More Preschools Needed in Cities, Study Finds

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+ Though urban school districts have strongly supported preschool programs for at-risk children, greater commitment by business and government will be needed to reach all inner-city children in poverty, a researcher who has compiled a statistical profile of publicly-funded programs in major cities contends.

Lawrence J. Schweinhart, executive director of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, characterized the new study's findings as "a half-empty, half-full sort of situation."

"We're moving in the right direc4tion," he said, "but we're not doing the whole thing."

The study, an examination of preschool programs in 28 major urban centers, was produced jointly by High/Scope and the Council of Great City Schools and was presented at the council's annual meeting in Seattle this month.

It found that the 28 districts surveyed had spent a total of $136 million in 1985-86 to provide preschool education for nearly 70,000 children--about 50,000 4-year-olds and 20,000 under age 4.

Funding for the preschool programs was almost equally divided between federal, state, and local8sources, according to the report, and most survey respondents expressed optimism about future increases. The prospects for new funds from states and districts were rated much higher, however, than those forel10lfunding from the federal government and local non-district sources.

Stress on Early Intervention

The survey of urban programs presents one of the first national pictures of the progress being made in providing publicly funded preschool programs. It follows a period in which districts nationwide have created or expanded prekindergarten programs targeted for at-risk children, and comes several weeks after the release of a report by the Committee for Economic Development calling for greater spending for educational programs for such children, particularly early-intervention programs.

Nationally, the enrollment rate of 3- and 4-year-olds in educational programs has more than tripled in two decades, according to the High/Scope report, growing from 11 percent in 1965 to 39 percent in 1985. But most of this growth, it says, has been in the private sector.

"While only 11 percent of K-12 students in 1985 attended private schools," the report states, "66 percent of prekindergarten enrollees were in private programs."

By extrapolating from the report's findings and U.S. Census data, Mr. Schweinhart estimated in an interview that nearly half of all poor 4-year-olds in the cities surveyed were being served by the public schools.

It is clear, he said, that government and industry will have to spend more money to provide good preschool education for the remaining 50 percent of poor urban 4-year-olds.

"I think it's basically a question of whether we make serving at-risk children a national priority," he said. "We're going to ignore that at our own expense."

The study found that five districts--Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and Detroit--accounted for 62 percent of the total public preschool enrollment in the 28 districts surveyed.

"The local commitments of these districts is unusual," Mr. Schweinhart said.

Quality Factors

The report does not contain information on what it calls "the important dimension of early-childhood curriculum," but it cites as factors that "most affect the quality and cost of prekindergarten programs" their policies on teacher qualifications and adult-to-child ratios. And in these areas, the assessment was mixed.

Prekindergarten teachers in most of the 28 districts, the study found, were on the same salary schedule as elementary-school teachers. And every district required that its preschool teachers have some kind of certification.

But prekindergarten programs in the 28 cities averaged 10 children per adult--the maximum recommended for preschoolers--and that ratio climbed to a high of 20 to 25 children per adult in some programs. The average ratio for kindergarten classes in the survey cities, however, was 25 to 1.

Another study, to be released later this year by the Bank Street College of Education, will examine national trends in 1,200 public prekindergarten programs.

Anne Mitchell, who is coordinating the Bank Street study, said urban districts were more likely to fund preschool projects because there is a greater number of poor children in urban areas.

"There are more poor kids in urban areas, so the fact that urban schools are doing it is a good thing," she said of the Great City Schools findings.

The study also found that:

Districts spent an average of $2,248 for each prekindergarten child, nearly $700 more than the amount spent on the average kindergartner, but only 58 percent of the overall per-student cost for K-12 instruction.

Seventy-one percent of the children attended part-day (2-3 hours) programs, with the remainder almost evenly divided between school-day (5-6 hours) and work-day (8-9 hours) programs.

Vol. 07, Issue 04

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