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Chiefs' Unit Sets Broader Approach For States on Young's 'Basic Needs'

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Williamsburg, Va.--A study commission of the Council of Chief State School Officers drafted recommendations here last week urging states to provide a wide range of services, beginning at birth, for children at risk of school failure.

The commission, which includes deputy superintendents and other state education officials, proposed that states offer children from birth to age 8 "a continuum of services," including parent education, child care, "developmentally appropriate" education, health, and social services.

Resources would initially be focused on at-risk children and their parents, but the group proposed that efforts be expanded6eventually to offer "universal access" for all families.

"We know that children cannot extract from our schools the best that we presently stand to offer unless other basic needs are met," says the draft of a guide for state action in providing early-childhood and parent-education services prepared by council staff members.

The commission is refining the guide to present with its recommendations at the council's annual meeting in Indianapolis next month.

In recent months, business leaders, policy analysts, and child-welfare groups have increasingly emphasized the importance of early-childhood programs in reducing the risk of later school failure.

But the commission's proposals, if adopted, would set in motion the most ambitious plan undertaken by the state leaders to reach beyond the education sector in bolstering students' chances of success in school, according to commission and council staff members.

While state and local education agencies would govern the funding of early-childhood and parent-education services, the recommendations call for extensive collaboration with other public and private agencies that provide child care, health, and social services.

The commission proposed that each state develop an "integrated, unified policy and action plan," establish state planning councils, and award funding "contingent upon the establishment and operation of local councils" to coordinate services across agencies.

Irene G. Bandy, assistant superintendent of the Ohio education department and the study commission's new president, said the collaborative strategy reflected a recognition that "we all have a piece of the action, and that by coming together up front, we can truly reach the children and families that need help most."

Best Single Investment

The commission's proposals are designed to advance an agenda set forth by the school chiefs last year, when they adopted a policy aimed at assuring school success for students who are at risk.

Pointing to the growing number of children in poverty and to research linking high-quality preschool to improved student performance, a statement drafted by a council task force this summer called early-childhood services for at-risk children and parents "the single most important investment" to improve education.

The draft guide is based on needs identified in a detailed survey conducted by the commission on early-childhood and parent-education programs in state education, health, welfare, and human-ser4vices departments.

State-by-state profiles containing the findings will be released after the November meeting.

Besides urging state planning and coordination in the provision of early-childhood services, the study commission recommended that states:

Organize coalitions of educators, human-service providers, business leaders, and citizens to help secure resources;

Establish standards and regulations to ensure appropriate developmental practices, parent involvement, and staff training;

Extend elements of high-quality preschool programs into the elementary-school curriculum;

Develop multiple measures for assessing school readiness and guard against inappropriate use of tests for placement and labeling;

Establish a data-collection system to help coordinate services for young children and participate in setting up a national clearinghouse to gather information on model programs and research; and

Provide comprehensive early-childhood services for state employees "as a model for other agencies and the private sector."

The group backed away from a recommendation that states require each program to have available a staff member with a degree in early-childhood education, but urged that they set "competency-based" standards for staff members based on their level of responsibility.

The commission, which heard a presentation by two administrators in Missouri's "Parents As Teachers" program, also recommended establishing parent-education training programs for early-childhood staffs.

The group did not set a funding level for its proposals, but said they should be supported by existing and new public and private funds.

Easier Said Than Done?

Commission members and speakers at last week's meeting agreed that collaborating effectively with a wide range of agencies is likely to present school chiefs with the greatest challenge.

"Good will will not overcome prac8tical institutional issues," said Janet Levy, director of the "Joining Forces" project of the National Association of State Boards of Education. The project is designed to link schools with other social-service agencies.

Ms. Levy said administrative conflicts over the site, regulation, hours, and transportation of children receiving multiple services can pose obstacles to collaboration.

Skepticism about schools' ability to provide comprehensive services and fear that schools will force an overly academic curriculum on young children, Ms. Levy said, may also make some human-services agencies leery of working with schools.

Officials of the federal Head Start program who spoke at the meeting urged educators to "help us become less defensive" by including Head Start administrators on coordinating committees and incorporating successful elements of Head Start into state programs.

'Convergence of Change'

Despite obstacles to collaboration, Ms. Levy noted that the "convergence of change" in the education, welfare, and child-welfare systems as they undergo reforms provides a rare opportunity for groups to work together.

Judith Jones, director of the National Resource Center for Children in Poverty, noted that interagency-coordination mechanisms established in the Education of the Handicapped Amendments Act of 1986, which extended special-education services to infants and toddlers, could serve as a model for programs designed for at-risk children.

Robert R. Hill, outgoing commission president and deputy superintendent of the South Carolina education department, noted that the group's proposal to have education agencies govern the funding of early-childhood services could prove controversial among some groups.

But the proposal also demonstrates the willingness of education officials "to take some leadership" in the coordination of early-childhood services, he said. "I don't know if other agencies are in a position to do that."

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