Evidence point: In two places, researchers found the problem of free expansion

A Berkeley study of New York City’s public pre-K programs found unequal quality. Educational activities were generally strong in high-income areas. Credit: Lillian Mongo for the Hatchingar report

Advocates sell free preschool as a way to improve the lives of people living in poverty and help level the playing field. Frequently quoted research from Ypsilanti, a high-quality preschool in Michigan, concludes that 58 low-income children in the 1960s were less likely to work, earn more, own a home, and commit crimes than similar children. Those who did not go to preschool. Not only does this seem fair, but the wise use of public dollars to educate poor children about the same early childhood education that rich children enjoy.

In practice, as communities across the country offer free preschool to more and more Americans, the results are uneven. Tennessee expanded its free pre-school programs in 2005 but a study published in January 2022 found that the programs could be so substandard that some children’s condition worsens. They could do better without preschool. The quality is even better in New York City, which in 2014 expanded the free pre-school for all four-year-olds. But researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found that low-income children are learning in significantly lower classrooms than high-income children.

Bruce Fuller, professor of education at Berkeley and lead author of the May 2022 study, said: “We are not going to stop inequality unless we equalize the distribution of values.”

Fuller further expressed concern that Universal Pre-K may have inadvertently removed some of the best early childhood educators from programs that serve poor children, but he still does not have enough information about the movement of early childhood educators in the city to prove it. .

My colleague Jackie Mader has written extensively on the frustrating Tennessee study and the Tennessee preschool quality problem. So I wanted to focus on this latest New York City study, “Does Pre-School Entitlement Distribute Quality? Racial Discrimination in New York City, ”published the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

New York has the resources and effort to create high-quality programs for all. It initially invested $ 300 million in 2014, spending the same amount for the rich and poor, $ 10,000 per child. That cost has increased over the years. The city currently pays প্রাক 18,000 to $ 20,000 per student to preschool providers, according to Gregory Brender, director of public policy at Day Care Council, Inc., New York. Which is comparable to some private programs in the city. The city has hired 120 people to monitor classrooms and share ratings with parents to help them choose the best program for their children.

Fuller analyzed these ratings and rated the overall quality of 1,800 preschools in New York City from 2015 to 2019 as “moderate to slightly higher than average.” They’re not as good as in San Francisco, but much better than the preschools in Florida or Tennessee, the quality measure that researchers usually use.

Fuller mapped these observer ratings against the census tract in New York City and found that early childhood programs in poorer neighborhoods, such as East Tremendous in the Bronx, were rated lower than public programs in rich areas such as Brooklyn Heights.

Each green circle represents a pre-K program in New York City. Dark green circles are pre-K programs that have received the lowest quality scores and tend to be centered around lower incomes. The lightest green circles are the programs that received the highest ratings. (“Do Pre-School Entitlements Distribute Quality Fairly? Racial Discrimination in New York City,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Map from May 2022.)

Fuller’s team also saw a high level of segregation and a number of programs that were primarily filled by black or Hispanic children. One-third of New York City preschoolers participate in a program that is populated by at least three-quarters of an ethnic or racial group. Nearby pre-schools with a high percentage of black residents were the lowest rated, which raises concerns that these programs are not giving black children a solid foundation for their future school years.

“It’s a fragile floor, especially for kids in the black community,” Fuller said. Many ratings and observational scores are “extremely dangerously low for these young people. And we don’t really know why. “

Quality measurements cover a wide range of topics, from playgrounds and furniture to the toilet and the daily routine of the school to hang a coat. Fuller focused specifically on instructional activities, activities, and how teachers interact with children.

“The teacher-teacher relationship is very different between medium and high-quality pre-K,” Fuller said. “There’s a big difference between teachers really lying on the floor, teachers involved with kids who hang out upstairs and don’t really communicate with young people.”

Fuller said some aspects of pre-school quality, such as physical space, are not so important for children’s future development. But “educational support,” he said, is highly predictable about the future learning trajectory of children. One of the biggest gaps between rich and poor, Fuller noted, is in the “program structure.” Inferior people give birth to inferior offspring and, thus, propagate their inferiority. Kids also seem to be less engaged in low quality programs. Fuller observed that regardless of the surrounding area, the programs conducted by the community group were of a high standard overall, but the schools in the city provided stronger instructional activities.

Fuller wants to know if teacher quality is responsible for the quality difference, but he still does not have data on teacher training and years of experience at various pre-school sites. New York City has spent a lot of money on professional development training to improve instruction in low-quality programs, but Fuller has not been able to identify meaningful improvements since 2016, with some major improvements in the first few years since the introduction of Universal Pre-2014. Some aspects of quality, such as instructional support, continue to decline throughout the city’s pre-schools.

These two graphs show the quality of pre-school in New York City, as measured by professional observers using a structured checklist. The quality of preschool as a whole has not improved much since 2016 and some aspects of preschool in the city have deteriorated. (“Do Pre-School Entitlements Distribute Quality? Racial Discrimination in New York City,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, chart from May 2022.)

Prior to the introduction of the New York City Public Preschool, low-income children already had access to free preschool through federal head start and community organizations funded by the Child Care and Development Block grant. But participation was low. After a massive marketing campaign to encourage everyone to go to free preschool, the number of poor pre-school children tripled from about 12,500 in 2013 to more than 37,000 in 2015. But according to a 2015 survey, more than 12,000 poor children were not enrolled. Estimates by researchers at Berkeley.

The critical question is whether low-income children are doing well now, even if their preschool programs are not as good as those of rich children. We are still waiting to see if this valuable preschool test makes a difference.

This story about universal preWho Written by Jill Barshe and produced by The Hatching Report, a non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality in education and innovation. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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