Governor Ron DeSantis has wisely called on Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to carefully study the high failure rate (42%) of Florida’s Pre-Kindergarten program.
One insight we believe will evolve from this examination is a growing awareness that Florida’s four-year olds and their families have been unwitting pawns in a stalemate game over Pre-K quality.
Breaking the Stalemate
Providers across Florida point to the low reimbursement rate and partial day program and ask how they can possibly provide quality with a low-skilled workforce. They say State “higher-ups” in years past have pushed new slots and not quality or longer length of school day.
Some State officials wonder why we should invest more money if the current quality is low and there’s no clear plan by the early learning community for improvement. They point to the money providers make by packaging full-day “wrap-around” child care services marketed to families able to pay the freight.
Neither side has yet to publicly recognize two fundamental facts: (1) Florida ranks near the bottom on national standards of Pre-K quality. While the NIEER report is issued annually, it appears that media has become mostly bored with Florida’s perennial low scores. The connection between inattention to standards and high failure rates should come as no surprise; and, (2) Florida’s Pre-K outcomes will not significantly improve without a commitment to provide sufficient resources for degreed teachers in every classroom.
When The Children’s Campaign first envisioned the free voluntary Pre-K constitutional amendment and its popularity was confirmed through a statewide voter poll, and eventually passed, our vision was a quality program modeled after the then-existing Pre-Ks in public schools. The thought was EVERY child in Florida would be better prepared academically and socially regardless of the setting as long as quality reigned.
Meeting Proven Standards for Quality Outcomes
To drastically reduce Florida’s high failure rate, The Children’s Campaign offers the following recommendations:
- Degreed teachers: Degreed teachers are required for kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools and college levels. Why not Pre-K when children’s brains experience rapid development? The states who do it best require degreed teachers. Without them, significant improvements will remain elusive.
- Return to a 1:10 teacher-to-child ratio. Currently Florida’s program is 1:12 in the summer, 1:11 in the school year. Smaller classes and fewer children per teacher enable teachers to interact with each child more frequently, work with smaller groups and offer each child more individualized attention, which results in better outcomes
- Increase staff professional development requirement to a minimum of 15 hours per year and provide coaching opportunities for in-school support for teachers. Research shows that in order to be effective, preschool lead teachers should have specialized preparation that includes knowledge of learning and development specific to preschool-age children.
- Expand vision, health and hearing screenings requirements to students receiving pre-kindergarten in private or religious schools. Children who are struggling with their health, vision and hearing are not going to get the foundation for learning that will help them be successful students as they continue their education.
- Require a CDA or equivalent minimum for assistant teachers. All members of a teaching team benefit from pre-employment education. The stronger the team, the better able to provide the love for learning needed for a successful Pre-K program.
For more information, visit The Children’s Campaign website at www.iamforkids.org
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This Top Story is brought to you by Roy Miller and Karen Bonsignori