Is Your Pre-K Teacher Giving What They Get? (page 2)

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Updated on Oct 5, 2010

And it’s not just Head Start. Richard Clifford, Senior Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill, recently completed a study surveying preschool programs in eleven states and found that across the board preschool teachers who work in the public schools make almost twice as much as those working in the private sector. “I think as Pre-K is accepted as a permanent part of what education agencies provide, then we’ll see equity—it’s going to happen gradually,” Clifford says.

Wages are only part of the problem, of course, but Barnett argues that if you don’t have equitable wages, it’s unreasonable to expect the same results. “There’s no job you would hire anybody for that if you paid half the going wage, you would expect to get the same results. Yet, that’s what we do with preschool programs.”

Robinson points to Florida as an example of underfunded preschool programs. There they have universally available Pre-K, but according to Robinson, the legislature wasn’t invested in the concept. “They give so little money to a provider per child that you couldn’t possibly achieve high quality,” she says, “and then they’re assessing them in kindergarten and saying, ‘Oh my, why aren’t they ready?’”

But Robinson reminds us that even kindergarten is a relatively new phenomenon—and it’s still not a requirement in some states. “We’re only starting to now put together the research and cost benefit,” Robinson says.

Whose education should our tax dollars serve? Six-year-olds, certainly. We’ve agreed on that. But what about five-year-olds? Four-year-olds? Clifford explains that historically we made decisions about public school and who it served based on the working patterns of families. Back in the Industrial Revolution, when public school got started, the school year began after the crops were in. And initially, public school served mainly white boys. Gradually, this expanded to serving white girls, and finally all school-age children, “including children with special needs and children of color,” Clifford says. “We finished doing that in the middle part of the 1900s, and since then the expansion has moved to serving younger children. So now about one-quarter of all four-year-olds are served in public school, and that has been a pretty big shift in the past couple of decades.”

But many argue that one-quarter isn’t enough. Robinson, Clifford, and Barnett say that if there’s any doubt that preschool is not only beneficial but also a necessary starting point for young children, folks should take a look at research reports that have looked specifically at the well-funded and successful prekindergarten programs—programs such as those in Oklahoma and New Jersey, where legislation has mandated that preschool teachers are properly educated and paid. Bill Gormley and other researchers at Georgetown’s Center for Research on Children in the United States (CROCUS) have evaluated the effectiveness of Oklahoma’s Pre-K Program, and Ellen Frede, Steven Barnett, and others at NIEER have evaluated the effectiveness of the Abbott Pre-K Program in New Jersey.
Want to get involved in your neck of the woods? Visit Stand for Children and MomsRising to find out how you can make a difference in your state. And visit NAEYC’s policy page to follow federal updates on early childhood education and to sign up to receive alerts through Children’s Champions.
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