Published Online: November 3, 1999
Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as Early Years


Early Years

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French Lessons: Early-childhood educators can learn from the French system of universal preschool, according to a report released last week by the New York City-based French-American Foundation. The group promotes cultural exchanges and works to strengthen relations between the United States and France.

A delegation of 15 American education, business, and political leaders traveled to France for two weeks to study the country's preschool system, called ├ęcoles maternelles, which provides all the country's children, ages 3 to 5, with a free, voluntary early education.

The system is combined with before- and after-school care that is paid for by parents on a sliding scale.

California state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, Sarah Greene, the chief executive officer of the National Head Start Association, and Augusta Souza Kappner, the president of Bank Street College of Education in New York City, were among those in the American delegation.

The group visited 11 ├ęcoles maternelles in both affluent and poor areas of the country and came back with a list of ways American educators can use the French approach as a model:

  • Promote preschool for every child. They urge calling on the federal government to provide resources to working-poor families for whom the cost of preschool is prohibitive.
  • Clarify national, state, and local roles. The report maintains that preschool funding, governance, and accountability should be better coordinated.
  • Train and adequately pay teachers of young children. The group suggests that well-qualified professionals be recruited to work with young children, and that current preschool teachers be trained.
  • Develop core principles for early-childhood programs. A system of national operating principles that could be adapted to stress health, safety, curriculum, training, accreditation, and facilities would raise the quality of early care, the group says.

The report stresses that replicating the French system is not the group's goal, but that learning by example could help provide the U.S. with higher-quality early care.

"Ready to Learn: The French System of Early Education and Care Offers Lessons for the United States" is available free from the French-American Foundation, 509 Madison Ave., Suite 310, New York, NY 10022; (212) 829-8800; fax: (212) 829-8810; e- mail:; or on the World Wide Web at

-- Michelle Galley

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 11

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