Top Education Officials Dissect de Blasio’s Pre-K Plan

October 8, 2013 Updated: October 17, 2013    

NEW YORK—Two top city and state education officials said on Oct. 8 that a plan for expanding New York City pre-kindergarten services must not only increase the number of seats offered, but also address the quality of the education provided.

John King, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Education, and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the senior deputy chancellor of New York City Department of Education, assert that pre-kindergarten can have a positive impact on a child’s future education.

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayoral candidate, campaigned on a plan to offer a pre-kindergarten seat to every 4-year-old child in the city by raising taxes on those who earn more than $500,000 annually.

“I think it’s purely a resource challenge,” Polakow-Suransky said at a panel hosted by the Education Funders Research Initiative. “If we can get the resources to expand high quality early childhood programming it will have a powerful impact. The data from national studies on that is very clear.”

But part of the challenge is raising the quality of the pre-kindergarten programs, Polakow-Suransky said. “If you look at our pre-k programs now in the city, they are not uniformly good and there’s a lot of work to be done to push on the quality.”

King echoed Polakow-Suransky’s point and said that more needs to be invested in professional development for pre-kindergarten teachers, especially for literacy education.

“One of my worries about the current discourse about early childhood [education] is that if we just focus on access—growing the number of seats—but we don’t address quality—the quality of teachers’ preparation, the quality of the literacy rich environment we create for students—we will have wasted a lot of resources,” King said.

“Our standards for teacher preparation across the early childhood system are quite low. And that’s a resource challenge. If we invest enough in our early childhood system so that we can have enough of a high quality teacher workforce, that really gets literacy,” King added.

Early Childhood Education Matters

King and Polakow-Suransky spoke at an event of the Columbia Teacher’s College where they released a research paper on early literacy. The researchers studied 77,000 children who entered the New York City school system in 1996. Only one in three students who failed to meet the standard on the third-grade English Language Arts test, ultimately graduated from high school.

A host of national studies also identify positive impact of early childhood education. A “HighScope Perry Preschool Study” of lifetime effects of preschool learning found that adults at age 40 who attended a preschool program “had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, had committed fewer crimes, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.”

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