Boston Mayor Tom Menino has set a goal to offer free preschool to all children by 2010. But a new report commissioned by the city shows that could be a tougher reach than previously thought.
The research by the Wellesley Centers for Women finds that Boston needs to fix its existing public preschools before opening any more. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.
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MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Suzanne Lee, principal of the Josiah Quincy Elementary school in Chinatown knows the challenges of adding preschool classrooms in an elementary school. Four years ago, when she created a preschool class, one of the many problems was finding a safe place for four year olds to play.
SUZANNE LEE: Here's the sandbox. so they have the sand table out.
BRADY-MYEROV: Lee steps out onto a rubbery surface with a few tired looking trikes and one small plastic climbing structure.
LEE: Its not great facility but it gets them outdoors.
BRADY-MYEROV: Unlike the Quincy school's play area, almost half of the outdoor space used by other public preschools are dangerous because they don't have fencing and are near parking lots or busy streets. This is one of nine findings and recommendations in the report about the current state of preschools in Boston public schools.
Michael Contompasis, superintendent of Boston Public Schools called the report, sobering.
MICHAEL CONTOMPASIS: Obviously the report has pluses it has some minus, but it one thing we wanted it to do and that is it sets a baseline and it indicates to us how far we've come what are some of the positive things we're doing and outlines for us those issues that have to be put in place in order to achieve a standard that will be recognized across the country.
BRADY-MYEROV: According to the study, four out of five preschool classrooms need more materials such as books and art supplies. Teachers need more specialized training and schools need to provide before and after school programs for preschoolers because 75% of their parents work full time.
Margaret Blood is president of Early Education for All, an advocacy group to expand free preschool to all kids statewide. She appreciates the report but is most troubled by the finding that many classrooms were not adequately staffed.
MARGARET BLOOD: Our Licensing requirements in mass require that there be an educator supervisor early educator for every 10 children and the public schools don't have the resources to do that so we're seeing one classroom with one full time instructor and in many of the classrooms they reported very minimal coverage of an additional aid.
BRADY-MYEROV: Its nap time in the preschool class at the Josiah Quincy school. Teacher Gertrudes Fidalgo has 16 kids with help from a full time aid. Eventhough the teacher student ratio doesn't meet national standards, Fidalgo says she's able to teach advanced concepts.
GERTRUDES FIDALGO: We are working with shadows and reflection its the unit we're working on right now so this morning they built like a city line and then with flashlights see the shadows on it.
BRADY-MYEROV: Finding and training adequate staff not only to meet Boston's goal of universal preschool, but the states as well, is probably the most challenging part of the expansion process says Principal Lee.
LEE: This is school this is not daycare so you want the same kind of professional teachers who understand the curriculum all the way up as well as child development.
BRADY-MYEROV: The report also finds that facilities are A major hurdle. Many old school buildings don't have the required space or bathroom placement to meet state requirements.
Plus Boston is serving a needy population. Twenty five percent of families with preschool aged children are living at or below the poverty line. And more than a quarter are in homes where their parents don't speak English. This means the deficits in education are vast when children start school says Lee.
LEE: what we've seen is kids who start early they know the routines of school not so much they know the alphabet. if they know what school is about and know how to socialize and able to follow a routine and have the structure they have longer attention span.
BRADY-MYEROV: Research shows that high quality early childhood education can help to close the achievement gap by boosting test scores, cutting the drop out rate and reducing the number of children in special education. And that's what driving Boston's push to expand access to free preschool.
For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.
This program aired on April 30, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.