When it comes to ratings, people often judge a restaurant or hotel or movie by how high or low it ranks. And you could say parents might do the same thing if there were a rating system applied to preschools. In California a state advisory board hopes to have a rating system for preschools in place by mid 2011.
If you think budget cuts are atrocious for grades kindergarten and higher, it's even worse for early childhood education. But hopefully to the rescue is First 5 California, created to improve the quality of education during the first 5 years of life. And if you ever wanted to know where the money was coming from for this -- it's Prop. 10, the very same proposition that slapped a 50-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes that's sold.
The funds are distributed throughout the state's 58 counties. The counties getting the most money are among the largest -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego because it's based on the number of lives births in the area.
But the whole point of the rating system is to improve early childhood education altogether. Studies show that the earlier you invest, the less intervention, special education will be needed later on, says Claire Norwood of the San Diego County Office of Education. "Our mission is to work along to improve the quality and access to preschool, including those most at risk", she adds.
The San Diego model is based on a three tier system. Tier 3 is the highest and at that level the teacher would have a bachelor's degree at the very least. Right now evaluators are judging preschools on a huge list of criteria. It includes for example improving the environment of the class which includes more interaction between teacher and children, more supplies -- from rugs to tricycles to classroom furniture.
A preschool would get a piece of the Prop 10 money as an incentive to improve the way it's run to make it to the top tier or improve its present standing. Advocates tell the VoiceofSanDiego.org that it appears to be working: 80 percent of preschool classes improved their rating last school year and more than 200 teachers also sought a college degree or extra training in early childhood education with the extra money.
Norwood says it's a nationwide trend. "This would have a tremendous impact on outcomes for children as they move through the K-16 world, " says Nancy Remley, of the California Department of Education.
In the L.A. area, a similar system is already in place and appears to be getting good results. Joyce Bettes, who runs Bettes Family Child Care Center from her home in north Redondo Beach told the Daily Breeze newspaper that she is studying her bachelor's degree, which could allow her to achieve the top rating, including the funding that comes with it - up to $50 per child a day.
In an ideal world it would level the playing field for children no matter where they lived, the goal of this rating system in a world of cutbacks and layoffs is to turn it as much into reality as possible.