How to judge the quality of pre-K programs

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has a well-regarded 10-point standard for high-quality programs. Publicly funded Keystone Star-3 and Star-4 pre-K programs meet at least seven of them, including having a comprehensive early learning curriculum, all lead teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree, continuing professional education, maximum class size of 20 and teacher-child ratio of at least 1 to 10, and on-site inspections at least every five years. (Pennsylvania programs are not required to meet NIEER standards of conducting comprehensive health screenings, giving all children meals, and requiring assistant teachers to have at least an associate’s degree in child development.)

Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children, an early childhood advocacy campaign, takes a different approach, encouraging parents themselves to gauge program quality by asking question like: “Does staff communicate daily with parents about their child’s progress? Does staffing allow for each child to receive individual attention? Does staff sit and read to the children?”

Other questions: “Do the children have a consistent routine that they can understand and follow? Do the children seem occupied and engaged? Are the children involved in activities that promote learning? Is there a policy on discipline? Do the children seem happy?”