction than children of the same developmental level without disabilities (Odom et al., 1990). Gresham (1982) suggests that over time, poor development of social skills and a lack of support for social development can cause emotional responses in children that are as limiting as the primary disability.

Numerous educational and therapeutic techniques have been demonstrated to promote young children’s peer interactions, including modeling and observational learning, coaching, prompting, rehearsal, direct teaching of social strategies, and reinforcement procedures (Guralnick and Neville, 1997). Some interventions intentionally involve children without disabilities as models and as initiators or responders to the social behavior of children with disabilities. Further, a central feature of many of these interventions is that the child with disabilities has competent peers with whom to interact. Greenspan and Wieder (1998) suggest the importance of interaction with peers without disabilities who can reach out and involve more withdrawn students in communication and play, and provide feedback when a student who has a disability does communicate.

There has been increased attention to the environmental and social context characteristics that encourage peer interaction, including the number and familiarity of the children in a social setting (with small familiar groups encouraging interaction), the types of toys available (those that can be used by more than one child at a time, or those that encourage pretend play among children), and the physical arrangement of the classroom (to encourage interaction) (McEvoy et al., 1992; Odom and Brown, 1993; Sainato and Carta, 1992; Bailey and Wolery, 1992; Quilitch and Risley, 1973).

While increased attention has been focused in the last two decades on the importance of social interaction and the development of social skills for children with disabilities, the social interaction skills that the techniques above support for the most part have not generalized to other contexts over time (Guralnick, 1994). Guralnick and Neville (1997) suggest that factors that con-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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tribute to the lack of transfer include constraints associated with the child’s developmental characteristics, reputational factors, the existence of social status hierarchies that resist change, family-child interaction patterns, and restricted peer networks for children with disabilities.

3. Attention to Individual Differences

A theme that pervades this report is the importance of an adult who recognizes and responds to the child’s individual characteristics and developmental level in promoting learning. For children with disabilities, this feature of early childhood programs is particularly challenging and requires specialized knowledge. The capacity for self-regulation and attention is nascent in all children in the preschool years; for many children with disabilities, that capacity is a far greater challenge. Some children, for example, those with certain kinds of cerebral palsy or autism, may have heightened sensitivity to their environment, including the degree to which it is loud, bright, active, crowded, or visually stimulating. Others may not be very aware of changes in their environment, even salient changes. For teachers to plan meaningful programs, they must understand (a) children’s sensitivity to environmental stimuli, (b) the degree to which they are readily engaged by the environment in adaptive ways, and (c) the behaviors they use to express their attention, interests, and intentions (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998).

Circle time for example, a common feature of early childhood programs, can be particularly challenging to children with delayed development of regulatory capacities. On the basis of long clinical experience, Greenspan and Wieder argue that while a child needs to learn to attend in preparation for later schooling, “every task has its developmental sequence. A child cannot relate to a group of six until he’s learned to relate one-on-one, and then to a group of three. To ask him to do so is like asking him to read without first teaching him the letters.” (p. 405). As Chapter 2 suggests, challenges are key to learning and development, but adults must be sensitive and responsive to children’s behavior while promoting those challenges for children (Dunst et al., 1987; Kaiser et al., 1992).

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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4. Emphasis on Parent Participation

Parent participation is, as we suggested at the outset of this chapter, a common feature of quality early childhood programs. Parent engagement is considered particularly important by many who work with and study children with developmental delays (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998; Girolametto, 1988; Camarata, 1993; Girolametto et al., 1994). Since many children who have disabilities experience delayed development of language and social skills, parent participation in early childhood interventions can extend and reinforce the child’s progress in these areas. Several studies suggest the importance of interventions that are spread throughout the day (Bricker and Cripe, 1992; McWilliam, 1996; Eiserman et al., 1992) and are contextually relevant (Drasgow et al., 1996). Parents are well situated to extend classroom interventions beyond the confines of the school day.

