This is a follow-up to the report Public Preschool Programs in Maine: Current Status and Characteristics, submitted as part of the 2014/2015 EPS Commission work, as well as the 2014/2015 Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) work plan. This report presents case studies of four quality Pre-K programs identified through previous superintendent and Pre- K teacher surveys, and analysis of data from the State Longitudinal Data System. Pre-K programs were selected based on the extent to which they were already addressing the Chapter 124 standards, as well as their historical pattern of future student performance on state testing (controlling for student demographic factors such as free/reduced lunch status, ELL, special education placement, etc). Programs were also selected to reflect geographic, demographic, and programmatic variation
Case studies were conducted by MEPRI in spring 2015 with the purpose of illustrating the characteristics and features of several quality Pre-K programs, and to present some of the challenges and solutions they have addressed. Case studies were based on site visits conducted at each school. Site visits included a classroom observation and interviews with the school principal and teacher in order to inquire about the history, implementation, challenges and perceived advantages of including Pre-K within the elementary schools.
Not surprisingly, programs are aware of the Chapter 124 regulations and are taking steps to be ready for the changes. Nevertheless, participating schools reported making trade-offs with regard to space, schedule, staffing and curriculum in order to balance resources and regulations with local community needs. In general, indoor spaces are more compliant than outdoor spaces. Special classes are available in these schools, but some teachers value the flexibility to choose which ones to access given the children in the group, the developmental demands of the classes, and the available schedule. Transportation is a concern for those programs not currently offering that service. Programs that are close to or over the 16 student class-size limit acknowledge the conflicting struggle between recognizing that smaller classrooms allow more individualized teaching and learning, and concern that limiting class size may result in families no longer being able to access Pre-K.
Administratively, principals for these schools are highly supportive of Pre-K. They see social and academic benefits for children from having the programs in the schools. They appreciate the unique characteristics of 4-year olds and the specialized skills needed by teachers
The Pre-K teachers for all of these programs report high levels of involvement and concern regarding their students and families. This can involve exceptional extra time and energy in working with families, as well as partnering with fellow faculty regarding ongoing curriculum changes and transition into kindergarten. In this regard, professional development is taking many forms. In part this can reflect Pre-K and larger school schedules. Some Pre-K programs are scheduled in ways that support professional development opportunities for the teachers, while others are scheduled in ways that increase access for children but limit participation of teachers in school-wide planning. Similarly, some professional development supports the curriculum work of whole schools (including Pre-K) while in other schools, the Pre-K professional development is structured separately. Regardless, teachers report appreciating professional development opportunities, particularly in response to ongoing changes in K-12 that also impact Pre-K. Specifically, as schools move toward proficiency-based learning and assessment, new implications arise for how Pre-K programs collaborate with kindergarten and transition children into kindergarten. Collaboration and coordinated professional development may help in this regard.
Schools are reportedly more aware of Chapter 124 than of the new Maine Early Learning and Development Standards. Teachers and administrators will also need professional development about the new standards and guidance on assessing progress toward the standards within the context of proficiency-based assessment. All programs report high achievement of children in Pre-K but given the range of assessment measures and curricula used, it impossible to exam in depth across sites.
While highly valued, local funding will reportedly impact the numbers of children served in Pre- K. Currently, children are not turned away from the programs visited for this report. However, in order to accomplish this other district programs were used at times and in some cases class size exceeded the recommended limit of 16 children. Administrators are concerned about limiting access to families now that Pre-K is viewed as a core part of these schools. Furthermore, most v communities are experiencing some degree of budget cuts, which affects the long-term stability of Pre-K programs, even in those communities with very long-standing commitments to early childhood.
Finally, principals and teachers in both urban and rural districts expressed concern about delays between referral for screening and receipt of special education services from CDS. It was reportedly particularly frustrating for those schools that had service personnel in the school and availability in the schedule, but were still unable to have those children served.
Logue, Mary Ellin EdD; Tu, Shihfen PhD; Fisher, Susannah BS; and Mason, Craig A. PhD, "Public Preschool Programs in Maine: Four Case Studies of Quality Programs" (2015). State of Education. 10.