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Prevention Research Center has lead role in Early Childhood Initiative|
By S. William Hessert Jr.
| The Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development in the College of Health and Human Development was instrumental in the Pennsylvania Governors Offices efforts to enhance the quality of early childhood care and education in Pennsylvania.|
In April 2002, the Governors Office created the 33-member Early Childhood Care and Education Task Force. Dr. Mark T. Greenberg, director of the Prevention Research Center, played a key role in assisting the task force, which examined existing and potential programs and services for children from birth to age 8 and made recommendations for improving educational opportunities for children.
Greenberg directed the University Childrens Policy Collaborative (UCPC), a partnership that conducted research for the task force. The Prevention Research Center was the primary research contractor for UCPC. Other partners were the University of Pittsburghs Office of Child Development and Temple Universitys Center for Public Policy. Penn State contributors to UCPC were Dr. Richard Fiene, director of the Capital Area Early Childhood Training Institute, and Dr. E. Michael Foster, associate professor of health policy and administration.
The task force submitted two reports in 2002. The first, Early Care and Education: The Keystone of Pennsylvanias Future, detailed research findings by UCPC and cited four key factors in ensuring that Pennsylvanias children enter school ready to learn: gubernatorial leadership and vision; key components of school readiness: early care and education, health and family supports; foundation elements that assure progress toward the goal; and public information and engagement.
The second report, Quality of Early Childhood Education Programs in Pennsylvania, was the first comprehensive quality study completed in Pennsylvania that provided an evaluation of the services currently provided to children and outlined recommendations for developing baseline quality expectations for all early-childhood programs.
The University Childrens Policy Collaboratives survey of 372 early care and education providers across Pennsylvania found: 80 percent of care in Pennsylvania has been rated minimal or adequate at best; only 20 percent was rated good; Head Starts quality was significantly higher than all other forms of early care and education; 46 percent of Head Start programs are of high quality; preschool programs scored significantly higher on quality than did child-care centers and homes; and the quality of child-care centers and family/group child-care homes decreased since the mid-1990s.
According to the researchers, major shifts in the demographics of families in Pennsylvania and across the nation are intensifying the need for child care. The number of working mothers with young children has almost doubled, while the number of children living in single-parent families is climbing steadily.
The study shows that quality has dropped off significantly in centers and homes that provide child care, which is a major concern, because that is where the majority of the children are, said Fiene, a lead investigator on the second study. It is our hope that this quality study will help parents ask the kind of questions necessary to identify a higher quality provider and raise the bar on quality for early care and education providers.
Economic analyses clearly indicate that the investment in high-quality early care and education programs for children pay for themselves in positive benefits to allfor children, for schools, for family and society, Greenberg said. [However], we need high-quality programs. ... Any attempts to cut corners on quality are likely to lead to poor performance by children and a perpetuation of mediocre and poor programs that do not adequately prepare many of Pennsylvanias children for school and life success.
UCPC research indicated areas that must be addressed to improve the quality of Pennsylvanias early care and education delivery system:
As researchers, we can identify the pieces that make up high-quality early care and education settings, Fiene said. The challenge comes in relaying that message to parents, providers and policy makers. There is compelling evidence that investment in research-based, quality early childhood programs will lead to substantial returns for all Pennsylvanians.
For more information on the Early Childhood Initiative or to view the task force reports, visit http://www.state.pa.us (PA keyword: Early Care and Education). The report is also available at the Prevention Research Centers Web site at http://www.prevention.psu.edu.