Caitlin Lennon (February 18, 2019) A new report, Pre-K in American Cities, offers an assessment of 40 of the largest cities in the U.S. and how they measure up to quality benchmarks, as well as access to high-quality Pre-K. Columbus was among those examined and was the only Ohio city included in the report. The report was released by CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, and The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.
The assessment measured the level of Pre-K enrollment in each city and which city or state Pre-K programs met NIEER’s 10 evidence-based benchmarks for highly effective programs. These are spelled out in Table 1 and include factors such as class size, teacher education level, and the use of content-rich curriculum. Note, these standards define how NIEER measures quality, one of many ways quality in Pre-K could be determined.
The report graded cities based on both quality and accessibility, with quality defined as meeting 8 of 10 of NIEER’s quality benchmarks for a Pre-K program and accessibility defined as whether the city enrolls at least 30% of eligible children in Pre-K programs. Reviewers assigned “medals” to cities based on how well they met each of these sets of standards. A bronze medal signals that a city meets the criteria for access but not quality. A silver represents a city program that mandates quality but offers low accessibility. Finally, a gold medal means that a city earned points for both quality and accessibility in its Pre-K program. Columbus did not earn a medal in this assessment. The tables below break down the 10 evidence-based benchmarks, and the assessment of Columbus, further.
NIEER researchers found that while many cities offer Pre-K programs, many of these programs lack the quality benchmarks that research has shown to deliver lasting benefits. They also found that many cities offer high-quality programs reaching too few children, which is defined as fewer than 30% of the eligible population of preschoolers.
Table 1: NIEER Pre-K Quality Policy Benchmarks
|Learning goals||Comprehensive early learning and development standards to guide teaching and assessment||Yes|
|Curriculum supports||Guidance for choosing and using content-rich curriculum||Yes|
|Teacher education level||Lead teachers required to have a bachelor’s degree||Yes|
|Teacher specialized training||Lead teacher has specialized training for teaching Pre-K||Yes|
|Assistant teacher education||Assistant teacher has a formalized entry-level credential such as Child Development Associates||No|
|Professional development||Ongoing training for teachers and assistant teachers||No|
|Maximum class size||Maximum number of children per classroom is 20||No|
|Teacher-child ratio||Ratio of teachers to children is 1:10 or better||No|
|Health screening and referral||Screenings for vision, hearing, health, and development concerns, along with referrals to needed services||Yes|
|Continuous quality improvement system||System to access program quality used to guide improvement||Yes|
Source: Pre-K in American Cities
How did Columbus do?
In the most recent assessment, Columbus was one of seven cities that did not receive a medal, meeting only 6 of 10 quality benchmarks and not meeting accessibility requirements. In addition to the 10 benchmarks, the report measured cities against four additional benchmarks, which are outlined in Table 2.
Table 2: Additional Quality and Accessibility Benchmarks
|Salary Equity||Whether the city’s Pre-K program meets standards for teacher salary equity for K-12 educators||No|
|Enrollment||Over 30% of children enrolled in Pre-K programs||Low|
|Local Funding Stream||Whether the city has a local funding stream||Yes|
|Local Funding Designed to Improve Quality or Access||Whether the local funding stream improves either access or quality of its Pre-K program||Both|
Source: Pre-K in American Cities
Overall, NIEER researchers found limited access to high-quality Pre-K in most cities. Only 24 of the cities offer a Pre-K program that reaches more than 30% of 4-year-olds. According to NIEER’s 2017 State of Preschool report, the total state Pre-K enrollment for Ohio was 15,942, with only 11% of 4-year-olds enrolled in public Pre-K and less than 1% of 3-year-olds. These figures only represent publicly run Pre-K and do not account for the children attending private centers. A 2016 article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer explains why this calculation by itself can be misleading since NIEER’s enrollment estimates leaves out some programs.
Supporting Healthy Development
Only 9 of 40 cities offer vision, hearing, health and developmental screenings and referrals. Columbus is among the few cities that do offer health screenings and referrals. Additionally, Cincinnati Preschool Promise received an acknowledgement in the report for providing access to school-based health centers, school nurses, and other school based support groups.
Columbus was listed as one of 20 cities in the report raising local funds for investing in early childhood education. In Columbus, Early Start Columbus allows qualifying families to access high-quality Pre-K programs either for free or low-cost tuition. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther envisions universal access to high-quality Pre-K for every 4-year-old in Columbus.
Overall, this report represents one of many ways to measure quality and access in Pre-K, and should be taken with a grain of salt. While Columbus did not receive a medal in this assessment, it was recognized as one of the few cities assessed to support healthy development in preschoolers and as one of only half of the cities raising local funds.