the path to pre-k

To implement de Blasio's pre-K plan, Dept. of Education faces a formidable to-do list

PHOTO: Creative Commons, courtesy wallyg

Updated, 1:05 p.m. with information from today’s testimony.

The idea to expand pre-kindergarten access might have come first from City Hall, but it’s imposing a long to-do list on the Department of Education, according to to the implementation plan released Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio told lawmakers in Albany yesterday that the “real obstacle” to the plan is consistent funding, not space or personnel. But the plan illustrates the challenge the department faces in training enough personnel and securing enough space to end up with 53,604 full-day pre-K seats in eight months.

That process begins with a number of tight deadlines. According to the plan, the Department of Education will begin surveying 500 half-day pre-K sites this week to determine whether they can expand to full-day programs. The plan depends on being able to convert more than 11,000 half-day seats to full-day.

The plan also will require many new pre-K locations. But new providers don’t have much more time to strategize, since proposals are due to the city on Feb. 5. (The city says it will be able to draw on past applicants, many of whom were turned down for funding in recent years despite meeting quality requirements, and it will be soliciting proposals for public schools that want to add pre-K starting in February.)

To judge those providers’ applications, the plan says the education department will need to add expert reviewers, though it doesn’t say how many will be needed.

That’s one of a number of roles the department will have to fill to accomplish the plan by September. A spokesperson said the Department of Education would increase its number of instructional coaches, social workers, and other staff to support the plan, but wouldn’t provide specific figures.

Once providers are in place, the city has to relay those details to parents of four-year-olds with a broader promotional campaign than it has used in the past, when it especially targeted high-needs areas and public housing.

And that’s all before addressing the question of what the estimated 53,604 four-year-olds will do, and learn, once they show up for a full-day program next fall.

In his testimony in Albany on Monday, Mayor de Blasio told lawmakers that the city had “begun to develop a teacher pipeline to recruit, train, and provide support for teachers and assistants to staff these classrooms.”

That pipeline appears to consist of plans for partnerships between the Department of Education and universities to recruit more early childhood teachers, pre-K-specific hiring guidelines handed down from the department to pre-K providers, and plans for a five-day summer training program for pre-K teachers.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has expressed her full support for de Blasio’s pre-K initiative, including in her testimony to state lawmakers today, though she hasn’t made it a main focus of her own public appearances. Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris is overseeing the implementation of the the plan—which de Blasio has made the centerpiece of his first month in office—along with the deputy mayor for health and human services, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, and Fariña. But huge swaths of the plan depend on Department of Education personnel, expertise, and space.

“On-site teacher coaches with manageable caseloads” from the DOE will be on hand all year for support and professional development, according to the plan, which also calls for instructional coaches to help pre-K providers with students who don’t speak English. Over the long term, the program will require “investments in research, data and program evaluation” from the department and others to assess its results.

The plan’s architects make clear that the rush to open thousands of new full-day pre-K seats is necessary to address what de Blasio termed an “inequality crisis” in his testimony. Members of de Blasio’s task force have also made clear that pre-K offers immediate benefits for families, since parents can work more hours if their young children are looked after.

“The children we could potentially place in programs this September will not get another chance to have a pre-K experience that sets them up for achievement and increased opportunities later in life,” the plan says.

By the numbers

As city gears up for year three of its pre-K expansion, applications hold steady

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

More than 68,000 New York City children applied for full-day pre-K this year, jumpstarting the third year of the city’s expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The total number of applications is in line with last year’s total, but the Bronx and Manhattan both saw drops in the number of families that applied. The Bronx had a 5 percent decrease, from 14,280 applications last year to 13,529.

Brooklyn, the borough with the greatest number of families who applied for pre-kindergarten, saw an increase, with 22,046 families applying — up from 21,500 families last year. Staten Island and Queens saw marginal increases.

The number of applications is just shy of de Blasio’s original goal of enrolling 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-K. The city pointed out that the number of applications represents three times the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-K before the expansion started in 2014.

De Blasio’s push for universal pre-K has largely been seen as a success, with seats generally meeting or surpassing quality standards. A recent, limited survey found that families said that pre-K saved them money and helped their children learn.

This year, the city has made a few changes to the application process. The application period opened earlier to give families more time to decide where to apply. Families will also receive offers in early May, a month earlier than last year.

Families who have not yet applied will be able to apply to programs with available seats from May 2 to May 20.

pre-k report card

City touts record 68,500 students in pre-K, releases data on program quality

PHOTO: Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K in Queens on March 14, 2014.

The city released new data Friday about the quality of its rapidly expanded pre-kindergarten program, which officials touted as evidence that the program has maintained high standards even as it enrolled nearly 50,000 additional students over the past two years.

With free full-day preschool as the centerpiece of his education agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio has more than tripled enrollment since he took office — leaving some observers to wonder whether the city was trading quantity of seats for quality. The new data, compiled from reviews of a portion of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites that were conducted from 2012 to the present, shows that the quality of New York’s pre-K program is on par with other cities.

The inspected sites on average met or surpassed the national average on a measure of teacher-student interactions, according to review of 555 cites. On a different measure, 77 percent of reviewed sites earned a 3.4 or above on a 7-point scale, which city officials said is the benchmark that programs must reach to have a positive impact on students.

However, Steven Barnett, a professor at Rutgers who is an expert on preschool programs, said that programs should strive to score a five or higher on that scale. The results are promising, he added, but should be seen as a baseline that the city should improve upon.

“They’re OK, but they’re not nearly as good as they should be five years from now,” he said. “It’s not an overnight process.”

Officials also announced that pre-K enrollment reached over 68,500 — just shy of de Blasio’s goal of 70,000 — and said that a recent crop of new students came primarily from low-income backgrounds. Of the 3,000 students who have enrolled since September, 90 percent live in zip codes with incomes below the city’s median.

The pre-K expansion has been one of de Blasio’s only initiatives to garner positive reviews from most observers.

“We’re proud Pre-K for All is performing on a level with some of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The education department used two observation-based measures for the report.

The first, known as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, focused on how teachers interact with students. It uses smiling and laughter to gauge school climate and judges the quality of questioning in a class. The second, called the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, used room set-up and student hygiene, as well as the quality of instruction.

More than 1,000 pre-K programs were evaluated using the second measure in the past three years. On average, they scored 3.9 on the 7-point scale. City officials said a 3.4 is correlated with “improved student outcomes,” including better reading, math, thinking, and social skills.

Barnett, who has studied New Jersey’s celebrated pre-K expansion, said it’s encouraging that categories like “language” and “interaction” were scored higher than “space and furnishings” or “personal care routines.” That implies physical space and classroom routines weighed down the ratings, not teacher instruction, he said.

New York’s scores align with pre-K programs in other cities. New Jersey’s Abbott program scored a 4.0 on the ECERS-R scale in 2002-03, just 0.1 points higher than New York’s rating.

Not all of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites were evaluated, but soon the city plans to assess all programs. Every three years, each pre-K program should receive both ratings, city officials said.

City officials said they will direct more resources to pre-K programs with low scores on these measures, including extra social workers or more professional development.

They did not offer any specific plans to close struggling pre-K programs based on these observations, though they said that is a possibility in the future. The officials also said they would consider a site’s scores when considering whether to renew providers’ contracts.

For K-12 schools, the city publishes data in annual progress reports for parents. City officials did not say they plan to present pre-K information in a similar way, though all of the data is available on their website.