ACTS Pre-K Interview with SUNY Oswego's Dean of Education, Dr. Pamela Michel
Q1: Why Pre-K education is so important for early childhood development, and why it is essential that the opportunity be open to all children…
The potential benefits of preschool education are numerous and are long documented in both research articles and practice experiences. High quality programs not only focus on experiences designed to promote learning related to early academic skills but also social, physical, and language development as well. The importance of high quality preschool is summarized in a freely available article by Steven Barnett and Ellen Frede in the Spring 2010 edition of American Educator titled The Promise of Preschool: Why We Need Early Education for All (http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/BarnettFrede.pdf). The authors point out that not only is the quality of preschool programs important, but related to the second part of your question, it is also important that programs be universally available. Restricted access to prekindergarten programs to just families with lower income hasn’t seemed to have solved the problems it was intended to solve (you can read more about these points on p. 27). Providing access only to some children leaves other children who have many of the same needs out. Additionally, children from lower income families may actually benefit more by being in settings with other children “from a broader socioeconomic spectrum” (p. 28). In other words, universal access may actually increase the benefits to children from lower income homes, who are often the children that educators, policy makers, and researchers most want to reach.
There are also potential economic benefits to providing universal access to prekindergarten programs, and although these benefits are important, it’s very important to not make decisions about enriching children’s lives based solely on cost savings. Purely economic arguments can hijack decisions about real children and reduce them to “dollars saved” arguments in reference to theoretical statistical children.
Q2: Finally, I'd like to hear whether you think this $3 million grant (of a 30 million state-wide budget for Pre-K expansion) should be offered every year to further expand educational opportunities to children.
It is always wonderful news when a school district is awarded a grant to provide prekindergarten opportunities for local area children. Careful allocation of funds in line with what we know works from research and practice can undoubtedly bring about needed benefits to young children. In terms of this grant being offered every year, I would perhaps adjust this suggestion in one way. I would want local education agencies and policy makers to really think through whether opportunities should be repeatedly grant funded or whether high quality prekindergarten programs should eventually be funded as standard practice within a reimagined early education system. Because of the known benefits of high quality prekindergarten programs, it makes sense to rethink the idea that prekindergarten programs are “extras,” rather than a part of a free and appropriate public education. I do like the idea of initially grant funding programs because grantors often require keeping close track of the quality of new programs, such as their design; their delivery; and the benefits experienced by children, their families, and communities. This approach helps to enable programs that have demonstrated cognitive, social, physical, and language benefits to be continued, whereas programs that do not yet provide much benefit would need to be revised to continue to receive funding. But once high quality community-based programs are realized, it doesn’t make sense for school districts to have to reapply for grants each year. It makes better sense for proven programs to become standard practice so that people can direct their resources into delivering and monitoring effects of the programs rather than perpetually scrambling to secure funding. In my experience, when funding isn’t guaranteed, it makes the delivery of high quality programs challenging, so effective programs should be rewarded with stable funding, since this can help promote long-term planning and improvement.