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Early-Years Column

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A comprehensive early-childhood program in New York City has yielded cognitive gains for children, substantial involvement from parents, and success in recruiting and retaining staff members, a recent study concludes.

Launched in 1986 by the city board of education and the human resources administration, "Project Giant Step" offers a half-day educational program and other support services for 4-year-olds and their families, with a priority on low-income children unserved by other programs.

In the second year of a three-year evaluation, Abt Associates of Cambridge, Mass., found project children reaped cognitive gains greater than children in other early-childhood programs and "considerably greater than would be expected as part of normal development."

The children also showed an improved ability to work with peers and adults and to organize and finish tasks. The study also reported substantial involvement by parents and positive changes in their attitudes toward childrearing and in their "confidence in their own role as teacher."

Giant Step, which requires higher levels of training and pays its teachers significantly better wages than many child-care centers, also had a rate of staff turnover far lower than the national average, Abt reported.

Copies of "Evaluation of Project Giant Step, Year Two Report: the Study of Program Effects" are available from the Mayor's Office of Early-Childhood Education, 250 Broadway, Room 1412, New York, N.Y. 10007.


Children who attended a Baltimore-based preschool program that incorporates recent findings about how the brain functions also fared better than their peers.

The Model for Integrated Neuronal Development, or the mind program, was launched in 1985 by the University of Maryland, Project Head Start, and the Baltimore city schools. It serves a racially and socioeconomically mixed group of 3- and 4-year-olds at two schools.

The program, which combines findings from the neurosciences with principles from human development and education, stresses active learning by involving children in a play community with a house, shopping mall, restaurant, gas station, doctor's office, and other sites.

It also promotes more "reflective" learning through a communications center and library, and through listening, art, science, and manipulative activities.

The first group of mind children tested in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade scored as well as or better than pupils who attended other preschools or no preschool and were significantly better readers in 2nd grade.


Southern states should consider the economic advantages of offering universal access to preschool programs, says the Southern Growth Policies Board.

A report from the public interstate agency argues that a failure to invest in the early years could "compound the complex fiscal and economic challenges facing the region" by impeding job-recruitment efforts later and lowering the tax base.

The report urges each southern governor to form a commission to set a strategy for making preschool universally accessible by 1992 and highlights the role that could be played by other institutions, such as historically black colleges and universities. It also examines approaches taken by various European nations.

Copies of "Preschool Education for Economic Development: Practical Steps for Southern States," are available for $5 each from the Southern Growth Policies Board, P.O. Box 12293, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27709.


High-quality early-childhood programs are supported largely by parent fees, according to a General Accounting Office study.

The study, requested by Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, showed that full-day, full-year programs accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children spend, on average, $4,200 per child and charge $304 a month.

The 265 centers surveyed by the gao on average received 69 percent of their incomes from parent fees, 16 percent from governmental sources, and 15 percent from colleges, churches, fundraisers, and other sources.

The g.a.o. found salaries and benefits made up 65 percent of the total cost of center operation. Teachers in the centers surveyed earned an average salary of $14,100.

The report, which also examines the impact of increased enrollments and reduced child-staff ratios on program cost, was ordered to guide debate on such bills as Mr. Kennedy's "smart start" proposal, which would provide grants to serve 4-year-olds.

Copies of "Early Childhood Education: What Are the Costs of High-Quality Programs" are available from the U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, Md. 20877.


Family Service of America, a network of U.S. and Canadian social-service agencies, has published a guide to help families choose the best child care.

The guide presents the pros and cons of various child-care arrangements; offers a checklist for evaluating child care; and supplies information on licensing and accreditation, handling child-care complaints, and options for special-needs children.

Copies of "The Family Guide to Child Care: Making the Right Choices'' are available for $5.95 each from Family Service America, 11700 West Lake Park Dr., Milwaukee, Wis. 53224.

--dc

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