When selecting a pre-kindergarten, families often have to forego considerations of quality education for more practical needs, such as location, school-home collaboration and provisions such as meals.
The findings are from a new national study by the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which examined how parents of children in publicly funded pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs define quality and select programs. The paper appears in the December 2006 issue of the journal Early Education and Development.
Families' definitions of quality are broader than researchers' - parents want quality education and child care services. Many families surveyed said having a location convenient to home or work was critical. In families with low incomes the availability of meals and extended flexible hours for single or working parents were important.
"More states are publicly funding pre-K programs. This study suggests that states need to consider parents' perspectives about quality when they design their programs," said Dr. Oscar A. Barbarin, lead author of the study.
"Most families have only one public pre-K from which to choose, and poor families have little or no choice at all. They must set aside quality education to meet basic needs such as programs that provide access to health care services and nutritional food for their children," said Barbarin, an FPG fellow, and the Preyer Distinguished Professor for Strengthening Families in UNC's School of Social Work. "As a result, poor families often send a child to a program that is not optimal."
The study also reflected significant ethnic differences. White families are more likely to define quality based on a positive emotional climate. Among families living in poverty, Hispanics are more likely to factor in services and blacks looked for good partnerships between school and home.
Overall, parents characterize quality care as providing an emotionally safe and responsive environment while academically preparing children for kindergarten. Parents say that academically preparing children for kindergarten goes beyond letters, numbers and reading. In their opinion, school readiness includes the development of social skills, the ability to pay attention and being able to control behavior and emotions.