Why should pre-K be more like elementary school? A case study of pre-K reform.
Keywords: prekindergarten, early education reform, elementary school readiness, program alignment, high stakes
Across the United States, prekindergarten (pre-K) has become one of the fastest growing state-supported education initiatives (Barnett, Epstein, Friedman, Sansanelli, & Hustedt, 2009; Bogard & Takanishi, 2005). Its rise is connected to policymakers and advocates' framing of it as a gateway program that can prepare students to attain high levels of academic performance in elementary and secondary school (e.g., Boylan & White, 2010; Office of the White House, 2002).
Positioning pre-K as the launch site for school success has caused concern for many within early childhood education (ECE), mainly over how these reforms, which prioritize improving young children's academic achievement, will affect the field. For instance, many worry that this focus on ensuring that all students attain a specific set of knowledge and skills by the time they enter elementary school will lead to a system of education that fails to take into account how children develop and learn (e.g., Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2000; Meisels, 2007; Stipek, 2006).
This convergence between the increased support by policymakers and others for pre-K to become part of public schooling and the concerns of early childhood researchers and practitioners over how such reforms are altering the purpose and direction of ECE programs puts the field of early education in a precarious position. Much of the research to date on the implementation, expansion, and alignment of pre-K programs has centered on whether, in fact, these programs improve the academic and social achievement of the children who participate in them (e.g., Gormley, Gayler, Phillips, & Dawson, 2005). Yet little is known as to why early education stakeholders (who have advocated for child-centered teaching practices and continue to do so) would seek out programmatic reforms that link the goals and purpose of their centers and classrooms directly to those found in kindergarten through Grade 12 (K-12) education systems (e.g., Bredekamp, 1987; Jalongo, 2007). These systems in nations such as the United States are bound by policymakers' content, assessment, and student achievement requirements. The purpose of this study is to shed more light on this issue by investigating why a collection of pre-K stakeholders were attracted to a pre-K reform process that aimed to align their programs and practices to prepare their students for Texas's kindergarten programs, and how they saw engaging in this process affecting them and their programs.
This article presents findings from a case study (Stake, 1995) that examined the implementation of a pre-K reform process known as the Texas Early Education Model (TEEM) across a collection of state, federal, and privately funded pre-K programs. TEEM, which is run by the State Center for Early Childhood Development (SCECD), is a mixed-delivery pre-K model that employs a research-based approach to school readiness (Landry, Swank, Smith, Assel, & Gunnewig, 2006). It requires government-funded (state and federal) and private child-care programs that "serve poor and at-risk children" to share resources to implement the model (Texas Education Agency [TEA], 2010, p. 1). The goal of this supplemental program is twofold. First, participants must implement the SCECD' s research-based framework to prepare children for success in Texas's public schools. Second, participants must participate in the state's Texas School Readiness Certification System (SRCS) to certify the "effectiveness of [their] pre-K programs in preparing Texas's children for kindergarten" (TEA, 2010, p. 1). Thus, by studying why these pre-K stakeholders were attracted to this pre-K reform process, and, once part of the model, how they saw their participation in the model affecting them and their programs, this study provides insight into how incorporating early childhood education into K-12 education systems might affect the practices and positionality of early educators and their programs, as well as the purpose and direction of the field of ECE. (1)
STUDYING PRE-K AND EARLY EDUCATION REFORM
This expansion of publicly supported pre-K programs is a recent political phenomenon (Barnett et al., 2009). As such, much of the empirical research examining these programs centers on whether attending pre-K improves students' readiness for school, academically or socially (e.g., Henry & Rickman, 2005; Magnuson, Ruhm, & Waldfogel, 2007). This line of inquiry is examined first in the following review of literature and then connected to the political debate over pre-K. Next, the authors consider questions about these reforms and the practices and academic expectations of elementary schools (e.g., Miller & Almon, 2009). Last, the article highlights how the case study examined here offers the chance to consider further how this alignment between ECE and K-12 education systems affects ECE.
Pre-K and Readying Students for School
Empirical research tends to show that pre-K positively affects a range of social, academic, and economic indicators of the children who participate in these programs (Barnett, Lamy, & Jung, 2005; Gormley et al., 2005; Magnuson, Meyers, Ruhm, & Waldfogel, 2004; Magnuson et al., 2007; Magnuson & Waldfogel, 2005; Rouse, Brooks-Gunn, & McLanahan, 2005; Winsler et al., 2008). For instance, Gormley et al.'s study (2005) found that Tulsa's pre-K program boosted a range of children's academic skills. Winsler et al.'s (2008) analysis of data from their Miami School Readiness Project demonstrated that ethnically diverse, low-income children participating in pre-K programs made noticeable gains in their academic and social development. In all, these and other findings add credence to the argument that creating systems of pre-K programs might help close the achievement gap between children of different cultural, economic, and linguistic backgrounds (e.g., Klein & Knitzer, 2007).
Still, understanding what factors within these programs have led to children's academic and social success is difficult to untangle. For instance, Phillips, Gormley, and Lowenstein (2009) did not find a link between program or teacher characteristics, such as classroom climate or teachers' educational backgrounds, and the quality of instructional and emotional support that children experienced in Tulsa's pre-K classrooms. Additionally, some studies question the positive and long-lasting impact of pre-K programs on disadvantaged (Magnuson et al., 2007; Winsler et al., 2008), as compared to advantaged, children (Barnett et al., 2005; Gormley et al., 2005). For example, analysis of Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) data by Magnuson et al. (2007) indicated that the positive effects of pre-K on advantaged children's academic skills have worn off by 1st grade, whereas participation in pre-K programs continues to produce benefits for disadvantaged children.
Empirical research also shows that simply having children attend pre-K programs is not the most effective means of improving their academic achievement. Many studies demonstrate that the intentionality of teachers' interactions with their students is key to improving children's academic and social achievement (Bogner, Raphael, & Pressley, 2002; Howes et al., 2008; Landry et al., 2006). Accordingly, Burchinal, Vandergrift, Pianta, and Mashburn (2010) argued, "The goals of pre-kindergarten programs may only be achieved if programs ensure high-quality teacher-child interactions and at least moderate-quality instruction" (p. 174).
Lastly, Magnuson et al.'s (2007) and Winsler et al.' s (2008) work demonstrates that where pre-K is offered might affect how well students perform in elementary school. Children who attend pre-K and kindergarten in the same public school tend to make more significant cognitive gains than their peers who attend pre-K outside of the public school in which they attend kindergarten.
The Politics of Pre-K
Even though the specific components of pre-K programs that foster children's academic success in elementary school may be difficult to identify, results that show a positive impact of pre-K on children's academic and social growth continue to be woven into the thread of political advocacy for the expansion of these programs. As such, this political support for pre-K is dependent upon the ability of these programs to demonstrate that they can improve young children's academic preparedness (e.g., Camilli, Vargas, & Yurecko, 2003). Early et al. (2006) pointed out that though policymakers want to "optimize children's experiences" in early learning environments, they also want to maintain "fiscal responsibility" (p. 174). Thus, programs must demonstrate improved student achievement at reasonable costs to remain viable (Ramey & Ramey, 2004).
