No, I am not asking whether your toddler is spelling her own name or whether she is starting to potty-train. What I am asking is, are you, as a parent, prepared for choosing a pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) program? Do you have access to a quality program? Do you know what questions to ask of your Pre-K providers to assess quality? While these questions can seem overwhelming, there is a great resource at your fingertips to help you answer them.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) examines the landscape of state-funded Pre-K programs each year and ranks state programs on access (percentage of three- and four-year-olds with access to a quality program), spending (local, state, and federal spending on Pre-K programs) and quality metrics, including early learning standards, teaching credentials, continuing education for teachers, class sizes, and ratios of teachers to children. Please take a look at the report and see where your state’s program ranks, and then read on to see how NIEER's targeted metrics can help parents learn more about Pre-K programs.
While the NIEER report only assesses state-funded programs generally targeted to at-risk students, the quality metrics used provide a sound research-backed basis of questions for every parent who is interested in quality early education, whether through a public or a private program.
Let’s break down those metrics into questions for parents:
1. Of the 10 benchmarks used by NIEER, four of them relate to the education of teachers.
2. Class sizes and the ratios of teachers to students are next on the list. According to NIEER, for three- and four-year-olds, there should be 20 or fewer children in the classroom and a ratio of no more than 10 children per teacher.
3. Education standards are where the rubber hits the road.