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Elementary Principals To Focus on Preschool Education

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The National Association of Elementary School Principals, convinced that early-childhood learning is linked to later academic and employment success, has decided to give high priority to preschool education.

The association's decision reflects members' concern about the significant achievement gap between those who have participated in preschool programs and those who have not, according to Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the national association.

The enrollment of 3-year-olds in some kind of preschool program quadrupled between 1967 and 1981--from 273,000 to 891,000--and the enrollment of 4-year-olds in similar programs doubled--from 870,000 to 1,442,000--according to the naesp But children from economically disadvantaged environments are much less likely to participate in preschool programs, the group notes.

In an interview last week from Denver, where the naesp held its annual meeting, Mr. Sava said his organization hopes to prevent "a permanent underclass of children who are unprepared to learn."

"We have enough research on early-childhood education and child development to realize that we need to focus the attention of individual states on this issue," Mr. Sava said. "We need to begin to establish programs to educate parents on what they could do with their youngsters, and we need to conduct inservice training" for early-childhood educators.

Parental Involvement

As a first initiative toward achieving those goals, Mr. Sava said, the association invited 23 presidents of state parent-teacher associations to Denver to begin developing programs for parents who want to begin their children's education before the 1st grade. "This is going to be given major attention by the elementary-school principals," Mr. Sava said.6"Together, we can do a great deal."

The naesp will also lobby state lawmakers to reduce student-teacher ratios in the early grades. In the first three grades, Mr. Sava said, the ratio should be 15 to 1 to allow students to receive individualized attention; in the intermediate grades, the ratio should not exceed 20 to 1.

Indiana's Project Prime Time, which provides state funds to reduce student-teacher ratios in the early grades, is one example of a desirable policy, Mr. Sava said. He also pointed to Mayor Edward I. Koch's recent endorsement of public schooling for 4-year-olds in New York City as a positive step.

In cooperation with state education associations, naesp plans to conduct a national survey of state standards for preschool education.

"We're just getting started," Mr. Sava said, "but I also think we are going to be successful. We seem to have the attention of some of our strongest state and city political leaders."--ab

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