Early-Years Column

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Kentucky's ungraded primary program for kindergarten to 3rd-grade children is drawing a mixed reaction from parents, a new statewide poll shows.

The program, designed to minimize the risk of early school failure while helping children of different ages and abilities move at their own pace and learn from each other, is a key component of Kentucky's sweeping 1990 school-reform law.

All schools were required to launch an ungraded primary program last fall. It is the most extensive, and the only mandatory, statewide effort of its kind.

The Bluegrass State Poll, which was conducted by the Louisville Courier-Journal, showed that among 431 parents with at least one child in a Kentucky public school, 77 percent were aware of the primary program. Of those, 37 percent said it would provide children with a better education, 39 percent said it would give them a worse education, and 13 percent said it would make no difference. The rest had no opinion.

Among the 140 parents surveyed who have a child in the primary program, 43 percent said they thought it would improve children's education and 36 percent said it would worsen it.

A Courier-Journal report on the poll last month speculated that teachers and parents are leery of grouping children of such a wide age and skill range and "fear smarter children will be lost in the shuffle as teachers try to cope with the less able.''

Thomas Boysen, the state education commissioner, has defended the program based on research showing the benefits of mixed-age grouping and the consequences of early school failure. He has also suggested it will win wider support as parents and teachers understand and see the benefits of the concept.

A citizens' advocacy group in Kentucky, meanwhile, released a guide last month to familiarize parents with the primary program.

The guide outlines the kinds of experiences children will have and how the program differs from traditional teaching. It also advises parents on how to promote young children's learning.

The guide was written by Bette Burres, an associate professor at Western Kentucky University, and Nawanna Fairchild, an associate commissioner for learning-programs development at the state education department.

Copies of "The Primary School: A Resource Guide for Parents,'' are available for $10 each from the Prichard Committee, P.O. Box 1658, Lexington, Ky. 40592; (800) 928-2111.

The National Black Child Development Institute has received a $25,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to study ways to support the advancement of African- Americans in early-childhood-education careers.

The N.B.C.D.I., which in 1990 identified "the paucity of African- Americans in leadership positions in the field'' as a critical issue, will release its recommendations at its annual conference in New York City in October. The group has contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct the research.

"We hope our report will be a powerful tool in laying the foundation for an informed plan for expansion of education, training, and mentoring opportunities of black early-childhood-education professionals,'' said Evelyn Moore, the N.B.C.D.I.'s executive director.

Worksite child care and other policies instituted by Johnson & Johnson to help parents balance work and family demands are making supervisors more responsive and workers more comfortable with their jobs, a study shows.

The Families and Work Institute surveyed more than 2,000 employees at four Johnson & Johnson sites in 1990, shortly after work-family programs were instituted nationwide, and in 1992.

The study cited dramatic increases in the share of workers who feel comfortable and get support when they approach their employers about family issues since the introduction of child-care referral services, family leave, flexible work schedules, dependent-care assistance plans, and other benefits.

Such responsiveness, the study showed, has reduced work and family stress and increased parents' loyalty to their jobs.

It also showed that those who use on-site child care are much more satisfied with the care and worry less about their children while at work than parents who use other day-care providers but would choose worksite care if it were available.

Information on how to order the report, "An Evaluation of Johnson & Johnson's Work-Family Initiative,'' or a summary, is available from the Families and Work Institute, 330 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010.

The Zero to Three/National Center for Clinical Infant Programs is calling for a "multi-sector approach'' to protect young children from increased exposure to violence.

A study group launched by the center a year ago has released recommendations for involving various professionals and clinicians who work with young children and families in a national campaign to address the issue.

More information on the effort and a booklet, "Can They Hope To Feel Safe Again? The Impact of Community Violence on Infants, Toddlers, Their Parents, and Practitioners,'' can be obtained from Dr. Beverly Jackson or Joan Melner by calling (703) 528-4300.--D.C.

Vol. 12, Issue 32

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