A new article in the Atlantic (courtesy of the Hechinger Report) — “What Boston’s Preschools Get Right” — looks at how Boston is building high-quality programs — and how some cities are pushing ahead on pre-K even though state and federal governments are lagging behind.
At Dorchester’s Russell Elementary School, a day in a pre-K classroom “could be a primer on what high-quality preschool is supposed to look like,” the article says. “Children had free time to play with friends in a stimulating environment, received literacy instruction that pushed beyond comprehension to critical thinking and communication, and were introduced to complex mathematics concepts in age-appropriate ways. All three practices have been shown to go beyond increasing what children know to actually improving how well they learn in kindergarten and beyond.”
“Boston’s preschool program, called K1 locally, serves about 68 percent of the 4-year-olds likely to enroll in public kindergarten. And while it has been criticized by some for its slow growth, the program has won repeated recognition from experts in the field for its quality and has been validated by outside researchers for being student-centered, learning-focused, and developmentally appropriate.”
Boston also excels at providing high quality.
“Only a handful of city and state programs meet the quality standards established by the National Institute for Early Education Research, a think tank which publishes annual reports evaluating state preschool programs across the country. Boston’s program exceeds those standards. In fact, the school district here is so enamored of its preschool program that city school officials hope to soon bring the principles of high-quality early education to later grades.”
Funding comes from a mix of sources.
“The district estimates it spends about $12,450 per K1 student each year. That helps cover a salary for an assistant teacher in every classroom and a sizeable budget for materials and supplies. That amount does not include the costs of providing one-on-one teacher coaching, improving and customizing the curriculum, and making sure each classroom meets the accreditation standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Much of the funding for those functions comes from the Barr Foundation, a Boston-based philanthropy.”
“Still, to offer universal preschool at the quality level needed, local funds and a revolving set of federal and private grants won’t cut it, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang said. ‘We need state and federal support,’ Chang said.”
“The district does receive some ongoing state and federal funding, but officials here say it’s not enough to cover everything they need to keep quality high. As a state, Massachusetts ranks poorly on measures of access and better on measures of quality in its public preschool program.”
Boston’s success is rounded out by excellent teaching and an engaging curriculum. In addition, city officials are partnering with community-based preschool programs, an effort that “could provide a model for cities and states across the country that are trying to perfect partnerships between districts and private providers as a potentially faster and cheaper solution to expanding public preschool.”
The article concludes by pointing to the opinion of many of Boston’s early education staff and teachers, noting:
“There’s always room for improvement. So while Boston’s program is exceptional by the standards of what is offered nationally, no one here is satisfied.”