Concerns Raised Within the Early Childhood Community
Many in the field of ECE (e.g., Hatch & Grieshaber, 2002; Neuman, 2006) are concerned by this link between policymakers' and advocates' interest in expanding pre-K and the ability of these programs to prepare young children for success in elementary school. Researchers worry that this pressure to make ECE more academic will lead to a system of education that fails to take into account how children develop and learn (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Stipek, 2006). Others are concerned that this expansion of publicly supported pre-K programs will negatively affect those early education programs that either do not participate in the system or care for noneligible children (e.g., Kagan & Scott-Little, 2004; Morrissey, Lekies, & Cochran, 2007).
History has shown that elementary reforms applied to early education settings can be a bad fit for the field of ECE, not only because they fail to take into account the fact that young children learn in ways and rates that are different from older children's and adults', but also because young children demonstrate their knowledge and skills in ways that are difficult to capture on the standardized assessments typically found in elementary school (e.g., Gnezda & Bolig, 1988; Meisels, 1987; Shepard, 1994; Shepard, Kagan, & Wurtz, 1998).
Furthermore, recent reforms, such as the George W. Bush Administration's Good Start, Grow Smart (GSGS) initiative (Office of the White House, 2002) have put in place such policies as the establishment of state-based early learning standards for programs that enroll children ages 3 to 5 who receive child care and development funding. Analyses of the formulation and implementation of state-based early learning standards (e.g., Brown, 2007), which mimic the standards-based accountability reforms that occurred in K-12 systems of education over the past two decades (e.g., Furman, 2001), show that these standards tend to emphasize academically oriented knowledge and skills (e.g., Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2006). GSGS also required Head Start programs to implement the Head Start Outcomes Framework, which includes 100 indicators of what children should know and be able to do when they leave Head Start and enter kindergarten. These policy changes tend to define the early learning process and student achievement expectations in a manner that fails to capture the field's research-based understanding of children's learning and development (e.g., Jalongo, 2007).
It is not that these early educators, researchers, and advocates do not want to reform and expand the field so that all children who attend these programs are successful in elementary school (e.g., Kagan & Kauerz, 2007; Neuman, 2006). Rather, they regard these reforms as creating a political and practical environment in which early educators and their programs are being asked to implement programmatic and instructional policies that tend to frame the early learning process from a K-12, rather than early childhood, perspective (e.g., Ryan, 2008). In doing so, they worry that this focus will do "more harm than good by promoting educational practices that undermine children's enthusiasm for learning, and, as a result, negatively affect their ultimate academic performance" (Stipek, 2006, p. 456).
Positioning This Study Within This Debate
To date, several researchers have examined whether the implementation, expansion, and alignment of pre-K programs can improve young children's academic and social achievement (e.g., Barnett et al., 2005). What has not been studied is why early education stakeholders would seek out programmatic change that links the goals and purpose of their centers and classrooms directly to those found in K-12 education systems, when so many within ECE have raised concerns about the possible negative impact of this reform process (e.g., Meisels, 2007). Moreover, when such programs do become part of these K-12 systems, few studies have examined how these ECE stakeholders view this reform process (e.g., Brown, 2009; Desimore, Payne, Fedoravicius, Henrich, & Fin-Stevenson, 2004). This study looks at these issues and in doing so helps illuminate how incorporating, as well as aligning, early childhood education into K-12 education systems might affect the practices and positionality of early educators and their programs, as well as the purpose and direction of the field at large.
Pre-K in Texas
This study examined a case of pre-K reform across a collection of school districts in the state of Texas. First implemented in 1985, pre-K is a state-mandated, half-day intervention program that local school districts must implement when 15 or more eligible children and their guardians request services. To be able to request pre-K services, children must be age 4 years on or before September 1st of that academic year and must have one or more of the following characteristics: limited-English proficiency, educationally disadvantaged, child of an active duty military parent, homeless, or in the foster care system in court-appointed conservatorships. The state's policy makers designed pre-K to provide children with the opportunity to gain the skills that are necessary to succeed in elementary school. Since its inception, Texas's pre-K program has grown to be the largest in the United States and serves more than 200,000 eligible children (Barnett et al., 2009).
Texas's policymakers did not implement a mandated set of knowledge and skills that students should learn in pre-K; instead, the TEA (2008) issued a voluntary set of pre-K guidelines, which were revised in 2008. These guidelines are meant to assist educators in designing and/or selecting a curriculum that teaches their children the knowledge and skills needed to learn the state's K-12 content standards upon kindergarten entry. At the time of this study, these content standards were titled Texas's Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). In terms of assessment, the majority of states that do fund pre-K programs have some sort of mandated and/or recommended assessment instrument in place for their pre-K programs, but Texas does not (Daily, Burkhanser, & Halle, 2010; Horton & Bowman, 2002). Assessment practices and decisions for pre-K are made at the local level.
The TEEM Model
The goal of this study was not to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular model of pre-K reform, but rather to investigate why early education stakeholders are attracted to a reform process that aligns their pre-K programs horizontally across their districts and vertically with their K-12 education systems and to understand how they see this reform process affecting their programs. The model of pre-K reform studied in this research investigation was the TEEM.
In 2003, the state legislature created TEEM, a research-based and field-tested pre-K collaboration program, to reduce spending on pre-K by encouraging school-based pre-K programs to seek out partnerships with their community-based care providers before creating or expanding their own independent programs. The Texas legislature also authorized the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston's Center for Improving the Readiness of Children for Learning and Education (CIRCLE; 2006) to be the entity charged with overseeing and implementing TEEM's implementation. In 2003, Texas Governor Rick Perry designated CIRCLE, now known as the Children's Learning Institute (CLI; 2009, 2010), as the SCECD. During the 2007-2008 academic school year, which is when this study was conducted, 38 communities participated in TEEM. Across these communities, 2,581 teachers participated in the model across 2,555 classrooms serving 45,833 preschool children. Thus, more than one fourth of Texas's pre-K student population participated in TEEM (CLI, 2OO9).
TEEM arose from a successful reform initiative with teachers in federal Head Start classrooms. In 2006, Landry, Swank, Smith, Assel, and Gunnewig documented the success of a statewide professional development initiative that focused on improving teacher effectiveness in early childhood classrooms. (2) This earlier initiative was conducted from 2001-2003, prior to the Texas legislature's statewide adoption of the TEEM initiative. It was done during a time when considerable variation characterized Head Start agencies' approaches to improving school readiness outcomes for children, especially in such cognitive skills as mathematics and literacy. The teachers who participated in the target intervention cohort received significant initial training and ongoing professional development and mentoring over the course of 2 years. As a result, the teachers demonstrated significant changes in their instructional behavior, and the children in the target classrooms demonstrated significant growth in cognitive skills. This strategy for instructional change was incorporated into TEEM.
