Schools Considering Ways To Mix Care, Learning
What many call one of the most promising strategies for improving student achievement is being boosted not by the recent calls for education reform but by social forces far beyond the schools' control.
The forces are suggested by the rising tide of school-age and preschool children with no parent at home for most of the day. Studies show that unprecedented numbers of these children regularly spend weekdays in institutional or neighborhood day-care programs, or return from school to empty houses. And the numbers indicate that the "institutionalization" of children is certain to increase as both the proportion of working women and the birthrate climb in the years ahead.
"Two factors and two factors alone," contends Edward F. Zigler, professor of psychology and director of the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University, are prompting educators and policymakers to act now: "the new demographics and the new look of women and the family" and "their great dissatisfaction with the progress we've made in education."
"Schools are now looking back to help children at earlier ages, and--as in the neighborhood-school movement of 20 years ago--are trying to develop a variety of support for families that will improve educational attainment," Mr. Zigler adds. "Families need something more than schooling--a combination of schooling and child care. We may be moving to what [the Harvard University psychologist] Sheldon White predicted 15 years ago: schools that provide young children with a half day of schooling and a half day of supervised child care."
Experts agree on the causes of the social sea change that has so dramatically affected the lives of many young children. And although there is less agreement on the implications of that change for public policy, including education, two at least are clear: If parents are not available to take care of their children after school hours, other arrangements must be made, and pressures are growing for government agencies--including schools--to assume more responsibility for custodial care; and if parents are also not available to guide the early learning of their young children, an increasing number of those children may be likely to enter school with learning and developmental problems.
Added Services for Children
Consequently, educators and policymakers at a variety of levels are struggling to work out innovative ways--that make sense both politically and pedagogically--to respond to what they perceive as the growing community need for added services for children. And in doing so, they are increasingly turning to the findings of child-development researchers, who have long argued that early education has beneficial effects on the later performance of students--and may even help prevent the kinds of widespread academic diffi-culties for which the schools are now being criticized.
"Today, our focus on high schools is appropriate, but [the studies show that] attention on high school is in many respects too late," comments Richard R. Ruopp, president of the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. "The academic attainments of students are related to study habits, skills, critical thinking, [and the] ability to carry out planning tasks" that are acquired at early ages.
"Educators know that one of the greatest sources of academic and social difficulty for many children is an unsupportive home environment,'' adds Richard L. Mandel, principal of the Miquon School in Pennsylvania, believed to be the first independent school in the nation known to offer full-time child-care programs for families that enroll students at the school. "Teachers often blame divorce and separation, inadequate parental supervision, and an unstimulating home life for many of their students' problems."
Under consideration or already underway in localities across the country are programs to open schools to 3- and 4-year-old children, to extend kindergarten from the traditional half day to a full day, and to provide before- and after-school day-care programs.
Schools are in a good position to provide child-care and preschool services now, some who are trying out such programs say, because declining enrollments have left surplus space.
"Since school buildings belong to the community and declining enrollments are making some of those facilities available, extended-day programs and starting school earlier are logical considerations and something that many districts are beginning to think about," according to Bertha Campbell, supervisor of the bureau of child development and parent education for the New York State Education Department.
Recent initiatives reflect a diversity of approaches, funding, and degree of educational content. Among the developments at the federal, state, and local levels are these:
Programs for "latch-key" children. Last month, U.S. Representatives Patricia Schroeder, Democrat of Colorado, Geraldine A. Ferraro, Democrat of New York, and Sala Burton, Democrat of California, introduced legislation that would provide $30 million each year for three years to assist schools, nonprofit organizations, and community centers that work with schools to provide structured supervision for latch-key children. The bill would make the programs available to all students for a sliding-scale fee and would give priority to funding programs, according to a spokesman for Representative Schroeder.
The bill, HR 4193, has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education. Hearings have not yet been scheduled but may take place before the end of this legislative session, according to committee staff members.
A similar bill, S1531, was introduced in June by Senators Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Donald W. Riegle, Democrat of Michigan. It calls for $15 million in federal support.
The Senate bill is now before the Senate Education Subcommittee. No hearings are scheduled at this point, although a spokesman for Senator Riegle said he is "hopeful to have hearings scheduled for the beginning of next year."
Both bills have received support from the National Education Association, the National Organization for Women, the National Association of School Administrators, the National Black Child Development Institute, the American Association of University Women, Camp Fire Inc., the ymca of America, and the Boys Club of America.
In Illinois, a latch-key bill passed by the legislature and signed into law last June allows schools to provide before- and after-school pro-grams for students and to charge for those programs. A bill to fund all-day kindergartens, however, did not pass in the legislature because of the "tight money situation," according to Chalmer Moore, education consultant for the state board of education. The state board is currently conducting a policy study--to be completed by next April--on the state's early-childhood-education programs.
Extended-day kindergarten. New York City this fall extended its kindergarten programs into all-day sessions. More than 54,000 students in New York now attend kindergarten full time at an additional cost to the city of $22 million. The extension of kindergarten was one of the first actions taken this spring by the new chancellor of the New York City school system, Anthony J. Alvarado.
