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Early Years Column

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An educator and the Organization for American-Soviet Exchanges are seeking recruits for an early-childhood-education study tour of the Soviet Union.

The May 14-27 tour could offer insights to educators interested in designing programs that recognize cultural diversity and foster a "spirit of cooperation," said Nancy Lauter-Klatell, an associate professor of early-childhood education at Wheelock College, who is organizing the trip.

More information is available from Ms. Lauter-Klatell at Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, Mass. 12215-4176.

Employers who set up child-care centers on or near the worksite are not having trouble getting liability insurance, a U.S. Labor Department report says.

While employers who do not offer child care see "potential liability as a serious hindrance," it says, those who proceed face "no significant impediment" in getting such insurance.

"It is my hope that this information will ease the concerns of employers ... so they and their employees can benefit by making work and family re-sponsibilities compatible," said Labor Secretary Elizabeth H. Dole.

But the report, "Employer Centers and Child Care Liability Insurance," warns that the "favorable environment" for liability insurance does not necessarily extend to family day-care homes, private centers, and other child-care providers.

The average salary for child-welfare workers "lags as much as 50 percent" behind workers with comparable backgrounds and experience, a new study reports.

Drawing on data from 276 U.S. and Canadian agencies, the Child Welfare League of America found that social work assistants' and case aides' pay has increased only 2.9 percent since 1987 and that related jobs have "barely" matched inflation.

The average annual earnings for family day-care providers and day-care teachers were less than the federal poverty guideline for a family of four, the study says.

The report, which cites disparities in the wages of child-welfare workers and other professionals, highlights "the need to place a higher value" on those who serve needy children and families, said the c.w.l.a.'s executive director, David S. Liederman.

Echoing the findings of studies from other parts of the country, an Oklahoma survey shows that low pay and high staff turnover are undermining the caliber of child care.

A survey of 185 licensed, full-day centers conducted by the state Human Services Department and the Oklahoma Association for the Education of Young Children showed the average starting hourly pay was $3.67 for teachers and $3.56 for aides. The turnover rate was 44 percent for teachers and 60 percent for assistants between 1988 and 1989. More than one-third of teachers and 66 percent of aides had been on the job less than a year, while only 19 percent and 5 percent, respectively, had served longer than five years.

The survey also showed that fewer than 10 percent of teachers and assistants received full health coverage or life insurance.

Hundreds of Boston parents would send their children to full-day kindergarten if schools offered it, an advocacy group reports.

In a survey of about 1,500 parents, Parents United for Child Care found 58 percent of respondents with children in half-day kindergarten would have preferred full-day programs.

In joint testimony before the school committee late last year, the group joined with the Citywide Education Coalition, a local advocacy group, to argue for more extended-day programs.

The groups advised that teachers for full-day programs could be found by consolidating underused half-day programs and using options presented by new Chapter 1 rules and the city's "controlled choice" plan.

Full-day programs would reduce the need for midday bus service and help lower the retention rate for pupils now "inadequately" prepared to pass 1st grade, they argued.

Mary Bills, a school-board member, is waging a similar battle in Milwaukee.

"If push comes to shove," she says, the district should place a higher priority on ensuring all 5-year-olds access to full-day kindergarten than on offering half-day programs for 4-year-olds.

Full-day programs better serve working parents and offer time for a ''balance of enrichment and play" that can help boost children's chances of success in school, she maintains.

But before the school board "plunges into universal full-day kindergarten," a recent Milwaukee Journal editorial warns, advocates should show "solid evidence" that more hours in kindergarten gives children a greater academic edge.

Past Caring: A History of U.S. Preschool Care and Education for the Poor, 1820-1965, explores the historical roots of America's "persistent lack of commitment" to high-quality early-childhood care for poor children.

The monograph traces the evolution of a "two-tiered" child-care system--one driven by a desire to reduce welfare payments and the other by providing preschool education to middle- and upper-middle-class children.

Copies of the report are available for $7.95 each from the National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University, 154 Haven Ave., New York, N.Y. 10032. Checks should be payable to Columbia University.--d.c.

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