When the Texas Legislature created TEEM, local community partners, as previously described, were required to provide high-quality instruction to 3- and 4-year-old, at-risk children to promote their readiness for school. The overall purpose of TEEM was to implement a cohesive service delivery model to improve children's early literacy, language, mathematics, and social development. This service delivery model was based on five components: (1) use of a state-approved curriculum, (2) supplemental instructional materials, (3) initial and ongoing online professional development (eCIRCLE), (4) ongoing mentoring, and (5) technology-driven child progress monitoring to inform instruction. The TEEM mentors led all participating pre-K teachers through the eCIRCLE online professional development program, which covers classroom management, phonological awareness, vocabulary development, letter knowledge, writing, readalouds, and mathematics. Lead classroom teachers are expected to use child progress monitoring technology (e.g., a handheld personal digital assistant or laptop) to assess children's development and are expected to incorporate that information into their instruction. Teachers assess students' cognitive development, which includes letter knowledge, rapid vocabulary naming, phonological awareness, book and print awareness, and a writing checklist, as well as their mathematics and social development, 3 times a year.
Classrooms participating in TEEM also receive and are expected to incorporate a school readiness classroom materials kit (e.g., Lakeshore's School Readiness Kit; www. lakeshorelearningsolutions.com/school_readiness.html) and a classroom management system kit (e.g., H.A.T.C.H.'s Positive Beginnings Kit; www.hatchearlychildhood.com/product. asp?pid=680700&cn=Literacy&scn=Learning%20Kits) into the daily classroom learning experiences for children. Every child in each targeted classroom receives a minimum of 3 hours of cognitive readiness instruction daily, including a focus on language and literacy skill development. Last, when applicable, the grant encourages the local school district to share state-certified early childhood teachers among the participating programs. However, none of these school districts in this case study shared a certified teacher with a nonpublic school program.
To participate in TEEM, a school district or other lead agency voluntarily submits an application to the SCECD. If accepted, this lead agency must coordinate their pre-K services with local Head Start and other publicly and privately supported pre-K programs to implement the key components previously described. These lead agencies must execute memorandums of understanding between all participating partners wherein they describe how resources will be shared and services provided, along with other relevant information.
In 2005, the Texas legislature created the School Readiness Certification System (SRCS). All TEEM participants were then required (and continue to be required) to submit information about their programs and enter a quality improvement process linked to 12 performance criteria, with the ultimate goal of receiving certification as "Texas School Ready!" This quality rating and improvement system is unique among other state systems, because it uses information from the pre-K year and the subsequent kindergarten year to determine whether a particular classroom has successfully prepared children for kindergarten. This 2-year data collection process includes data on pre-K programs and teachers, as well as reading and social skills upon kindergarten entry. These data are then linked to identify which pre-K classrooms and programs had high-quality practices in place during the pre-K year and could demonstrate that a significant percentage of children exiting these programs were scoring in the appropriate developed range on appropriate kindergarten assessments.
Texas's Public School System
Once children leave pre-K and enter Texas's K-12 education system, they are taught a set of skills and knowledge that Texas policymakers have mandated all public schoolchildren to learn (the TEKS). Texas's policymakers also require public school students to take the TAKS in Grades 3 through 11. (3) From 2003 through 2009, students' test scores on the 3rd-, 5th-, and 8th-grade TAKS tests determined whether they would be promoted to the next grade, and the 11th-grade TAKS tests determined whether students would complete high school. Moreover, these scores ranked each school's level of performance as determined by the TEA. (4)
RESEARCH AND METHOD
The rise of pre-K programs is a "contemporary phenomenon" (Yin, 2009, p. 18), and to date, little is known about what motivates early education stakeholders to seek out programmatic changes that link the goals and purpose of their centers and classrooms directly to those found in K12 education systems when so many within ECE have raised concerns about the possible negative impact of this reform process. Thus, an instrumental case study was employed to examine why ECE stakeholders would be attracted to a model of reform that more tightly aligns the goals and purposes of their programs with those found in elementary school (Stake, 1995). Instrumental case studies "provide insight into an issue or redraw a generalization" (Stake, 2005, p. 445). The case itself, which focused on the pre-K programs within these school districts implementing TEEM, is not of primary interest. Rather, the instrumental aspect of this case study is to understand the positionality of early education programs within the current context of education reform in the United States. By studying a case study of program alignment between a collection of pre-K programs and a high-stakes K-12 education system, these data help illuminate whether the worries of many within the field of ECE over the impact of these reforms on ECE programs are justified, as well as providing a glimpse at how this process of alignment between ECE and K- 12 schools affects the practices and positionality of early educators and their programs, as well as the purpose and direction of the field of ECE. To do this, two central questions from this larger study are examined in this article: (1) Why were a collection of pre-K stakeholders attracted to TEEM and (2) After implementing the model, how did they view their participation in TEEM as affecting their programs?
This case was purposefully selected because it offered the chance to conduct an in-depth study of pre-K reform within a clearly defined bounded system (Merriam, 2009). This bounded system consisted of rural school districts in which all but one district (District #4) had a single elementary school in which their pre-K programs were located, a single Head Start program within each district, and a limited number of private child providers. This consistency allowed the researchers to identify and communicate easily with key stakeholders about why they were attracted to TEEM. Although each district was small, this bounded system offered the opportunity to seek out maximum variation among pre-K stakeholders across varied school contexts, which included new as well as established federal, state, and privately funded pre-K programs. These programs served children from a range of cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds and employed teachers with a range of training and teaching experiences (see Table 1 for demographic profiles of a sample of students from across these districts).
Data sources for this study included semistructured interviews with key stakeholders across these school districts and the analysis of public documents about pre-K in Texas (e.g., TEA's pre-K guidelines, 2008), TEEM (e.g., TEA, 2010), and the SCECD's eCIRCLE online professional development program (CIRCLE, 2006) that were used by these pre-K programs.
For this study, semistructured interviews were conducted in Spring 2008 with a representative sample of stakeholders (N = 23) across four of the seven school districts participating in this reform process. These districts' pre-K programs were in their 2nd year of program implementation, and at the time of the interviews, the parochial school had just dropped out of the grant and the private child-care provider had pulled out at the end of Year 1. The sample of interviewees for this study included Head Start programs from two of the five school districts and a parochial school (see Table 2 for a detailed list of participants and their experiences in education). This sample comprised Head Start personnel (n = 6), a Head Start parent, a parochial school principal, a parochial school pre-K teacher, public school district administrators (n = 3), public school principals (n = 3), and public school kindergarten and pre-K teachers (n = 7). (5)
Each interview lasted between 30 minutes and 2 hours. To address the research questions examined in this article, each of the administrators and teachers were asked such things as, How did your program become a part of this reform process? What is your understanding of the purpose behind TEEM? How has being a part of TEEM affected what takes place in your program, including interactions with children and their families? How has the model affected how your school/program/classroom works with the other pre-K programs? What types of interactions did you typically have with elementary school stakeholders prior to TEEM? How has the model affected those interactions? What are the strengths of this reform process? Last, what would you like to see changed in this process, and why?
The pre-K teachers were asked such additional questions as: Define the knowledge and skills you would like your students to have when they enter kindergarten. How has the TEEM model influenced this decision? How has participating in this program affected your professional status and/or the status of your program? The kindergarten teachers were also asked: What do you see being the purpose of the kindergarten classroom? What skills do you think children need to succeed in kindergarten? How do you see the pre-K program preparing kids for kindergarten? How has the pre-K program changed since the implementation of the TEEM model?
