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National Task Force To Study Early Issues

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Washington--Citing the need for more appropriate, better-coordinated state policies on early-childhood education, leaders of the National Association of State Boards of Education last week announced the formation of a task force to lay out "a new vision" for the education of 4- to 8-year-olds.

Speaking at a news conference here, nasbe's incoming president, Richard Owens, said: "It is time to acknowledge collectively what we have known individually for some time: to improve school success and life chances for youngsters, we must address the quality of services and the appropriateness of instruction" available to children before they start school and during "the vitally important early grades."

Mr. Owens, who will chair the task force, said the 25-member group of educators, policymakers, and child-care experts would explore ways in which schools could "complement and supplement" existing preschool, child-care, and parent-education programs and develop teaching approaches for the early grades that build on effective preschool practices.

Those involved in setting early-childhood-education policy must be careful to consider the developmental needs of young children, cautioned representatives of two other national organizations who attended the press conference to express support for the nasbe project.

Marilyn Smith, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said existing programs tended to fall short in one of two ways: either by providing merely "custodial" care and neglecting educational principles, or by adopting a "hothouse" approach that pushes children to acquire cognitive skills too soon.

Although schools are under increasing pressure to admit younger students and extend their hours of operation, Ms. Smith said, "we have to face the reality that these pressures are driven by social and economic factors and not by the developmental needs of our children."

The nasbe task force could play a key role in advancing policy changes needed to promote "developmentally appropriate" early-childhood programs, she said.

Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, added that although the number of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in formal preschool programs has increased dra8matically in the past 15 years, certain education reforms have "worked against" young children by placing them under too much stress to succeed.

Regional Meetings Planned

The membership roster for the task force is not yet complete, nasbe officials said, but among those who have agreed to serve so far are David Elkind, professor of child study at Tufts University and president of the naeyc; Jule Sugarman,Washington State's secretary for social and health services and the first national director of Project Head Start; and Richard Boyd, Mississippi's superintendent of education.

The task force will consult with national experts at an initial meeting here in February and will hear testimony from state policymakers and program managers at regional meetings in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco next spring.

The panel will issue policy recommendations for state boards in a report tentatively scheduled for release at nasbe's annual meeting in Chicago next October.--dg

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