Pre-schools need better family engagement, teacher training

Pre-schools need better family engagement, teacher training

(Tenn.) Reflecting priorities highlighted across the country, pending legislation would require pre-schools to develop plans that would outline how they would improve professional development and family engagement.

SB 1899, sponsored by Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, was sent to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam with overwhelming support in both the Senate and Assembly.

“A critical component of improving both the quality and consistency of pre-K programs and ensuring that our youngest students have access to high-quality early instruction this is teacher training,” said Ashley Ball, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Education. “We know that all educators must receive continued high-quality professional development and training to enhance their instruction, and this principle absolutely applies to educators serving our youngest students.”

The legislation was introduced in response to a five-year Vanderbilt University study released last year which found that children who attended the state’s public pre-K program did worse in school over time in academic and behavioral measures than their peers who had not enrolled in preschool. The statewide program received widespread coverage and criticism from the New York Times, Education Week, NPR and other national media outlets.

SB 1899 would amend the Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Act of 2005, adding additional measures local education agencies must include when applying for state funding and approval for preschool programs.

Under the bill, districts would be required to include plans for family engagement throughout the school year, for delivering meaningful professional development for pre-K teachers and for coordinating with local elementary schools to assure students are building on their knowledge.

By requiring cooperation between preschool campuses and elementary schools, SB 1899 would address one of the Vanderbilt study’s major findings, which found students who had participated in the state’s early learning program stalled and eventually fell behind because teachers likely directed their attention to the children who needed it more – those who had no pre-K experience.

Improving relationships between schools could allow kindergarten teachers to build on the skills children bring with them from their pre‐K experiences, Vanderbilt researchers suggested in the study.

Some, including legislators and researchers from the original Vanderbilt study, have expressed concern regarding the lack of funding included in the bill to help districts understand and comply with development of the local plans.

According to Ball, however, only districts that apply and are awarded the voluntary pre-K grant would have to comply with provisions of this bill, and those districts would likely be adequately prepared to develop the plans before applying.

Many states have taken steps toward improving the quality of early education. Last week, Ohio State University announced it would commit almost $4 million in scholarships so that 100 early childhood educators could earn a bachelor’s degree in exchange for teaching in Columbus for at least three years.

In Oregon, the Legislature included $17.5 million to start new preschool programs as part of $100 million appropriation in new funds for early childhood education in last year’s budget. This year, preschoolers entering kindergarten were better prepared, according to results from annual entrance assessments.

In January, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care announced $500,000 in grant money to be allocated to 13 high-need cities and towns, providing almost 500 low-income families access to pre-k programs.