Dunst (1985) suggests a central challenge for parents and caregivers of children with disabilities is one of readability: any factor that distorts a child’s emotional and communicative signals will make it more difficult for those involved with the child to interpret and respond. Irrespective of the category of disability, these children are characterized as less predictable in their interactive behavior, and less likely to take the initiative during social interaction with their caregivers (Field, 1980). Descriptions of caregivers’ interactions with young children with disabilities indicate that they tend to provide more stimulation, be more directive, and take more dominant roles than do those with children without disabilities (McCollum and Hemmeter, 1997). Deliberate efforts to draw the parent or caregiver’s attention to strategies that will improve the child’s ability to engage and communicate may therefore be particularly important when the child is disabled. The goal, as Dunst (1985) explains, is not for parents to engage in isolated training sessions, but to have the parents’ usual interaction patterns with their children be growth promoting.

Several studies suggest the potential of parent involvement. Camarata (1993) found that speech production improved in children with language delays when mothers supplied accurate models of words and sentences in natural conversation and interac-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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tions. Girolametto (1988) found that when parents of children with developmental delays participated in intervention programs, they were more responsive to their children, and to the child’s conversational leads. The children were able to initiate on more topics, were better able to take turns, and had a more diverse vocabulary. Eiserman, Weber, and McCoun (1992) found that training in therapeutic techniques for parents of children with speech disorders effectively increased children’s personal and social skills, their adaptive behavior, and their speech.

While some research suggests parent involvement and training can enhance and extend the benefits of early intervention programs, both the quantity and the quality of research in this regard is limited. Moreover, some research on early intervention for disadvantaged children suggests that parent involvement and training is not an adequate substitute for direct intervention (Ramey and Ramey, 1998). In a review of studies involving young children with communication disorders, McLean and Cripe (1997) argue that parent-implemented intervention may be differentially effective in different treatment situations. As a cautionary note, they point to an intervention that was effective in treating phonology disorders when implemented by clinicians, but not by parents. As in many areas of early intervention research, existing research suggests a potential, but a second generation of studies that differentiate characteristics of parents, children, and parent training and involvement will be needed for a fuller understanding of the features of effective interventions to enhance the effectiveness of parent involvement (McCollum and Hemmeter, 1997). It is important to note that professionals’ involvement with families must be more than just assisting families in teaching their children or promoting their development. There is an informative literature that shows other kinds of family support that are critical to good child outcomes and are unrelated to the issue of parents as teachers (Dunst et al., 1994, 1997).

Effects of Inclusion

Research on the effectiveness of early intervention for young children with disabilities has, for the most part, taken place in programs in which all of the participants have identified disabili-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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ties (Casto and Mastropieri, 1986; Shonkoff and Hauser-Cram, 1987). More recently, model programs that are inclusive have been developed and evaluated. Two points emerge from the research comparing integrated and segregated programs: (a) children with disabilities make similar levels of developmental progress in both types of programs, and (b) children in integrated programs tend to have more advanced social and behavioral skills than their counterparts (Buysse and Bailey, 1993; Lamorey and Bricker, 1993). But like all research on model programs, positive outcomes may not be generalizable to community-based programs of lower quality. Not surprisingly, Kontos et al. (1998) found a relationship between quality of inclusive programs and outcomes for children with disabilities. However, since many community-based programs are not of high quality, the effect of inclusion more generally cannot be assumed; much depends on the quality both of the inclusive program and of the segregated program to which it is being compared. In particular, the benefits of inclusion will depend on the extent to which the teacher has support from specialists (e.g., early intervention specialists, special educators, therapists). What occurs within programs is what results in outcomes.

In a naturally occurring experiment in London, 36 children with Down syndrome were studied, half of whom attended general nursery or primary schools, and half of whom attended segregated special schools (Casey et al., 1988). Results suggested that at baseline the two groups were comparable on most measures (the special schools group was slightly older than the mainstream group, and girls had higher expressive language scores than boys). Improvements in both math and reading scores over a 2-year period were greater for the mainstreamed children than for the segregated children. The research, however, has the limitations associated with non-random assignment (characteristics of the districts in which the children lived, the parents who chose to live in those districts, or the characteristics of other children in the classroom) were not controlled for. In another evaluation of children with Down syndrome, researchers found that the amount of time spent in integrated settings was not a strong predictor of developmental progress (Fewell and Oelwein, 1990, 1991).

