Strong Start Tucson aims to give thousands of children the opportunity to attend “high-quality” preschools. But why is “high quality” so important? The answer is that in the case of preschool, being average is not good enough. From large-scale studies on the effects of preschool, we now know that programs of moderate quality generally have little impact on children’s readiness for elementary school, and poor-quality programs can actually have a negative impact (or, at best, no impact). In contrast, high-quality preschool programs improve children’s early language, literacy, and mathematics skills, and the higher the quality, the larger the impact. The conclusion is clear: High quality is the minimum necessary to reliably increase children’s readiness for elementary school.
Fortunately, there is now general agreement about what constitutes “high quality.” These are three of the most essential elements.
- First, and most important, are teacher-student interactions that are warm and responsive and focused on learning. This does not mean replacing play and exploratory activities with workbooks and teacher-centered instruction. It does mean providing guided play and hands-on activities that address important content and encourage problem-solving and critical thinking.
- Second, teachers must receive professional development and coaching so they have the support and feedback they need to teach effectively. High-quality preschools don’t simply hire teachers and then leave them on their own.
- Third, high quality preschools use proven curricula, hopefully aligned with elementary school curricula so that a seamless transition can occur.
So how much does this cost? For a change, there’s good news regarding money. Over the last few years, a number of large-scale preschool programs have shown that high-quality programs, resulting in significant and sustained outcomes, can be achieved at a lower cost-per-child than we previously thought possible. That cost is $8000 to $10,000 per child, per year. This is right in line with the $8500 that Strong Start Tucson has planned for.
Tucson already has a solid foundation in terms of early childhood education. Strong Start Tucson will allow us to build upon this foundation and create an opportunity for thousands more children to attend an affordable, high-quality preschool.
Carol Weinstein, Ed.D.
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Graduate School of Education
Rutgers—The State University of New Jersey