The Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council in Washington, released an ambitious plan last week to expand early-childhood education.
In a report titled “Open the Preschool Door, Close the Preparation Gap,” PPI policy analyst Sara Mead calls for a partially federally financed, accountability-based national preschool program.
“Open the Preschool Door, Close the Preparation Gap,” is available online from the Progressive Policy Institute. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)
The plan—which aims to allow all children access to preschool—would be supported annually with $8.1 billion in federal aid and matching state funds of $1.1 billion. Although the federal government would set academic guidelines, a key element of the strategy is that each state would set “specific curricula and program delivery models.” The plan also calls for allowing states to allow community and faith-based organizations to provide preschool services.
To maintain federal and state funding, programs would be expected to require head teachers to have training or experience in early-childhood-education, in addition to bachelor’s degrees. As another condition of funding, an accountability system for the preschool programs would evaluate how well children improved developmentally and the quality of the programs themselves.
While Ms. Mead says in the report that it is important to not use standardized assessments and not to tie consequences to individual children, she argues that such evaluation is crucial.
Helen Blank, the director of leadership and policy at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, praised the intent of the plan, but said it has its pitfalls.
“It’s a laudable goal,” she said. "[But] you have to be very cautious when you’re talking about what performance means in young children.”