Policy Brief/Analysis

High Quality Preschool

Why We Need It and What It Looks Like

By Linda M. Espinosa
NIEER Policy Brief (Issue 1, November 2002)


Research has shown that 3- and 4-year-olds, especially those who are at risk for school failure, when placed in high-quality preschool programs are more successful in their future academic and social development.

However, studies measuring both process and structure – two essential indicators of the quality of early education programs – in multiple preschool programs around the country have found that the average quality of early education and care is less than good, with most in the “minimally adequate” range. A further look at the research shows that those children who are considered most vulnerable for school failure and social problems, and therefore in greatest need of high-quality care, are attending those programs found to be of the lowest quality.

This policy brief calls for the improvement of early education and care in our nation by focusing on what is critical for the child, family, teacher, curriculum, and classroom. Following the recommendations of the National Association for the Early Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the best practices for improving preschool quality are to develop state standards that address the process and structural features of each program, raise qualified teachers’ salaries, determine valid measures of the quality of education based on the most recent research on early learning, provide continuous training to faculty and staff in all programs, and for policy makers at all levels of government to work together to establish a system that promises high-quality education and care to all 3- and 4-year-olds.

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