Last, the parent of the student enrolled in the model was asked a different set of questions, including: How did you decide to participate in this pre-K program? What do you see as being the purpose of pre-K? What skills do you think your child needs to succeed in kindergarten? How did your child's pre-K program help him or her gain those skills?
It must be noted that the protocol for this study called for interviewing stakeholders across five of the seven school districts that were a part of the TEEM grant. However, after interviewing 23 participants across four of the five districts, data saturation (Glesne, 1999) occurred. Informants were providing no new information about this reform process (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). For instance, public school pre-K teachers repeatedly stated that though the model taught them nothing new, it was a good refresher for what they saw being the best practices of pre-K literacy instruction. The comments of a pre-K teacher at Public School #3 exemplify this point: "While I know all the good practices, the model has made me more attentive to them. It has made me more accountable."
The analysis of the data followed traditional qualitative analytic methods (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003; Erikson, 1986; Miles & Huberman, 1994). All interviews were transcribed, and alongside the public documents about pre-K in Texas (e.g., TEA, 2008) and TEEM (e.g., TEA, 2010), these data were first analyzed deductively, using a set of external codes that were grounded in the theoretical and conceptual perspectives that shaped this study's investigation into why these stakeholders were attracted to TEEM and how they viewed their participation in the grant affecting their pre-K programs. Some of these codes included academic readiness, accountability, program coordination, student assessment, pre-K curriculum, and teacher training. After this deductive analysis, an inductive analysis was conducted using a set of internal codes (Miles & Huberman, 1994). These codes represent "issues that come up within [the] reading of the data" and do not fall under the external codes, which represent the "theoretical and conceptual perspectives brought to the project" (Graue & Walsh, 1998, p. 163). Some of these internal codes were readiness as phononological awareness, pre-K versus Head Start, Head Start as babysitting, questioning teachers' practices, and report cards.
For example, this statement by the TEEM coordinator was first coded using the following external codes: student assessment, families, accountability, and TEEM strengths.
I found that some of these pre-Ks, some of them don't even send out report cards. They just do a twice-a-year progress report. Well, how do the parents, or anybody, how do you know what your kids are doing? How do you know what they know if you're not testing them or assessing them? How do you know what to teach, which is so frustrating. TEEM brings along a research-based program, but it also brings the assessment that should be driving the instruction in the classroom.
During the internal coding round of analysis, this quote by the TEEM coordinator was marked with the internal codes of "questioning teachers' practices" and "report cards."
After completing these two rounds of coding and rereading these coded documents several more times, a set of themes were developed (e.g., becoming more like elementary school and legitimizing pre-K) and read against the data sets to search for conflicting evidence (Strauss, 1996; Wolcott, 1994). After refining these themes through further analysis of the data, they were organized into a narrative text about the reform process that took place among these pre-K and early education programs. That text, which was generated by the themes that emerged from the analysis of the coded data, was revised and edited, and in the end, became this article.
The investigation presented in this article addresses a limited set of issues with a single case of pre-K reform, and this work does fall prey to many traditional concerns over the validity, reliability, and generalizability of qualitative case studies (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Stake, 1995). Additional limitations of this study include the overrepresentation of stakeholders from District #1 (see footnote 5); data collection occurring during the 2nd year of implementation, which can result in overly positive remarks, due to the newness of the program or, conversely, overly negative remarks, because the program has not fully matured (e.g., St. Pierre, Layzer, & Barnes, 1995); finally, data collected for this study were collected during a single time period rather than across a 2-year time span.
To address these concerns, several standard qualitative strategies were used throughout this study. For instance, the credibility of this study was strengthened through the triangulation of data (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993). Triangulation was achieved through comparing the statements of administrators, teachers, staff, and parents within these nested groups as well as across the entire data set. Analytic memos also were generated following the interview process, as well as during the initial readings of the data.
Raising the question of why stakeholders across these school districts were attracted to the process of pre-K reform yielded numerous answers. Each of these stakeholders emphasized wanting to ensure that their students were prepared for kindergarten. For instance, the decision to pursue the TEEM grant was made by members of District #1, which was the lead agency on the grant. According to the superintendent of District # 1, his district pursued the grant because, at that time, they "didn't have pre-K." Once this superintendent learned about TEEM and its process of program alignment, he said, "We progressively and aggressively pursued it because it was a good and rigorous pre-K program that helps get those kids ready for k[indergarten]."
The nonpublic school pre-K programs also decided to become part of this process of reform because they wanted to work with their local school districts to ensure their students were prepared for elementary school. For instance, the Head Start Director in District #2 noted that her program participated in the grant so they could "work effectively with the school district, with the parents, with the children, exposing them [to] early learning experiences." According to the Head Start Teacher #1 in District #1, she, and others in these programs, wanted these experiences to teach their students to "know their letters, to write their name, to know their numbers up to 10, to count and recognize them, because to me, when they hit kindergarten, they start on that so quickly and they need to know that."
Similar to their public school counterparts, these Head Start personnel saw participating in TEEM as a way to improve the preparedness of their students for kindergarten. Still, the data revealed a clear demarcation between the public and nonpublic school personnel as to why they wanted their students to be prepared for success in kindergarten and how they defined such Success.
Public school personnel For the public school personnel, the underlying motive behind their desire to use the model as a means to ensure their students were prepared for elementary school was Texas's high-stakes testing system. For example, when discussing why her district decided to start its own pre-K program and wanted to align it with the other programs in their local community, the principal noted,
I hate to say, "The 3rd-grade TAKS test scores," but it was. It really was. By looking at it objectively and going, okay, some of these schools around us have pre-Ks, and they essentially have an extra year to prepare students [for the TAKS tests]. And I will tell you, I was probably a die-hard in that I felt like a lot of people, that child care is a parental responsibility. But the reality is that once the kids end up in public school, they're suffering if that good foundation is not laid.
As Kagan and Kauerz (2007) pointed out, "Accountability has the power to transform services for young children." This principal's comments illustrate how state policymakers' accountability measures have transformed the focus of Texas's public education system (something shown by other empirical studies as well; e.g., Booher-Jennings, 2005; Goldstein, 2008; Skrla, Scheurich, Johnson, & Koschoreck, 2001), so that all stakeholders are focused on improving students' achievement on the TAKS tests. Students' academic performance in Texas is a high-stakes matter not only for the students themselves, but also for all public school personnel. Policymakers' high-stakes reforms altered this principal's conception of publicly funded preschool. It led this principal and her school district to become more sensitive to the educational opportunities that students had prior to entering kindergarten. Other public school stakeholders who were part of the grant echoed this sentiment.
Classroom teachers across these districts also discussed how these high-stakes accountability measures affected what took place in their classroom. For instance, the pre-K teacher in District #3 stated, "Whatever the 3rd-grade TAKS test says, we have to do it. So if... the next time a different score goes down, then we need to concentrate on that."
Although addressing issues of accountability was a major theme of the responses from public schoolteachers and administrators regarding pre-K reform, a secondary theme--standardizing the practices of pre-K--also emerged. For instance, the principal of the elementary school in District #4, who had eight pre-K classrooms in her early learning center, was drawn to this model because it was designed to standardize the practices of all pre-K teachers. The principal appreciated the model having a training component because
it has all the teachers do the same thing. I'm hoping by the end of the school year that everybody will have the same kind of room set up and will be using the same curriculum, which is important. It's not just one teacher in their doing her own thing. It standardizes us.
