The National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University has released its annual report on pre-K in the United States, “The State of Preschool 2011.”
The 2011 State Preschool Yearbook is the latest edition of an annual report profiling state-funded prekindergarten programs in the United States. Data on state-funded prekindergarten during 2010-2011 school year is presented as well as review of the progress since the first Yearbook collected data on the 2001-2002 school year.
The full report can be accessed here: http://nieer.org/yearbook/
Maine receives mixed ratings in this report. The Northeast state profiles can be accessed here: http://nieer.org/sites/nieer/files/2011yearbook_northeast.pdf
The strengths of Maine’s programs continue to be: the requirement for credentialed staff, state early learning guidelines and the requirements for developmental screenings and access to support services.
The weaknesses of Maine’s public Pre-K program according to the NIEER report remain the lack of required quality monitoring and poor staff to child ratios. In addition to the NIEER standards checklist, other quality issues for Maine’s public pre-K programs include no formal curriculum standards, a low minimum requirement for program length and no standards for parent engagement.
Program quality standards make the difference between programs that work and those that don’t work to support children’s healthy development. Without these factors, some children can spend just as many hours in a program, but not show many positive outcomes.
Programs that rise to the appropriate quality level to ensure successful child and family outcomes have very specific characteristics. There are two overarching categories of quality: process and structural.
- Process quality highlights the child’s experience, such as relationships with adults and other children. Other elements of process quality include: the activities in which children are engaged, health and safety provisions, quality of education materials, and the degree of parent engagement.
- Structural quality emphasizes teacher-child ratios, class size, qualifications and compensation of teachers and staff, and square footage of the classroom. These features are most often regulated in state child care licensing requirements.
Currently, there are Maine schools that successfully provide high quality public pre-K programming and have risen well beyond the minimum requirements listed above. Many of these programs are collaborations with high quality, nationally accredited early care and education programs. When public schools collaborate with early childhood providers who are also rising to quality standards well above the minimum requirements of child care licensing, the result is a measurably better experience for the children and parents they serve.
The Maine Department of Education (DOE) has encouraged school departments to seek out these collaborative relationships, and many have demonstrated great success. There remains, however, a lack of comprehensive requirements to assure all of Maine’s public dollars dedicated to pre-K provide true, long-term results. Without quality standards for public pre-K, limited resources may be wasted.
Maine’s application for the federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-EL) grant included an effort to address these issues. Unfortunately, Maine was not one of the states selected for this funding. Many of Maine’s pre-K programs remain committed to continuous quality improvement. Efforts to support such improvements will continue, but are difficult without the RTT-EL funds.
NIEER credits Maine with having state funded Head Start that increases our ranking in the category of overall investment in pre-K programs. This funding is currently threatened for elimination in state budget negotiations. Four-year-olds are included in the Essential Services and Programs funding formula for Maine schools. Schools collaborating with Head Start and high quality child care programs to ensure the length of day and staff to child ratio are higher than the minimum standards will have difficulty meeting that same quality if state funded Head Start is eliminated.
Multiple studies have shown these early care and education factors to improve outcomes for children:
Qualified and appropriately compensated personnel
Small group sizes and high adult-child ratios
“Program dosage,” meaning a length of day and program year that ensures effective programming—for example, higher risk children benefit most from at least 6 hours a day/full year programming.
Developmentally appropriate curriculum
Safe physical setting
Warm and responsive adult-child interactions
Meaningful parent engagement
“A Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy”
 Espinoza, L. “High Quality Preschool: Why We Need It and What it Looks Like,” Preschool Policy Matters. National Institute for Early Education. November 2002