Early Years

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Class Size: Reducing class sizes in the early grades has emerged as a popular policy initiative across the country as states look for ways to improve student performance.

Now, researchers from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., are trying to determine if that state's effort—called Prime Time—is making any difference.

Districts that participate in the program, which began during the early 1980s, receive state money to hire instructional assistants for the primary grades. The districts provide the additional classrooms and materials. With those assistants, instructor-to-student ratios are lowered to an average of 1-to-18 for kindergarten and 1st grade, and 1-to-20 for 2nd and 3rd grades.

Specifically, the two-year, $212,000 study, which is being paid for by the state, will focus on whether Prime Time is yielding higher achievement on standardized tests.

Research will also examine how the instructional assistants are used in the classroom, and how teachers change their teaching practices to better suit smaller groups of children. In addition, the researchers, led by Dan Lapsley, the chairman of the university's department of educational psychology, will explore whether the lower ratios have an effect on teacher morale and on nonacademic outcomes for children.

Distance Learning: Head Start teachers who have access to computers have a new way to get the education they need, through a distance-learning project involving the University of Cincinnati.

Under the 1998 reauthorization of the federal Head Start program for low-income preschoolers, teachers in the program are required to obtain two-year associate's degrees. But many don't live near colleges, much less those that offer the courses they need.

The university, in partnership with Resources and Instruction for Staff Excellence, a nonprofit distance-learning company, will provide the early-childhood-education courses, a total of 90 credit hours, over the Internet and by satellite television. EchoStar Communications Corp., a satellite-broadcasting service, is also part of the project.

Called the Early Childhood Learning Community, the initiative has the potential to reach teachers in every state except Alaska and Hawaii.

Two-thirds of the coursework will be broadcast on satellite television, and the remaining third will be conducted online.

Since many of the teachers haven't been to school in several years, the program will begin with an orientation course that will cover such topics as study skills and time management.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 15

Published in Print: April 19, 2000, as Early Years

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