Moreover, this principal hoped the model would align the practice of Head Start so their teachers would "get those Head Start kids ready to transition here." The pre-K teacher at the elementary school in District #1 added, "We need to help bridge the gap between our Head Start program and our school district. There hasn't always been a great communication line open, and the grant is a good opportunity for us to build that." For these public school stakeholders, standardizing practices across pre-K sites increased the likelihood that children served by each of these programs would enter elementary school ready to achieve academically.
In sum, these elementary school stakeholders were attracted to the TEEM grant because they thought it would lead to all pre-K teachers providing their students with similar early learning experiences, thus helping to prepare the students for the academic demands of public school.
Nonpublic school personnel. Although these nonpublic personnel, such as the Head Start director in District #2, were attracted to the grant because they saw it as a means to improve students' preparedness for elementary school, that desire was not connected to Texas's highstakes, standards-based accountability reforms. For example, the Head Start director in District #2 noted that her program wanted to be a part of the grant, "to make sure all our kids are developmentally on level so that nothing interferes with them when they leave [our program]." This director's statement differs from those of elementary school counterparts, in that her focus is on her students' developmental needs, rather than on any sort of external pressure (e.g., high-stakes reforms).
Nevertheless, many of the Head Start teachers and administrators, like their public school counterparts, were attracted to TEEM because it aligned their programs and practices with those of their public school counterparts. For instance, the director of Head Start in District #1 noted, "It's great to have all the children in the district in the same curriculum and having the same report cards." The director of Head Start in District #2 added, "I like that we'll all teach the same things." Again, the accountability issue that emanated from Texas's policymakers' high-stakes reforms was not a primary concern for these nonpublic school programs. Rather, these nonpublic school personnel wanted to participate with the grant because it provided their teachers with access to the same materials and training as their public school counterparts. They also wanted to move beyond what Lobman and Ryan (2007) identified as the lack of effective partnerships in early education reform, and the nonpublic school personnel in this study saw the grant as the means to achieve this goal.
Additionally, these nonpublic school personnel, such as the parochial school principal, were attracted to the TEEM grant because it offered them access to such resources as classroom materials and professional development. This principal noted,
We're a Catholic school and having all the materials was a bonus--plus the training and the meetings where the teachers get together. It was just was a win-win situation. I mean, we weren't losing anything, and I wasn't having to do it.
Head Start personnel from the programs participating in this grant also found alluring the notion of receiving materials and training opportunities at zero cost to their programs. As the director of Head Start in District #2 commented, "Participating in [the model] doesn't affect our budget at all. And they bring us everything, the books, everything for our learning centers."
Together, these stakeholders' statements revealed similar reasons as to why they were attracted to this reform process, but different expectations for what such engagement would produce. By aligning pre-K programs across these districts, public school personnel hoped the model would standardize these programs and, in doing so, help these pre-K teachers and administrators understand that being prepared for kindergarten means being prepared for Texas's high-stakes education reforms. For the nonpublic school personnel, being more like their public school counterparts would better prepare their students for kindergarten, but readying their students for Texas's high-stakes policies was not a part of their reasoning for participating in this process.
The Effects of This Reform Process on Their Programs
For the pre-K programs that remained a part of TEEM (the private child-care provider dropped out after Year 1 and the parochial school dropped out in Year 2), their administrators, teachers, and parents noted that this reform process had met most of their expectations. In terms of what the model provided each of these pre-K teachers and their programs, the public and nonpublic school stakeholders appreciated such resources as teacher training, teaching materials, and program alignment.
The Benefits of TEEM
Teacher training. The public school and nonpublic school pre-K stakeholders found the instructional training that teachers received to be beneficial. Each pre-K teacher received 4 hours of in-class mentoring per month and 2 hours during the second year. The principal of the elementary school in District #1 noted,
The training and the in-classroom mentoring is a strength of the model because generally teachers want to do a very good job, and sometimes it takes an outside observation and having someone with a specialization in that area to make that happen.
Teacher #2 at the Head Start in District #1 added,
I see TEEM as being mostly a literacy-based program, which is great. I mean, I really enjoy the training. The phonemic awareness, activities and stuff, I really like the eCIRCLE manual because of all the activities, it's been a big help. Also, the training with the TEEM mentor has been a good thing.
Although these pre-K teachers' classroom instruction was not assessed in this study, these statements demonstrate how they say the training they received improved their teaching, which mimics Pianta, Mashburn, Downer, Hamre, and Justice's (2008) finding that "intensive, individualized supports, including resources that target their practice and resources present in a supportive relationship with another adult" can lead to improved instruction (p. 447).
Materials. Teachers and administrators across these programs found the teaching materials, including such things as instructional guides and manipulatives, to be helpful. The pre-K teacher Public School #2 commented, "TEEM has made my life easier. The lesson planning, everything's there for you, all the guidelines that you have to follow. There's nothing missing, and you're covering and touching everything you know you're supposed to within that time." The director of the Head Start program in District #1 added, "The materials are wonderful. There's a lot of good materials that we didn't have and that we're able to put out and use with the children." Providing pre-K programs with increased resources echoes what others have identified as an essential component in improving the effectiveness of pre-K programs (e.g., McCall, Larsen, & Ingram, 2003).
Alignment. These stakeholders also appreciated how this process of reform aligned the experiences of the 4-year-olds--not only in their own pre-K classrooms, but also across the programs in each of the seven school districts. In regard to her own school, a pre-K teacher #1 in District #4 stated, "We are teaching in different styles and different ways, but the students should have had the same things taught to them. I think TEEM is aligning us and making sure we are all are teaching them same thing." The principal of Public School #2 added,
TEEM has provided us with the structure, the set expectations, the collaboration between Head Start and the schools, and that's becoming stronger. There was always a little bit of collaboration, but not a whole lot, and I think that this allows Head Start to have guidelines that are a little bit higher than what they had set beforehand, and knowing that they are accountable, and we're accountable, for every student.
For this principal, aligning the public schools with the Head Start programs would hold all of the pre-K administrators and teachers accountable for meeting the same goals.
Head Start personnel also found this process of program alignment to be beneficial. The director of Head Start #1 commented, "I like having the same curriculum as public school. I want to keep that communication open with the public school, and I think this process will get us there and keep us there because we're expecting the same thing." In sum, these stakeholders found that establishing a system of pre-K that standardized curricular, assessment, and accountability expectations to be a positive experience for their programs.
Legitimizing pre-K. The cumulative effect of putting in place a system of standardized practices across these seven districts led to the legitimization of public and nonpublic pre-kindergarten programs--vertically with their K-12 counterparts, and horizontally across these public and nonpublic school pre-K programs.
Prior to the grant, the public school pre-K teachers felt that their contributions to their students' academic development were questioned by their elementary school colleagues as well as by the public at large. For example, a pre-K teacher at Public School #3 noted, "There's a misconception about pre-K, just like I have with 5th-grade teachers--they say all I'm doing is babysitting. You know, here we have educators that have been through an elementary program and should know better." Many K-12 administrators and school teachers lack a strong background in early childhood education (Desimore et al., 2004), and so early educators struggle with understanding how appropriate practices in early childhood education lead to student learning (e.g., Copple & Bredekamp, 2008). In this case, however, the model established a curriculum and set of instructional and assessment practices that the elementary school teachers and administrators understood.
