What is High-Quality Pre-K
Since ninety percent of brain development occurs during a child's first five years of life, early childhood experiences establish either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for everything that follows. High-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten (pre-k) for four-year-olds is an effective early childhood education program that prepares children to succeed socially, emotionally and academically in kindergarten and beyond.
Alabama's state funded pre-k program, First Class, has been recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) for twelve years in a row for meeting all 10 of the Institute's research-based benchmarks for quality. NIEER's Quality Standards Checklist represents a set of minimum policies needed to ensure the effectiveness of preschool education programs in preparing children for success in kindergarten and beyond.
NIEER Quality Standards Checklist:
1. Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS): A state’s ELDS specify a program’s goals. Clear and appropriate expectations for learning and development across multiple domains are an essential starting place for quality.
2. Curriculum supports: A strong curriculum that is well-implemented increases support for learning and development broadly, and includes specificity regarding key domains of language, literacy, mathematics, and social- emotional development.
3. Teacher degree: State policy must require lead teachers in every classroom to have at least a bachelor’s degree.
4. Teacher specialized training: Policy must require specialized training in early childhood education and/or child development.
5. Assistant teacher degree: Policy must require that assistant teachers hold a CDA or have equivalent preparation.
6. Staff professional development: Both teachers and assistant teachers must be required to have at least 15 hours of annual in-service training.
7. Maximum class size of 20.
8. Maximum staff-child ratio of 1:10.
9. Screenings and referrals: Policies should require that preschool programs ensure children receive vision, hearing, and other health screenings and referrals.
10. Continuous Quality Improvement System (CQIS): An effective CQIS operates at local and state levels to ensure that information is gathered regularly on processes and outcomes, and that this information is used to guide program improvement. To meet this benchmark, policy must at a minimum require that (1) data on classroom quality is systematically collected at least annually, and (2) local programs and the state both use information from the CQIS to help improve policy or practice. The use of a cycle of planning, observation, and feedback has characterized highly effective programs.