The research on inclusion has not been refined enough to sug-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
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gest for which children (by type or severity of disability) it is beneficial in which types of inclusive programs. However, the importance of settings that will develop the capacity of children with disabilities to communicate and engage socially suggests a potential benefit of interacting with typically developing peers. Greenspan and Wieder argue:

“The greatest problem with class makeup is that students are often grouped with peers who have similar special needs, so, for example, it is common to have eight noncommunicative, withdrawn, and intermittently aimless children in one class. Naturally, there will be little interaction among them, so if one spurts ahead in gestural communication, he will receive little feedback from his peers. With lack of feedback, the students’ precarious new ability may be jeopardized. Without being immersed in a communicative world with children who reach out, interact, engage in pretend play, and speak, the child will not have adequate opportunities to learn his critical early lessons—to relate, communicate, and think” (1998:406).

But whether the potential opportunity created by an inclusive setting is realized will depend on the training the teacher gets, how much in-class help is made available, how much contact the teacher has with specialists who can give the appropriate help, how many children the teacher has in class, the materials available, and, of course, the effort of the teacher to support inclusion.

Young children with disabilities can be included in social interactions by their classmates. In a study of mixed-age inclusive classrooms, the frequency of contact (primarily parallel play) that children with mild to severe disabilities had with their classmates during free play periods did not differ from the amount of contact that typically developing children had with their classmates (Okagaki et al., 1998). According to parents’ and teachers’ reports, a majority of children with disabilities who attended inclusive preschool programs had at least one mutual friend (Buysse, 1993).

Young children with mild and moderate disabilities engage in more social interaction in inclusive settings than in noninclusive settings (Erwin, 1993; Guralnick et al., 1996; Hauser-Cram et al., 1993; Lamorey and Bricker, 1993). Children with severe dis-

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

abilities also engage in frequent interactions with typically developing children in inclusive settings (Hanline, 1993). However, it is not clear that children with severe disabilities interact more frequently with other children in inclusive, compared with noninclusive, settings (Hundert et al., 1998).

Young children with disabilities are more likely to experience rejection by peers than are children without disabilities (Guralnick and Nelville, 1997). In particular, children with developmental delays are less likely to have a mutual friend than are children with mild disabilities (Guralnick et al., 1995). However, even though children with disabilities are rated as being less well liked than their counterparts without disabilities, they still engage in frequent social contact with their classmates in inclusive settings (Guralnick et al., 1996; Hanline, 1993; Okagaki et al., 1998). There is some evidence that attending mixed-age inclusive classrooms facilitates the social interactions of young children with disabilities. Children with disabilities in mixed-age groups are more engaged in conversations than are children with disabilities in same-age groups (Roberts et al., 1994). Participation in mixed-age inclusive classrooms also enhances the play of young children with disabilities (Blasco et al., 1993). The critical point is that if social interaction, peer-to-peer conversations, social play, and the other positive outcomes that are more likely in inclusive settings are desired, then interventions are necessary at the level of the individual child to prevent peer rejection (Wolery and Wilbert, 1994).

Recently, some attention has been directed toward the effects of inclusion on typically developing young children. Contact between typically developing children and children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms increases children’s knowledge of disabilities. Normally developing preschool children in inclusive classes are sensitive to the limitations associated with physical disabilities. However, they seem to be less certain about sensory disabilities (Diamond and Hestenes, 1994; Diamond et al., 1997; Okagaki et al., 1998).

Young children who have regular contact with children with disabilities are more accepting of them. Participation in an inclusive classroom promotes young children’s appreciation for diversity and enhances the development of their prosocial skills

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

(Buysse, 1993; Favazza and Odom, 1996; Diamond et al., 1997; Hanline, 1993; Peck et al., 1992). Typically developing children in inclusive classrooms give higher social acceptance to ratings of hypothetical children with disabilities than do children in noninclusive classrooms (Diamond et al., 1997; Okagaki et al., 1998). In a case study of an inclusive, 8-week summer program with three preschool children with severe disabilities and three typically developing young children, Hanline (1993) found no evidence of social rejection of children with severe disabilities by their peers. In fact, typically developing children tended to be more persistent in obtaining a response from a child with a disability than from another peer.