This case also revealed that there was an issue of horizontal legitimization among the public and nonpublic school pre-K administrators and teachers. Specifically, Head Start personnel discussed how they felt that prior to the grant, the elementary school personnel in their districts, including pre-K teachers, perceived them as simply babysitters. For example, the lead teacher at Head Start #2 noted that prior to systemizing their pre-K programs, "The elementary school used to just think we're babysitters, and that really made me mad. And we're not babysitters. Our kids are here to learn, too; they learn to play. We learn in a different way from them." The director from the Head Start #2 added,
We're not looked at as babysitters anymore, honestly. I have a problem when they say that; that we're just babysitters because we're a daycare center. But we're not, we're a developmental preschool center. Now I see the school looking at us like, "Oh yeah, well we're going to work even closer together, because we're sharing the same model." And in a rural community, it's even worse off because everybody knows everybody. They're comparing us--my kids know this, and that's why they don't do this."
For these Head Start personnel, their focus on the whole child led to community stakeholders questioning their impact on children's academic learning, but by becoming part of this process of program alignment, these concerns and critiques of their program by the public school personnel subsided.
In establishing a sense of horizontal legitimacy across the public and nonpublic school programs, elementary school stakeholders came to see the links between the practices of Head Start and elementary school. The principal of the elementary school in District #1 noted,
I think the TEEM model says we're all going to play nice, and we're all going to play nice together, and that is sometimes difficult because you have all these different agencies, and even though I think everybody would say they have the student success. You know, we're all in the kid business, but I think we all need to be reminded of that. And I think this type of model, this type of program, does just that. It says, you need to refocus and worry about the kids, forget the rest of the bureaucracy and red tape, and lend support where it is needed.
Although it is easy to frame this principal's remarks through the lens of "us versus them," in fact, the data revealed that this process of pre-K reform provided a common language for all teachers to discuss children's learning. This helped elementary school personnel understand what was taking place in these other programs. As a pre-K teacher in the elementary school in District #1 pointed out, "TEEM took Head Start and the public school and put us together, and it really helped us to communicate."
Focusing on academic achievement. For the public school teachers in these school districts, success was tied directly to how they saw this alignment process improving children's academic achievement, specifically children's emergent literacy skills. For example, a kindergarten teacher in District #1 noted, "The kids came into kindergarten this year knowing almost all their letters and all those sounds, and nearly 99% of the time, those are going to be the ones that are reading very well at the end of kindergarten." A kindergarten teacher in District #2 added, "The ones that are coming in from pre-K are ready.... They can tell me most of their letters and sounds, their rhyming ... all the things we need to have for the TPRI (Texas Primary Reading Inventory)."
Pre-K teachers also noticed this change in their students' academic skills. For instance, after implementing the model in her classroom, pre-K teacher #1 in District #4 commented, "I'm amazed at the writing their names ... and letter recognition. Those two are the most important things I think I've seen a big change in." Although improved academic growth is a positive result of this program, the focus by these teachers on students' academic skills gets at a central tension for the field of early childhood education as it becomes linked to elementary school. Early educators question whether this focus on "teachable things" (Graue, 2006) will allow the ECE teachers to "retain the traditional strengths of early care and education and at the same time to appropriately align it with more formal education systems" (Neuman & Roskos, 2005, p. 127). For instance, absent from the statement by the kindergarten teacher in District #1 about children's literacy development are the skills children need to learn to question, synthesize, and interpret texts.
Even though the kindergarten teacher in District #1 framed the effects of this alignment process through its impact on children's emergent literacy skills, as did the other kindergarten and pre-K teachers, she recognized her own prioritizing of teachable things in her instruction. She noted,
It's like these achievement expectations are being pushed down, you know, how we feel like everything's been pushed down. It's like taking that first part of kindergarten and spending the whole year doing that, on doing that whole part of kindergarten with this grant, which is so awesome because these kids come in to me and they're ready, they're ready to go onto the next step, they're ready to start taking those sounds and start reading with them and start writing with them. Before, we'd spend half a year introducing letters.
This teacher was well aware of what Hatch (2002) termed "accountability shovedown" (p. 462), which resulted from the state's high-stakes K-12 education reforms, and this led her to prioritize her students' literacy skills.
Although high-stakes tests in Texas do not begin until the 3rd grade, every school district in Texas must assess their kindergarten students' emergent literacy skills over the course of the year. In this case study, all of these public school districts did this by using the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI), which measures book and print awareness, phonemic awareness, listening comprehension, and graphophonemic knowledge, which includes letter recognition and the sounds that each letter makes. As part of TEEM, these programs also had to participate in the Texas School Readiness Certification System, which uses the students' kindergarten literacy screener scores, which for these districts was the TPRI, as a primary indicator of the impact of their pre-K program on these students' academic development. Thus, for this kindergarten teacher in District #1 and her colleagues, aligning and reforming the practices of pre-K teachers across these districts helped her manage this accountability shovedown by providing her with kindergarten students who were ready to take "those sounds and start reading."
The prioritizing of children's academic skills by nonpublic school personnel. The emphasis on developing young children's emergent literacy skills before kindergarten entry raised a cautionary flag for some of the nonpublic schoolteachers in their initial evaluation of the model. Still, most of these stakeholders eventually came to accept their role in the reform process. The comments by the lead teacher for Head Start in District #2 exemplify this point:
At first, I didn't know if I liked it or not. Then the more we got into it, the more I liked it. I like it because from last year to now, I see it's totally different, because my kids are rhyming, alliteration, I mean, it's great. I love it now. What feels so good about it is that my kids last year who went to pre-K at the elementary school this year, their teacher told me, "You would not believe, some of these kids are already trying to read." You hear stuff like, and you're like, wow, you are doing something.
This Head Start teacher (and others) were initially uncomfortable with this emphasis on teaching young children emergent literacy skills. However, her time in the program, combined with the feedback she received from elementary school stakeholders about how well her students were performing in kindergarten, led her to embrace this conception of these literacy skills as being the tools the children need to be successful in elementary school.
Additionally, a Head Start parent in District #1, whose son was in the program in the spring of 2008 and whose daughter participated in 2007, was told by her daughter's kindergarten teacher of the girl's academic achievement:
This past year, my middle child went to kindergarten. She'd been in TEEM. They were amazed at her progress. She was the smartest one out of all of them. She knew everything. Hearing that is a proud moment. I've talked to some of the other parents from last year, and their kids are doing really good and they're happy with the progress their child is making.
This parent linked the success of her daughter's pre-K experience to the academic skills she learned through participating in a TEEM pre-K classroom.
Becoming more like elementary school. This emphasis on improving children's academic achievement in literacy led to these nonpublic schoolteachers superseding their own programs' curriculum with the curriculum found in the model. For instance, Teacher #1 at Head Start #1 noted,
It was difficult at first to do the TEEM, because we have so many things with Head Start that we have to put into place. We were doing twice the work ... because you had this to do for Head Start, in a certain format, and then we had TEEM in a certain way and certain format.
