A growing number of the nation’s 40 biggest cities are providing high-quality pre-kindergarten programs for families, according to a new analysis of their policies and enrollment.
The findings show that more cities are hiring licensed pre-K teachers, providing health screenings and referral services for children, and conducting coaching and professional development for teachers, among other achievements.
Twelve cities earned the top ratings: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, Tenn., New York, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and San Francisco.
The new analysis—which was done by researchers at the National Institute for Early Education Research on behalf of CityHealth—looked at whether the 40 largest cities have adopted and are adhering to key policies that experts say are essential to providing high quality early-childhood education.
“Being part of Pre-K is valuable to meet the needs of all student swho would like to or should benefit from attending a high-quality program,” said NIEER assistant research professor GG Weisenfield, a co-researcher for the study.
Weisenfeld, along with Ellen Frede, the senior co-director of NIEER, evaluated the cities on whether their pre-K programs meet 10 evidence-based benchmarks, the same standards used in NIEER’s yearly State of Preschool report.
Cities were awarded gold, silver, bronze medals (or no medal at all) by CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, based on how many of the benchmarks they fulfilled. To earn a “gold medal,” cities had to satisfy eight or more benchmarks and demonstrate that at least 30 percent of the city’s 4-year-old children are enrolled in a state- or locally-funded pre-K.
Four cities got “silver medals” for achieving eight of the quality benchmarks but didn’t fulfill the enrollment requirement for serving 4-year-olds. Eighteen cities got “bronze medals” for meeting the enrollment requirement.
Two Texas cities—Dallas and San Antonio—earned the highest marks for their pre-K programs.
In 2012, San Antonio voters approved a local sales tax increase of an 8th of a cent to expand its preschool offerings.
“They recognized the need for young children to have access to high-quality learning,” said Sarah Baray, the CEO of Pre-K 4 SA, the city’s universal preschool program.
Baray said that the group offers seats for 2,000 4-year-olds in high-quality early-learning facilities. It also provides $4.2 million in grants to other early-learning programs in the city to help ensure that they also can offer the same high-quality education.
The group delivers professional development at no cost to any early-childhood educator in the city, Baray said.
“Any teacher who’s serving children birth through age 8 is able to access our professional learning that helps them to make sure that they have the skills and knowledge to deliver high-quality early learning for our children,” she said.
Baray said the NIEER standards for quality have helped guide San Antonio’s decisions about policymaking and investments in early-childhood learning.
"[B]y that they mean that they have a teacher who is credentialed and knowledgeable and skilled in delivering lessons and environments that help to build strong brains,” she said, “because that’s what early learning is really about is brain development.”
Baray said one of the most important components of her city’s prekindergarten program is the ongoing support and coaching provided to teachers.
“A lot of people don’t understand the complexity that goes into being an early-learning teacher because young children learn through play,” Baray said.
“So, when the uninformed observer looks into a high-quality classroom, they’re like ‘oh, the kids are just playing,’” Baray continued. “And they are playing, but they are learning at very high levels and it takes a highly skilled teacher to be able to create an environment in which as children engage in play, they are learning math and science and literacy and developing those foundational brain functions that will serve them throughout their life.”
Related reading on prekindergarten:
State-Funded Pre-K Sees Slow Enrollment Growth, Says New National Report
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.