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Hechinger Institute Creates Visibility for Pre-K Education

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Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger Institute Director

Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger Institute Director

With the nation's school districts wrestling with how to boost overall academic achievement while also narrowing an "achievement gap" that's strongly linked to race and economic status, the notion that all children should have access to pre-kindergarten classes is moving toward the center of the education policy debate. More than 40 states already offer pre-kindergarten programs, beyond those that are part of the federal Head Start programs.

Yet, this topic and the many issues related to it are largely invisible in the nation's media. Responsibility for covering pre-kindergarten education may not even be seen as part of the education beat. It may be parceled out to a number of reporters. Or, it may be attached to the family beat, the welfare beat or even a beat on the business page, since pre-kindergarten is often viewed as a service for working parents. In any case, few journalists are well-prepared to cover the myriad questions about financing, quality, availability and the relationship between what happens in classes prior to kindergarten and what teachers expect once children begin school.

To help the nation's journalists deal with these questions, The Pew Charitable Trusts has given the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College a two-year grant of $542,000.

"Educators and policy makers in states across the country are debating how to make sure that all of our three- and four-year-olds have access to high-quality educational experiences to make sure they come to kindergarten fully prepared for learning," said Richard Lee Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute. "Journalists need to be able to cover the related issues knowledgeably, fairly and insightfully."

As part of this project, the Hechinger Institute will create a number of resources. The Institute will sponsor four regional seminars on topics such as Head Start, the difference between child care and pre-kindergarten, the proper balance between play and explicit learning activities in pre-kindergarten programs, the training that pre-school teachers need and so on. The seminars also will address how best to finance pre-kindergarten programs and whether they should be entirely publicly financed.

The first of those seminars will be held in November in Miami and subsequent events will be in the spring of 2005 in Chicago, New York and Denver. The Institute will create a Web site where research papers, news stories and other background materials useful for journalists will be posted. In addition, the Institute will publish and distribute to journalists a comprehensive guide to reporting on pre-kindergarten education issues.

The grant also will be used to underwrite a survey of editors about their knowledge of pre-kindergarten issues as well as a content analysis of this coverage as it appears in a nationally representative sample of publications.

The grant to the Hechinger Institute is part of a broader initiative by the Pew Trusts to support objective, policy-focused research, a national outreach effort and state-level public information campaigns to promote the idea that all three- and four-year-olds should have access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.previous page