Academic journal article Human Ecology

Early Education for New York Children

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Early Education for New York Children

Article excerpt

In 1991 one-third of the children entering New York's kindergartens were not ready to learn. A statewide pre-K program was initiated to boost early education. Now in its third year, the program must prove its worth.

In the summer of 1997, New York State reached a budget compromise that promised to expand prekindergarten services to all four-year-old children in the state, Today, program administrators are looking for appropriate ways to document the effectiveness of universal prekindergarten (UPK).

"Universal prekindergarten has been operating in some school districts for almost three years," says Moncrieff Cochran, professor of human development and early child care and education expert. "It is reasonable now to ask what the program has accomplished."

The momentum for statewide UPK programs began in 1991 when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released alarming statistics suggesting that at least one-third of New York State's five-year-olds were not ready to learn when they entered school. Other studies have shown that the numbers don't improve with age. Forty-two percent of America's fourth graders are below the minimum achievement level in reading, and 82 percent lack basic math skills. Although education researchers, teachers, and parents have known for a long time that children benefit from early education programs, many young children just haven't had access to these critical preschool services.

Until now.

Three years ago the New York State legislature stepped up to the challenge and agreed to initiate a statewide UPK program. Forty-four states have state-funded prekindergarten services, but only Georgia and New York were committed enough to offer a universal program. What this means is that by 2001 all New York State school districts will have the opportunity--not a mandate--to deliver prekindergarten classes for four-year-olds. Participating districts can design their own services. Law-abiding programs, however, must adhere to certain stipulations, such as promoting English literacy, as well as meet the social, cognitive, linguistic, emotional, cultural, and physical needs of children.

Soon after the UPK legislation passed, Cochran realized that Cornell was well positioned to help with the implementation and evaluation of UPK services in the state. For years Cornell's College of Human Ecology has been at the forefront of child development research and education. Under Cochran's leadership, the Cornell Early Childhood Program integrates applied research, undergraduate teaching, and outreach efforts in early child care and education. The Ithaca City School District also has a long history of promoting early childhood education. An early adopter of UPK, the school district developed a program the very first year. Elizabeth Stilwell and Judith Ross-Bernstein, core members of the Cornell Early Childhood Program, were key members of the UPK advisory board to the Ithaca City School District. Through this process, the program's faculty learned that some 90 other school district plans were going to be delivered to the state Department of Education in 1998.

"We proposed to the Department of Education that we analyze those plans," Cochran says. "Out of the analyses came our report Promising Practices."

The report covers what Early Childhood Program members Susan Hicks, Kristi Lekies, and Cochran found after evaluating the plans. Hoping to strengthen existing programs and inspire new ones, Promising Practices was delivered to school districts across the state and to other key stakeholders, including child care resource and referral agencies, Head Start programs, and the New York Association for the Education of Young Children. The report focuses on program planning and development in five areas: collaboration, universality, developmentally appropriate practices, programming for diversity, and staff development.

Today, the UPK program is in its third year of operation and spreading rapidly. …

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