Although about 36 states make kindergarten available to students and 14 states require that kindergarten be state-funded and conducted on a half-day basis, only schools in North Carolina routinely receive state funding for all-day sessions, according to Chris Pipho, director of the information clearinghouse at the Education Commission of the States.
North Carolina began its venture into all-day kindergartens in 1977 at a start-up cost of $6.25 million over a four-year period, according to Dudley E. Flood, associate superintendent for the North Carolina Department of Education.
Model child-care programs. In addition, an education-reform plan outlined by North Carolina's state superintendent, A. Craig Phillips, earlier this month calls for the development of child-care programs in the state's schools by 1985. Estimated start-up costs for 16 model programs is about $2 million, according to Mr. Flood.
Child-care tax credits. The Internal Revenue Service this year for the first time will permit taxpayers to take a tax credit for child care on the short form (1040A) to make it more accessible to poor families. The credit has been offered on the so-called long form since 1981. But the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 7 percent of families earning $10,000 or less have taken advantage of the tax credit, which Continued on Page X
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they are allowed by law.
In 1981, the irs increased the child-care tax credit from a flat 20 percent of the amount spent on child care to a sliding scale that allows a maximum 30-percent credit for families with earnings under $10,000 and a maximum 20-percent credit for families that earn over $28,000.
Early-childhood education in public schools. Gov. Richard A. Snelling of Vermont and supporters in the legislature plan to re-introduce a proposal, voted down last spring by the House appropriations committee, that would have expanded the state's early-childhood-education programs to include 3- and 4-year-old children. The proposal--designed to improve the quality of education in the state by addressing the needs of students from age 3 to grade 3--would establish pilot projects in five districts to screen all 3-to-5 year olds for developmental problems; provide early intervention to ensure that children enter primary education "fully prepared to learn"; and allow districts to provide alternative kindergarten programs, such as cooperative programs administered by parents and developed in cooperation with school officials.
The National Association of Elementary School Principals, as part of a group of recommendations to strengthen early-childhood education, last month called for the development of preschool centers that are funded by tuition but staffed by certified teachers in schools that have been closed because of declining enrollments, according to an association spokesman.
Preschool programs in nonpublic schools. Independent schools, a high percentage of whose students come from families in which both parents work, are enrolling progressively younger students. In 1982-83, the National Association of Independent Schools reports, 107 of its 460 member schools that enroll students in preschool through grade 3 offered full-day preschool programs and 300 offered full-day kindergarten. About 20 of the association's schools established new early-childhood-education programs during the 1982-83 school year, according to Anne E. Rosenfeld, public-relations director for the nais
In addition, the independent schools have been "well ahead" of public schools in developing before- and after-school programs, Ms. Rosenfeld and other observers note.
Parent-operated programs. In Baltimore, six recently established preschool programs are run by parents in rent-free space in school buildings, some of which were closed down as a result of the city's declining enrollments. The parents--who pay $45 to $55 per child per month to hire teachers, buy supplies, and cover the cost of insurance--use the curriculum employed in the city's other preschool programs, according to Louise Villaret, assistant superintendent for elementary education in the Baltimore Public Schools.
Changes in the attendance ages. New York State is currently considering allowing children to enter school at age four and graduate from high school at age 16. In January, Commissioner of Education Gordon M. Ambach suggested the possibility of implementing such a change.
Although some educators acknowledge that they feel pressure to provide custodial services, most tend to stress the improved educational achievement of students as the major selling point of new programs to extend kindergarten, begin preschool training, and provide day care. According to Mr. Flood, only the educational arguments have influence in the state legislature.
When the all-day kindergarten program was announced for New York City, Chancellor Alvarado em-phasized that "children who start their school experience early by attending all-day kindergarten do better in schoolwork and are less likely to be held back or to be referred for placement in special education."
Elsewhere, providers of such programs also emphasize their educational benefits, as well as their convenience for working parents.
In Baltimore, the parent-administered programs "are not juice-and-cracker nap time," but educational programs that were designed "to help prepare students for the social and academic rigors" of school, according to Ms. Villaret. The program includes "specific learning that ... leads directly into the kindergarten program," she said.
Even after-school programs have an educational component, those who run them say. In Ridgewood, N.J., for example, an after-school program provides 1,000 of the district's 2,500 elementary-school students with instruction in "everything from ballet, calligraphy, American Indians, and creative writing to dollhouse accessories, languages, jazz-aerobics, and computers," says Superintendent Sam-uel B. Stewart. The Ridgewood program is housed in school buildings and taught by members of the local community and teachers, who are paid for their services. The cost to students is $20 for 10 classes.
"Schools ought to participate in a broader education configuration,'' which would include parents and community agencies, argues Mr. Stewart. He favors expanding the uses of school facilities for such purposes as latch-key programs, but cautions against assuming overall responsibility for the programs. Schools, he says, lose effectiveness when their focus "becomes too broad or too diffuse."
But many educators and observers note that schools may have no choice but to provide some form of child-care services in the future. Says Michelle Seligson, director of the School-Age Child Care Project at the Wellesley Center for Research on Women, "Educators must realize that women are not going to stay at home. ... Schools must respond because children may not have any other options."
Anne Bridgman contributed to these reports.
Vol. 03, Issue 09