Day-Care Efforts Said Insufficient
Despite dramatic gains in the number of states funding early-childhood-education programs, the limited scope of such services and a lack of coordination at the local level may restrict their benefits for working parents, preliminary data from a wide ranging national survey indicate.
Anne W. Mitchell, co-director of the Public School Early Childhood Study, said that although the massive entry of women into the work force has been cited as a rationale for such initiatives, "in fact, none of the 'new wave' state programs emphasize child care."
"Without strong state mandates for local-level coordination" of public preschool programs and day-care providers, said Fern Marx, researchdirector for the state portion of the study, families that would benefit from these programs may in fact be precluded from them because their child-care needs are so great that they have to go elsewhere."
The $600,000 study, which has entailed a survey of states, an analysis of 1,700 local programs, and 13 case studies, is a joint project of the Center for Children's Policy at the Bank Street College of Education and Wellesley College's Center for Research on Women. Final results will be published in a series of monographs later this year.
According to the comprehensive research effort, begun in 1985 with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation, 14 states have either appropriated new funds or approved additional pre-kindergarten programs over the past two years, bringing the proportion of states with some form of early-childhood legislation to about half of all states.
But 60 percent of the programs are operated on a half-day basis, the study found, and an additional 25 percent cover the full school day but do not serve children before and after school.
Only Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont have programs that accommodate the full working day, and many of those have only recently been enacted and are not yet in operation, according to the study.
The study is considered to be the first detailed national look at state and local early-childhood efforts. Its authors say that there is currently no national data base on such programs, and that existing statistical information is outdated or incomplete.
The survey found that fewer than one-third of the states require local coordination of child-care and early-childhood programs. And although most have state-level coordinating bodies, they have not moved, the study says, "to truly coordinate funding for pre-kindergarten programs and day care across state agencies."
In some instances, this lack of coordination has fostered duplicative efforts or competition among Head Start and the various state programs for children, staff, and space, according to the findings.
Ms. Marx, research director for the Wellesley part of the study, said the most well-coordinated state efforts typically are found in programs funded under the federal special-education law, which was recently amended to expand state grants for preschool programs and to phase in services for infants and toddlers.
She added that part-day state programs do not address the child-care requirements of mothers now working, or of the low-income mothers likely to join the workforce under welfare-reform proposals being considered by the Congress.
According to 1985 census data, nearly half of all infants and almost 70 percent of all school-age children have working mothers, and demographers predict that those percentages will keep rising through the 1990's.
Parents generally express satisfaction with the quality of current early-childhood programs, said Ms. Mitchell, director for the Bank Street College portion of the project, but they would favor more extensive, "multipurpose" approaches providing a range of part- and full-day options.
Data from the state survey show that seven states and the District of Columbia support early-childhood education through state contributions to the federally subsidized Head Start program, and that some have approved extra funds to include more students.
Twenty-four states provide separate funds for pilot or statewide pre-kindergarten programs, and Missouri and Minnesota fund parent-education programs.
Other states may be stepping up their child-care efforts through other kinds of programs, Ms. Marx noted.
About as many states serve only 4-year-olds as serve 3- to 5-year-olds, the study found, and two-thirds target "at risk" students, as determined by such factors as income, English proficiency, and school readiness.
About half of the states require specific training or certification for early-childhood teachers, and all but five do not allow staff-child ratios to exceed 1 to 10.
Reflecting the divergence of views on appropriate educational techniques for young children, the survey found that programs are "evenly divided between states mandating comprehensive developmental programs" and those that prescribe no set curricular model or stress cognitive skills.
The median amount appropriated for early-childhood education by states with preschool legislation or Head Start programs was $2 mil4lion, but totals ranged from $64 million in Texas to less than $300,000 in Delaware, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Excluding contributions to Head Start, the survey found that about half of the states operating early-childhood programs in 1986 increased their funding for the current school year. The rest decreased or level-funded them.
Ms. Marx speculated that the funding slowdown in some states reflects both fiscal constraints and a decision to stabilize funding as programs are implemented. After the initial push, she said, many states "are behaving with some cautiousness, and rightly so."
Some states may be holding early-childhood spending level while expanding other child-care programs, she added.
Survey of School Districts
Initial results of the project's survey of 2,800 school districts, which was completed last spring and serves as the basis for its analysis of local programs, point to a broad array of early-childhood endeavors in the public schools, funded through various channels.
These include special-education, Head Start, and Chapter 1 programs; state and local pre-kindergarten programs; infant and toddler programs; nursery schools operated by high-school students; child-care programs for the offspring of teen-age parents or district employees; and parent-education programs.
The largest group of programs8surveyed--31.5 percent--was classified as special education. But the greatest number of children served--37,928, out of nearly 200,000--were enrolled in Head Start.
State and local pre-kindergarten programs accounted for 22.7 percent of the activities reported and served about 55,000 children.
Despite such diversity, the majority of the public-school early-childhood programs studied serve one group: at-risk 4-year-olds. About 80 percent of those in the survey operate only during the school year; 60 percent provide services for three or fewer hours a day, and only 8 percent offer full-work-day services.
Most superintendents questioned said they expected those patterns to continue in the near term.
A recent study by the High/Scope Education Research Foundation and the Council of Great City Schools found that urban districts are pushing ahead with early-education programs, but that half the poor urban 4-year-olds remain unserved.
As in the state survey, officials of local programs generally reported staff-child ratios of fewer than 1 to 10; about half require early-childhood certification for teachers, although such standards vary widely.
Most teachers in the public-school early-childhood programs earned salaries comparable to other district teachers, but those in Head Start and child-care programs earned, on average, roughly $2,000 to $3,000 below the district norm.
Initial findings from the 13 case studies--high-caliber early-childhood programs visited by the Bank Street researchers--reveal what the study directors call "a richness" of academic and developmental approaches. But they also point to potential problems in the tests used to admit children and assess their progress, according to the researchers.
Ms. Mitchell said some educators expressed concern either that such tests might be too narrowly focused or that parents might coach children to fail the tests so as to stay in the program, thus solving the parental child-care problem.