The adherence to TEEM by this Head Start teacher seems to contradict Hindman and Wasik's finding (2008) that preschool teachers do not necessarily agree with recent research on literacy and development and how to provide those learning experiences. Instead, by wanting to adhere to the curriculum that was part of the model, these teachers wanted to reduce the variability in the quality of language and literacy environments across pre-K programs (Gest, Holland-Coviello, Welsh, Eicher-Catt, & Gill, 2006).
Too much. Last, this process of aligning pre-K programs eventually pushed some of these early education stakeholders out. In this study, an independent child-care provider and a parochial school pulled out of the process. This outcome illuminates a tension that this process of program alignment did not address--implementing a 4-year-old curriculum in programs that serve children of ages ranging from birth to 5. When mentioning why she thought the private child care provider who dropped out in year one left, the pre-K teacher at the elementary school in District #1 added,
I think that was very difficult for the one day care provider that we did have because at the day care you not only have 3- and 4-year-olds, but you have infants and 2-year-olds running around. And so, she was trying to figure out how to do it and then she was like, okay, I can't do this anymore.
The differences in the student population between public school pre-K programs and Head Start or private/parochial preschool programs create for stakeholders a new, unforeseen set of instructional, organizational, and structural challenges.
According to the pre-K teacher at the parochial school, she wanted to withdraw from this grant because of "time constraints. Trying to get all of the TEEM teaching requirements in and manage what our schedule is with what the school requires us to do, it was real difficult." This pressure led the principal to decide to pull their program out. She stated,
I just wanted to ease [this pre-K teacher's] pressure. She felt like that was her priority because we were in this grant, and we were locked in. She was so worried about getting us in trouble, and now that it's gone, she's able to freely teach how she likes. She's doing her thing. I'm happy, the kids are happy, and the parents are happy. We're doing well.
The added weight for this teacher of trying to mesh her school's curriculum with TEEM was echoed by other teachers, directors, and principals, even those working in the public schools. In these statements, the common thread was that there was a point in this process of alignment in which the requirements of the model became such a burden that, as pre-K Teacher #2 at the elementary school in District #4 stated, "Honestly, I feel more stressed." For this pre-K teacher, "It has to do with the testing part. It seems like all we're doing is testing, testing, testing. Then I'm looking at reports, and it's like I'm trying to drill and kill now." Many within ECE have worried that implementing reforms that align the field with elementary school might generate more harm than good by promoting practices that undermine children's desire to learn (Neuman, 2006; Stipek, 2006). These comments from the stakeholders in this study suggest that this reform process also can become such a burden for early educators that their enthusiasm for teaching may be undermined as well.
These statements further demonstrate that this drive to improve student achievement, which attracted many of these school district's stakeholders to the reform process, drove some programs out of the partnership. Furthermore, some teachers who were in schools that remained a part of the grant felt that the model created a burden by adding a new curriculum as well as a set of assessment. In all, the range of outcomes that emerged for these stakeholders highlights key points that policymakers and early education stakeholders should consider as they continue to link early education programs with K-12 education systems.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Ryan (2008) stated that early childhood education "is at a pivotal point in its history." Policy makers and stakeholders want to harness the "economic, social and academic outcomes of early childhood for their communities," but at the same time, this publicly funded support has led to "increased accountability and standardization of practices" in the hopes of helping all children achieve at higher academic levels (p. 69). Many within the field of ECE are concerned that policymakers' push to standardize the field--as well as to increase the levels of accountability placed on children and teachers--reflects the pursuit of "expedient solutions to complex problems" (Meisels, 2007, p. 31).
The findings presented in this article begin to address these concerns raised by Ryan (2008), Goffin (2008), and others (e.g., Stipek, 2006) by revealing that elementary and early education stakeholders wanted to align their communities of practice so that they could better prepare their students for elementary school. For those participants who remained a part of the process, they welcomed the material and instructional resources the TEEM grant provided and appreciated how this grant aligned each program's standards for learning, the curriculum pre-K teachers taught, and the assessment measures taken of each child. Doing so led these stakeholders to view their role, as well as the success of the reform process, through the academic skills measured in kindergarten on the TPRI (and, eventually, assessed on the third-grade TAKS tests). These findings from this case study illuminate two central issues that early education stakeholders and policymakers should take into consideration as they continue to expand, standardize, and align the field of ECE with elementary school.
Strategically Meeting the Needs of Their Students
In becoming part of the grant, the public school and nonpublic school personnel defined their success in this process of reform through notions of academic achievement: specifically, the academic knowledge and skills prioritized in Texas's elementary schools. This finding provides insight into why there are those within the field of ECE who support the alignment of early education programs with K-12 systems of education with "cautious enthusiasm" (Neuman & Roskos, 2005, p. 126). Focusing on the development of academic skills prioritizes "the teaching of content" over the "teaching and nurturing of children" (Kagan & Kauerz, 2007, p. 163). Yet these stakeholders, such as the lead teacher at Head Start #2, believed that by ensuring their students knew what was needed to succeed in Texas' s kindergarten programs, they were teaching and nurturing their children.
Although these stakeholders intentionally used the model to prepare their students for the academic demands of elementary school, the TEEM model itself prioritizes children' s cognitive and social emotional growth. TEEM also emphasizes local decision-making, and because it is a supplemental program that is layered on top of existing ECE programs, these stakeholders in these school districts implemented it in a manner that fit their needs and priorities.
Additionally, the public pre-K and Head Start educators found that implementing a common system of practice legitimized their work as early educators, vertically with their elementary school counterparts and horizontally across their pre-K programs. This finding demonstrates how this process of reforming and aligning ECE with elementary school goes beyond debate over whether children's developmental needs are being met. It also sheds light on the widespread lack of respect for early childhood programs. Therefore, these pre-K stakeholders seemed to appreciate the impact of this model on their programs, as it brought a sense of legitimacy to their work. Some of the teachers began to accept their role in the classroom as providing their students with a particular set of literacy skills.
Finally, this strategic use of the TEEM model shows that preparing children for academic success can be accomplished without mandating early educators to implement specific curricula or assessment practices. Rather, policymakers should consider putting in place policies that build from early educators' desires for their students to succeed in elementary school and for them to be seen as an active participant in their children's education. This study shows that such supports as appropriate instructional materials (e.g., McCall et al., 2003), in-depth training (e.g., Pianta et al., 2008; Zaslow & Martinez-Beck, 2005), and mentoring opportunities across the entire academic year (e.g., Landry, Anthony, Swank, & Monseque-Bailey, 2009; Wasik, Bond, & Hindman, 2006) not only nurtured students but also legitimized these educators' work.
The Danger of Two Systems of Early Education
Despite the accomplishments achieved through the grant, tensions remained over what this model asked administrators and teachers to do. Pre-K Teacher #2 at the elementary school in District #4 was concerned about the amount of testing she had to conduct with her students, for example. This friction mimics the concerns of many within the field (e.g., Hatch & Grieshaber, 2002). At the same time, it foreshadows some of the issues the field of ECE will face as it continues to expand, standardize, and align its programs with elementary school programs.
