One month countdown

At national summit, Fariña says she will keep 'stress factor' out of pre-K

Working toward an ambitious pre-K expansion, the city has already found space for new pre-K seats, started an intense recruitment push, and come to some conclusions about teacher pay.

Now, with only one month until an estimated 50,000-plus four-year-olds breathe life into the pre-K classrooms, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the administration is figuring out the right ways to evaluate its programs.

“We don’t want to make pre-K the new K,” Fariña said at a national pre-K summit on Tuesday. “We don’t want to bring down so much assessment to pre-K that we bring the stress factor one year less.”

A more important measure of success for pre-K is student attendance, Fariña said, which the city will monitor to gauge parents’ investment in their children’s programs. During her time as an elementary school principal, she instituted a policy where preschool students who arrived to school late had to be walked to class by a monitor instead of their parents.

“Every child made sure their parents got them to school on time,” she said.

Another marker of success for Fariña will be teacher satisfaction. She hopes that pre-K teachers will come to be thought of as some of the best teachers in the building and that they will choose to continue teaching pre-K, she said.

Since the city first announced its pre-K expansion plan, it has promised to send teacher coaches to visit programs and help students who are learning English. Officials have also said the city is adding staff members to monitor the programs and Fariña said Tuesday that some pre-K classrooms will serve as models.

While pre-K is heavily focused on social-emotional learning (Fariña said she is a “total advocate” of housekeeping corners), the chancellor thinks pre-K will show academic payoffs down the road, giving city students a leg up so they’ll be able to read at grade level by the end of second grade.

“You don’t get results overnight,” she cautioned.

Fariña was a panelist at the first annual Preschool Nation Summit, hosted at Scholastic’s Manhattan headquarters and organized by LAUP, a nonprofit that provides pre-K programming to over 11,000 Los Angeles students per year.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was the event’s keynote speaker, an indication of his growing role as a national pre-K figurehead.

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said the city is in the “unique position” of having both a governor and a mayor who support universal pre-K, which could make it “a real example for others around the country.”

Cities like Los Angeles are now looking to New York to see how its pre-K expansion plays out, LAUP CEO Celia Ayala said.

“If they could do it over there,” Ayala said of New York City, “We certainly could learn and then we could challenge our people back home.”

De Blasio did not shy away from the broader implications of his focus on pre-K.

“You see now the outline of a truly national movement,” he said. “We’ve got to say that full-day, high quality pre-K is going to be the national standard.”

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.