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Don’t Overlook Pre-K Curriculum

June 2, 2017
Sara Mead
U.S. News & World Report

Should preschool teachers have bachelor’s degrees? Do children benefit more from full-day or half-day preschool programs? Should publicly funded preschool be universally available or targeted to the most at-risk students? Should 3-year olds, as well as 4-year olds, attend preschool? As state and local policymakers expand preschool programs, these and other questions are hotly debated. Yet debates about preschool quality and access often ignore another crucial dimension of preschool quality: The curricula that preschool programs use.

It should be obvious that curriculum – the content that teachers emphasize and the learning experiences they create for children – matters for preschool outcomes. And many publicly funded preschool programs do require providers to use research-based, developmentally appropriate and/or state-approved curricula.

But preschool policy and advocacy have often given short shrift to curriculum, focusing instead on teacher characteristics and practices. Since the early 2000s, advocates and policymakers have sought to improve preschool by raising teacher education requirements. As a result the share of state preschool programs that require preschool teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree increased from 45 percent in 2002 to 59 percent in 2016, and 75 percent of Head Start teachers now hold bachelor’s degrees.