SUMMARY

Even across the disparate approaches used in program models, some common processes and content are evident. Many of the programs consciously exposed children to classroom processes that differed from their interactions at home, but were similar to those that they would experience in formal school: whole class, small group, and individual interactions with teachers. Early childhood teachers used a discourse pattern, at least some of the time, which is typical of schooling: the initiation-reply-evaluation sequence. The preschool children also learned strategies for remembering, such as rehearsal and categorization, since this is a by-product of schooling in our culture.

The lack of familiarity with school challenges many children as they move from the home environment into school settings. The routine activities of school are different from those in most homes and are likely to differ even more in some minority cultures, placing a double burden of learning on those children when they enter early childhood settings and schools (Nelson, 1986). Early childhood programs can serve as a bridge for children between home and school by providng exposure to the varied interaction styles (large group, small group, one-on-one learning) that the child will encounter in school.

Even though the programs studied applied different and in some cases novel theories of development, the content relied on by most teachers was drawn from that traditional in kindergarten

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

and nursery school. Consistent across every program is a strong focus on language. The teachers, most often, provided a model of standard English, and the programs were strongly oriented toward getting children to talk and be understood, to understand others’ speech, and to experiment with symbolic concepts through speech and books. The classroom materials and teacher-planned activities and discussions involved typical concepts such as shapes, colors, sizes, numbers, animals, transportation, prepositions, seasons, holidays, etc. The fact that the activities, processes, and content emphasized in the approaches are similar suggests that the broad parameters of early childhood education are a matter of general agreement.

A review of several strands of research on program quality suggests that teachers who have higher levels of education and specialized training, are attentive to individual children, have fewer children in their care, and use strategies associated with developmentally appropriate practice generally are more competent at enhancing children’s learning and growth. This analysis of the longitudinal studies of experimental preschools and newer studies of the effects of quality in early childhood education and care suggests that the benefits of early childhood programs are related to the interrelated factors of program structure (class size, the ratio of children to teachers, and service intensity); processes that help teachers respond to individual children (highly qualified teachers using reflective teaching practice and close relationships with parents); and curricula that serve as a bridge between home and school.

Promoting the development and addressing the needs of children with disabilities is not something a teacher can do alone. It requires an intervention team, including, for example, speech/ language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, or psychologists, which in turn requires careful attention to how the members of the intervention team work with the teacher and how they carry out their part of the intervention. McWilliam (1996) offers a useful discussion of these issues.

Many of the curriculum practices used in the programs found to have lasting benefits for children can be seen as strategies that increased the ability of teachers to recognize and take advantage of each child’s level of development. Teachers are more likely to

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." National Research Council. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9745.
×

gain the specialized knowledge they need to tailor their teaching when they work with relatively few children for a long period of time and when they have a chance to reflect on their teaching practices. Such teachers are more able to understand the children’s individual interests, and they can create activities and interactions to meet them.

Children who do well in school tend to have parents who have close relationships with teachers and caregivers, reinforcing the traditional belief in the importance of such partnerships. The teacher who has extensive contact with the child’s family can better understand the child as an individual and have an appreciation for the contexts in which the child functions, the parents’ aims and hopes for the child, and the values of the child’s culture. When parents and teachers are teamed in such a collaboration, the adults can do the work to build consistency in the world of the child, rather than leaving it up to the child to integrate disparate contexts.

Program quality has been found to be associated with children’s developmental outcome. The prevalence of quality factors—teacher-child ratio and class size, program intensity and coherence, responses to parents, staff qualifications, teachers as reflective practitioners, and teacher preparation—in the experimental preschools contrasts with their absence in many of today’s typical community programs for low-income children. We cannot identify the ideal levels of each quality factor based on current research, particularly as these will vary with the characteristics of the children and goals of the programs. However, it can be safely concluded that most early education and care programs in the United States do not approach ideal levels of quality and that programs designed to reduce the gap between rich and poor in early childhood educational opportunity are far from optimal. If early intervention is to live up to the promise of the longitudinal results, then Head Start, Title I, child care, and other programs should approximate the standard of quality suggested by the research reviewed here.

Suggested Citation:"4 Preschool Program Quality." 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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