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S.R.E.B. Urges States To Be Flexible in Promoting Readiness

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States should set in motion strategic plans to ensure that all children enter school ready to learn, while also giving communities more flexibility and authority to match resources to family needs, a report from the Southern Regional Education Board recommends.

The report, released in June at the group's annual meeting in Charlottesville, Va., cites data showing that children in the South are more likely than those in other regions to be born without adequate prenatal care, to be born prematurely or at low birthweight, to die in infancy, to live in poverty, to have no health insurance, or to be cared for in inadequately regulated child-care centers.

The report suggests steps the 15 S.R.E.B. states should take to meet a goal the group set in 1988, which is also the first of the six national education goals: that, by 2000, all children enter school ready to learn.

Efforts to improve children's well-being, it says, should aim at enabling every child to be born healthy, to have access to preventive and primary health care, and to be cared for by "nurturing, emotionally healthy adults'' in "developmentally appropriate environments that promote maximum cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development.''

Other guiding principles the report lays out include providing services to all children and families, focusing on the entire family and all adult care givers, and meeting children's need for an ongoing relationship with at least one adult.

The document recommends that families be involved in the planning and delivery of readiness services, which should be comprehensive, interconnected, adaptable to family needs, and foster self-sufficiency. It also calls for clear, specific standards for the training and education of service providers.

The report praises moves by some states to form ungraded primary units in the early grades, which it says "should allow greater flexibility in responding to the different developmental needs of each child.''

The recommendations stress schools' responsibility to "adapt their curricula to the needs of individual children'' and suggest that children be gauged not by standardized tests but through pupil portfolios, teacher observation, parent interviews, and teacher-child conferences.

Based on those principles, the report says, states should set specific goals to assess progress toward readiness and hold themselves and communities accountable.

Breaking Down Barriers

While "comprehensive change must begin at the state level,'' the report urges, states should "give local communities and service providers on the front line new and expanded authority and responsibility to use resources wisely on behalf of families.''

Other recommendations include:

  • Providing information about and access to comprehensive support services for expectant parents;
  • Assuring that children receive primary and preventive health care from birth to entry into 1st grade;
  • Designing parental-support and family-preservation services to ensure all children a continuous relationship with a caring adult;
  • Adopting policies and regulations to ensure that children are cared for in safe environments under conditions that promote optimal development;
  • Easing the transition from home, child care, or preschool to school by requiring that schools be ready to accommodate all children;
  • Making health education an "integral part'' of schooling from preschool through 12th grade; and
  • Identifying and dissolving barriers to coordinated, comprehensive services for children and families.

The report cites examples of state initiatives that demonstrate movement in all those areas. But it also discusses "barriers to change,'' such as service fragmentation, categorical funding, lack of input from service workers or families, conflicting eligibility criteria, red tape, staff turnover, unresponsiveness to cultural issues, and rigid school curricula.

It also urges S.R.E.B. states to identify common regional issues in serving children and says the group should convene a conference to devise strategies to address them.

Report on Goals Released

At its meeting, the group also discussed the need for a "regionwide cohesive strategy'' to promote changes in federal policies that "limit states in terms of resources and activities'' to address readiness, said David R. Denton, the director of health and human-services programs for the S.R.E.B.

The S.R.E.B. also released a detailed report assessing progress in meeting both the national education goals and the 12 education goals set by the S.R.E.B. in 1988.

The group also endorsed a committee proposal for a federal, state, and private-sector partnership to move education technology into elementary and secondary schools more rapidly; it recommended appointment of a panel to develop a strategy to promote the proposal.

Copies of "Readiness for School: The Early Childhood Challenge'' are available for $5 each, and copies of "Educational Benchmarks 1992'' are available for $10 each, from the S.R.E.B., 592 10th St., N.W., Atlanta, Ga. 30318-5790.

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