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          Front Page




Study Urges Pre-K at 3, N.M. Program Is Seen as Inadequate

By Leann Holt
Copyright 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    And now, they want your 3-year-old.
    In preschool. All day.
    While New Mexico struggles to provide pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, a new report by the national Foundation for Child Development is recommending full-day pre-kindergarten for all 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It also recommends mandatory full-day kindergarten for all 5-year-olds.
    The state's new half-day program served about 1,500 4-year-olds at a cost of $5 million last year, but that kind of program may not be enough to prepare youngsters for school, the foundation says.
    The foundation suggests that the best way to guarantee a successful academic start for children is to create a consistent educational program that begins in 3-year-old preschool and runs through third grade.
    Research shows that 4-year-olds can lose 60 to 80 percent of the gains they made in preschool by spring of their kindergarten year.
    And there's more bad news: Even the full-day public kindergarten that New Mexico fully implemented two years ago might not have the long-term effect educators had hoped for, the foundation says.
    Full-day kindergarten gains can be lost by third grade unless children are part of a consistent system that extends from the age of 3.
    Researchers say part of the reason for the "fade out" in gains made in preschool is that children who did not attend preschool hold back the advanced children when they reach first grade.
    Difficult home environments and low-performing elementary schools also contribute to the fade-out, they say.
    While the foundation's recommendations are for all children, the report emphasizes the needs of low-income children— the ones at the greatest risk of entering first grade unprepared to learn.
    Reaction to the recommendations were mixed.
    Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said Thursday that the state is making good use of the limited resources the Legislature has allocated for Pre-K.
    However, if the half-day program for 4-year-olds doesn't produce the desired results, the state should consider a full-day program, Denish said.
    She also said data from the kindergarten program, which the state began implementing about seven years ago, show the full-day program is doing a good job of keeping kids "excited about learning and staying in school."
    But Nancy Calhoun, a former Moriarty kindergarten teacher, said she is concerned that young children are being pushed too hard too early.
    "These kids are going to have so much crammed down their throats they're going to be burned out by the time they're in high school," she said. "They are taking play away from the kids. They need that play."
    Tammy Pelletier, an Albuquerque mother of four children, ages 17, 16, 10 and 8, said the new recommendations threaten to take away the rights and choice of parents.
    "Society has built a model of what kids should be like," she said. "But they're all different and need different things. I need to have the right to decide what's right for my child because I know my child."
    Bill Jordan, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said it is difficult to think about expanding pre-kindergarten programs to 3-year-olds here when the state is struggling to meet the basic child care needs of working families.
    "We're talking about our most vulnerable kids spending six to 10 hours a day in a place where employees are paid poverty wages and turnover approaches 50 percent," he said.
    Harold Leibovitz of the Foundation for Child Development said most children are in some kind of child care, and the recommendations are an effort to improve the quality of their care.
    "It's not like we're saying 'take them out of the cradle and put them in 3-year-old kindergarten,' '' he said. "Most children are already in a full-day program."