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What do preschool teachers need to do a better job?


August 16, 2016
Economics and FinanceQuality and CurriculumWorkforce
Lillian Mongeau
The Hechinger Report

One city’s attempt to professionalize early education could be a model for the nation

There are, New York City public school principal Kristina Beecher discovered, an awful lot of types of play blocks. There are wooden blocks, cardboard blocks, magnetic blocks, clear plastic blocks, number blocks, letter blocks, and fish-shaped blocks, to name a few. And all of them are advertised as the best possible blocks for outfitting a preschool classroom.
Such choices have been faced by principals like Beecher across the city in the last two years as New York has moved to accommodate all of the city’s public school 4-year-olds in high quality preschool classrooms. Between the 2013-14 school year and the 2015-16 school year, the city added about 16,000 preschool students and 2,000 teachers. “We believe that preschool is an integral part of the public school system and public school should be universally available because every child can benefit from it,” said Josh Wallack, Deputy Chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education. “Therefore, preschool should be universal.”

The changes have come with new money and support to ensure that the city is not only offering preschool to all, but top quality preschool to all. Teachers — many of whom are veterans of the city’s smaller, existing preschool program — have been asked to change their classrooms and step-up their teaching to improve the overall caliber of the program. In particular, classrooms are now held to the standards laid out in the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), a tool designed to evaluate preschool classroom environments. After a mixed review in 2014-15, P.S. 3 teachers were advised to add more dress-up options in their dramatic play area, purchase outdoor play equipment like tricycles and grow their block collection.