School-Based Child Care Foreseen

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New York City--One of the most influential researchers in the field of early-childhood development has unveiled a plan for the "school of the 21st century" that features a professionally run child-care system serving children between the ages of 3 and 12.

The plan was outlined at an Elementary School Center conference here last month by Edward F. Zigler, Sterling Professor of Psychology at Yale University and director of the university's Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

It would make public schools the locus for services ranging from prenatal counseling to after-school care for the children of working parents.

Some early-childhood experts have resisted efforts to institute child care in the public schools, arguing that schools lack the expertise in early-childhood development--and the track record in reaching parents--to carry out effective programs.

After studying the issue for 30 years, however, Mr. Zigler said he had concluded that a successful child-care system "must be tied to a known major societal institution" capable of reaching the broadest spectrum of children across socioeconomic lines.

"We can solve the child-care crisis by implementing a second system''--operated by early-childhood specialists--"within already existing elementary-school buildings, where formal education takes place," Mr. Zigler said.

He labeled "unworkable" other, more piecemeal child-care solutions, such as relying heavily on the private sector, nonprofit organizations, or federal programs that serve only a small share of eligible recipients.

School-based child care, he said, is the most cost-effective substitute for the "two tiered" system that now permits well-off parents to buy high-quality child care, while low- and moderate-income parents receive "marginal or inadequate" care.

"Hundreds of thousands of children are experiencing child-care environments that are compromising their optimal development," said Mr. Zigler, who cited the high child-staff ratios in some programs and wide variations in the quality of care.

Elements of Plan

The system he envisions would provide on-site care for children age 3 to 12, including:

Child care--but not formal schooling--for 3- and 4-year-olds, provided by professionals credentialed under the national Child Development Associate program.

For 5-year-olds, a half a day of kindergarten within the formal school structure and a half a day of child care if parents request it.

Before- and after-school programs, centering on recreation, athletics, and hobbies, for children whose parents' workdays exceed regular school hours.

A parent-outreach component, such as Missouri's "Parents as First Teachers" program, which would counsel parents from pregnancy through their children's early years.

A support system to monitor, train, and provide back-up arrangements for operators of day-care providers in private homes near public schools. Mr. Zigler noted that 70 percent of children under the age of 3 are served by such providers.

A referral system for information about other child-care settings.

Rather than relying on "already overburdened" school personnel, the child-care system in Mr. Zigler's ideal school would be managed by someone with a bachelor's or master's degree trained in early-childhood education. It would be governed by licensing standards appropriate to young children.

Fusion of Ideas

Mr. Zigler estimated that his plan would cost $75 billion to $100 billion, supported initially through an income-graded fee system and later through taxes. Citizens, he asserted, "will not object" to a child-care taxwhen most parents are working. He noted that 65 percent of the mothers of school-age children already work outside the home.

The federal government would provide start-up funds for states to launch "demonstration" schools and would provide subsidies for low-income and handicapped children under Mr. Zigler's proposal.

Some of his ideas have been embraced in two bills introduced in the U.S. Congress by Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, and Representative Dale Kildee, Democrat of Michigan.

The "act for better child care" would provide $2.5 billion to help states provide financial assistance to families seeking child care; the "new school child-care-demonstration act" would provide $360 million over three years for states to set up model schools along the lines Mr. Zigler has proposed.

He said here that several states--including Missouri, Florida, California, and Connecticut--already have such schools or are considering establishing them.

He also supports, he said, the "family and medical leave act," a bill passed by the House Education and Labor Committee last year that8would require employers to grant parents unpaid leave to care for newborn or sick children.

Governance Questions Raised

Participants at the third annual conference of the esc, a nonprofit advocacy and research group that serves as a resource center for elementary-school specialists, generally supported Mr. Zigler's proposals.

But they raised concerns about how the program would be governed and whether the public-school setting would be appropriate.

Ruth Randall, Minnesota's commissioner of education, said that operating a child-care program with a separate staff in the public schools was "viable and ought to happen," but that governance was "where the controversy is going to be."

She joined others in saying that state departments of education and human services--as well as the public-school and early-childhood staffs--would have to resolve turf issues to launch successful programs.

"Getting the programs is not as difficult as determining what should go into them," she said.

Bernice Weissbourd, president of Family Focus and the Family Resource Coalition in Evanston, Ill., said Mr. Zigler's model could create a ''two-tiered salary system" in the public schools, since child-care workers generally earn substantially less than teachers.

"That will not work," she said. "It's untenable."

Ms Weissbourd also said that placing child care in schools could adversely affect community and private nonprofit centers, which some believe provide more suitable settings.

Carolyn Zinsser, project director for the Center for Public Advocacy Research in New York City, warned that public-school early-childhood programs could suffer from "academic trickle down"--the push for inappropriate, formal schooling at earlier and earlier ages.

Although he acknowledged that the "school of the 21st century" would face obstacles, Mr. Zigler said states must begin examining different kinds of models and then determine "what works best."

"I'm talking about a social revolution. It would be unfair to act like this is totally unproblematic," he said. "Somebody's got to think about where we want to be 25 years from now."

Mr. Zigler served on the planning committee for both Project Head Start and Project Follow Through and is the former chief of the United States Children's Bureau and the first director of the National Office of Child Development, now known as the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

Vol. 07, Issue 19

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