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Poor children who took part in an intensive educational day-care program starting in infancy were more apt to score within normal I.Q. ranges than a control group, a new study shows.

The study is one of dozens stemming from the "Abecedarian Project," a child-development project launched in 1971 at the University of North Carolina's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center.

Published in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the most recent analysis examined 86 children deemed at high-risk for intellectual impairment because of family poverty and other factors. Forty-one of the children, who were between 6 and 12 weeks old at the start of the experiment, were placed in a 5-day-a-week, 10-hour-a-day program designed to promote social and cognitive growth in a "friendly" setting.

Subjects participated for at least 4 years and were tested at regular intervals.

The average I.Q. of children in the day-care group was from 8 to 20 points higher than that of the control group at most intervals. At 54 months, 93 percent of the day-care group had I.Q.'s within the normal range, versus 69 percent of the control group.

At the final assessment, six of seven control-group children with retarded mothers had below-normal I.Q. scores; three fell within the mentally retarded range, and three within the "borderline intellectual functioning" range. All six children in the day-care group who had retarded mothers had normal I.Q. scores.

Those in the day-care group, which offered parents support and encouraged their involvement but did not try to alter their childrearing practices, had no less warm relationships with their parents and in some cases had "warmer and more involved" contact with parents than the control group, said Craig Ramey, the principal researcher.

The California legislature has approved a bill to establish the nation's first loan-assumption program for prospective early-childhood-education teachers.

The Child Development Teacher Loan Assumption program would allow 50 students a year to have up to $2,000 in college loans repaid if they agreed to teach or $4,000 if they agreed to supervise for two years in a licensed early-childhood program. Sixty percent of the funds would go to candidates for teaching permits, and 40 percent to those earning supervisory permits.

The bill, which awaits Gov. George Deukmejian's signature, is needed to help combat a shortage of trained early-childhood teachers caused by low wages, said Sherry Skelly of the California Children's Lobby. Child-care professionals in California earn an average of $5.30 an hour, she said, and staff turnover is roughly 50 percent a year.

While low pay "is the major obstacle" in drawing qualified earlyood professionals, said Marcy Whitebook, executive director of the Child Care Employee Project, loan assumption could "sweeten the pot" for those faced with incurring large debts.

The CCEP, a California-based advocacy group that focuses on child-care issues, recommended loan deferments in its National Child Care Staffing Study last year.

Beyond a fondness for babies, those who work with infants and toddlers need special training to address the "unique develomental needs" of children, according to the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs.

A recent NCCIP report says training should convey knowledge from many disciplines, involve interaction with infants and families, offer individualized supervision and support from experts, and continue "lifelong" so caregivers can apply new research.

The report, "Preparing Practitioners to Work with Infants, Toddlers and Their Families: Issues and Recommendations for Educators and Trainers," recommends collaborative training approaches and highlights promising examples. Companion reports are available for policymakers, professional groups, and parents.

Copies of each report are available for $7.25 from the N.C.C.I.P., 2000 14th St. North, Suite 380, Arlington, Va. 22201-2500; for information on bulk rates, call (703) 528-4300.

The U.S. Education Department and the American Association of School Administrators have both issued reports urging reforms in early-childhood programs to meet the needs of working parents and to achieve the governors' national goal of ensuring that all children are ready to learn.

The Education Department document, commissioned by the office of educational research and improvement, discusses the need to integrate early-childhood education and child-care programs, coordinate the efforts of various providers, and make high-quality programs available to children of all income levels.

The AASA report also calls for universal prekindergarten and for early-childhood programs that include child-care and health services, involve parents, meet the needs of poor families, and mesh with K- to 3rd-grade curricula.

Copies of "Excellence in Early Childhood Education: Defining Characteristics and Next-Decade Strategies," by Sharon L. Kagan, are available for free from the Education Department by calling (800) 424-1616.

Copies of "Early Childhood Education and Child Care: Challenges and Opportunities for America's Public Schools," by Anne Bridgman, are available for $19.95 each from AASA Publications, 1801 North Moore St., Arlington, Va. 22209-9988. Bulk rates are available.--DC

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