Column: Early Years

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The U.S. Education Department is funding a two-pronged study to provide guidance to schools on how to help disadvantaged children retain the benefits of early-childhood programs.

The effort is aimed at reversing a trend noted in studies showing that gains achieved by children in the Head Start program "trail off" as they progress through elementary school, said Elizabeth Farquhar, project director for the study.

Such results, she said, have been attributed partly to a "discontinuity" in the styles and conditions of preschools and elementary schools.

The first part of the study, which is under contract to the rmc Research Corporation of Hampton, N.H., will survey school districts on how they address the preschool-to-school transition, compile data on programs, and produce case studies of model approaches.

To address the role parents play in preparing students for success in school, the second part of the study will develop a "conceptual framework" of what constitutes a good family-education program, seek out successful programs, and produce case studies. It is under contract to Abt Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

The studies, which cost $765,000, were launched in this fall and will be completed in 1991.

The Education Department will also fund a separate $645,000 study examining the current supply of child care and its characteristics.

The "Profile of Child-Care Settings," being conducted under contract to Mathematica Policy Inc., will survey child-care providers ranging from preschool programs to day-care operators in private homes.

Ms. Farquhar said the study will complement a "National Child-Care Consumer Survey" being jointly sponsored by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

That study, which is under contract to the Urban Institute, will survey parents on their child-care arrangements.

To improve access to higher education, President-elect George Bush should expand early-childhood education and child-care programs for poor and working families, the presidents of five Massachusetts colleges said last month.

Presidents Mary Maples Dunn of Smith College, Elizabeth T. Kennan of Mount Holyoke, Peter R. Pouncey of Amherst, and Adele S. Simmons of Hampshire College joined Chancellor Joseph D. Duffey of the University of Massachusetts in offering their views at a news conference called to set out ideas for the next President's education agenda.

Although they raised other issues--including the need for better dropout-prevention programs, improved teacher training, and innovative financial-aid programs--the presidents said early intervention in the lives of children should be a top priority for Mr. Bush if he wants to be the "education President."

Early-years programs such as Head Start, they said, can help stave off school failure, brighten the outlook for growing numbers of poor and minority students, and improve the pool of students entering college.

When the state legislature convenes next month, the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals will push for legislation to eliminate a requirement that kindergarten students take standardized tests as a criterion for promotion.

The provision, passed as part of a 1985 education-reform law and implemented last spring, has been touted by state officials as a way to hold schools accountable for performance and target students for special help. But it has drawn criticism from early-childhood professionals, who say standardized tests are unreliable indicators of children's abilities and are inconsistent with their learning styles.

"We feel very strongly that paper-and-pencil testing does not promote appropriate types of skills that need to be taught and used in kindergarten," said Guy W. Sims, legislative chairman of the principals' group. "It has changed the curriculum because teachers feel that if children are going to be tested, these things have to be covered."

Although the kindergarten promotion requirement factors in teacher observations and other assessments, Mr. Sims said the principals want to strike the standardized-test provision.

Other legislative goals the group has discussed include securing funds for elementary-school counselors and for education programs for the parents of preschoolers.

Elementary-school principals should understand child- development principles and offer systematic training to help their staffs conduct early-childhood programs and explain their goals to parents, according to a new book published by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation.

"A School Administrator's Guide to Early-Childhood Programs," written by Lawrence J. Schweinhart, director of the Voices for Children project, outlines what constitutes a good early-childhood program and provides guidance on issues such as postponing kindergarten entry, teaching basic skills, using standardized tests, and placing young children in special-education programs.

The guide, which costs $20, may be obtained from the High/Scope Press, 600 North River Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan 48198-2898.--dg

Vol. 08, Issue 14

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