A divide "already exists between publicly funded and private early education programs" (Kagan & Scott-Little, 2004, p. 395). In this study, the two private programs affiliated with this grant chose to address this friction by dropping out of the grant. According to the parochial school stakeholders, it was not the TEEM model per se, but rather, it was having to juggle two programs at once. As the parochial pre-K teacher noted, "It was time constraints ... trying to get all of it in and manage what our schedule is with what the school requires us to do was real difficult." The model's instructional requirements created a set of constraints for these programs not affiliated with the public schools. In doing so, this alignment process reinforced these elementary school stakeholders' conceptions of early education by emphasizing the emergent literacy skills found in kindergarten, and in turn, this prioritizing of the skills needed to succeed in elementary school amplified the top-down aspects of this reform process and made these stakeholders feel as if they could not meet the other goals of their programs.
Additionally, if policymakers were to implement an ECE reform process that focuses solely on improving children's academic achievement, it might limit the participation of other private ECE programs similar to those found in this study or those that adhere to such early childhood curricula as the Montessori approach or Reggio Emilia. These programs focus on individual children's developmental needs and intellectual interests, rather than mandating each child be taught the same set of academic skills and knowledge at specific points in their schooling (e.g., Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998; Whitescarver & Cossentino, 2008). Moreover, not incorporating these programs into this or any type of pre-K reform might limit the overall success of any reform effort that tries to create an aligned system of ECE.
Last, this tension over implementing two models of instruction simultaneously may be one reason why others who have explored the impact of mixed delivery models on low-income pre-K children have found that programs in elementary schools tend to produce larger academic gains as well as longer lasting effects for their students (Magnuson et al., 2007; Winsler et al., 2008).
This case study suggests that policymakers need to create policies that engage public pre-K programs with their private counterparts in ways that are more bidirectional. Offering materials and training for program participation was not enough to keep these private entities a part of this reform process. Policymakers and advocates may want to consider other incentives, such as training that leads to academic degrees or state teacher certification, increased staff salaries, or increased reimbursement rates to programs from children who receive state or federal financial support so that they can ensure broader participation. Although improving teacher credentials may not increase the quality of instruction, policy makers and stakeholders do need to consider incentives that not only bring nonpublic school personnel into the delivery model equation, but also keep them part of it, particularly because there is a correlation between experience and higher quality instruction and classroom management (e.g., Pianta et al., 2005; Phillips et al., 2009).
Thus, those who are promoting reforms to align ECE programs with each other and with elementary school should ensure that their reforms allow for the participation of a range of ECE programs. Moreover, these policies should validate these programs' contributions in educating young children and support them in achieving their multiple goals, which often go beyond preparing students for academic success in elementary school.
The authors would like to thank the editors of this journal, the anonymous reviewers, and the Friendly Frogs Writing Group for their thoughtful suggestions in strengthening this article.
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Christopher P. Brown
The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
John W. Gasko
Children's Learning Institute, Houston, Texas
(1.) A draft of this article was presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.
(2.) It should be noted that after the TEEM model was implemented in 2003, its efficacy was further studied, validated, and published (Landry et al., 2009).
(3.) Beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR replaced the TAKS. According to the TEA (2012) , these new tests will be more rigorous and will measure a child's performance and academic growth through Grades 3 through 12.
(4.) In Spring 2009, the Texas legislature and governor amended the state's promotion requirements for the 2009-2010 school year. In Grade 3, the TAKS test is no longer the sole indicator in measuring student achievement for grade promotion. It is now one of several indicators, including teacher recommendations and student grades, used to determine grade promotion. However, students' TAKS reading and math scores in Grades 5 and 8 are still used to determine grade promotion. Furthermore, students" test scores in Grades 3 through 11 are used to rank each school's level of performance as determined by the TEA. Schools are ranked using the Academic Excellence Indicator System, which was designed by the TEA. School districts and their campuses are evaluated on students' performance on the TAKS, state-developed alternative assessments, completion rates, and annual dropout rates. Districts and schools can be ranked as exemplary, recognized, academically acceptable, or academically unacceptable. Go to www.tea.state.tx.us for more information.
(5.) The number of participants in this study is weighted heavily toward District #1 because it was the lead agency on the TEEM Grant. This meant that all funding for the grant, including the hiring of the TEEM mentor, went through this school district, and thus, their superintendent and accounts manager were interviewed to understand the application and funding processes for the grant and the interactions that took place between these districts and the SCECD.
Submitted September 15, 2010; accepted April 15, 2011.
Address correspondence to Christopher P. Brown, PhD, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas at Austin, 1912 Speedway, Stop D5700, Austin, TX 78712-0379. E-mail: email@example.com
TABLE 1 Demographic Profiles of a Sample of Students Across These Districts, 2007-2008 # of TEEM % African Campus Type Classes % Low-Income American % Hispanic District #1 public 1 52.2 0.8 43.6 school Head Start in 2 100.0 n/a n/a District #1 District #2 public 1 78.8 1.0 86.4 school Head Start in 1 100.0 n/a n/a District #2 District #3 public 1 38.9 0.5 52.5 school District # 4 6 72.8 0.8 70.3 public school % Limited English Campus Type % White Proficient % Mobile District #1 public 55.4 2.9 14.9 school Head Start in n/a n/a n/a District #1 District #2 public 12.6 0.0 20.3 school Head Start in n/a n/a n/a District #2 District #3 public 46.9 3.5 8.3 school District # 4 28.6 8.8 n/a public school Note. TEEM = Texas Early Education Model. Data for public school campuses were derived from archived Academic Excellence Indicator System campus accountability reports available online through the Texas Education Agency; # of TEEM classes indicates how many classrooms on each particular campus use the TEEM model; Demographic data for Head Start campuses was not available outside of % of low-income students as defined by the federal eligibility requirements; all demographic data for public school campuses indicates data for the student population on a campus, not just in pre-K; % low-income for public school campuses is based on percentage of children receiving free and reduced-price breakfast and/or lunch; % mobile refers to the percentage of students on the campus that exit during the course of the year for undefined purposes. TABLE 2 List of Participants and Their Experiences in Education District #1 (Lead Agency for the Texas Early Education Model [TEEM] grant) Director of Head Start in Worked in Head Start for 34 years: 17 District #1 years as an aide or teacher and 17 years as the director of this program. Was not a state-certified teacher. Lead Teacher #1 for Head Had 3 children participate in Head Start Start in District #1 and has worked in Head Start as an aide or teacher for 15 years. Was not a state-certified teacher. Lead Teacher #2 for Head Taught in public elementary school for Start in District #1 21 years. First year as a Head Start teacher. Head Start parent in Had 3 children participate in the Head District #1 Start program in District #1. District #1 elementary Taught in public elementary school for 5 school principal years. Principal at this school for 4 years. District #1 elementary Taught in public elementary and high school pre-K teacher schools for 6 years; 2 years as a pre-K teacher. District #1 elementary Taught in public elementary school for school kindergarten 17 years; 1 year as a pre-K teacher. teacher TEEM mentor (employed Worked 6 years as a social worker. through District #1) Taught in public elementary school for 13 years; 3 years as a pre-K teacher. District #1 accounts Requested that personal information not manager (oversaw TEEM be shared. grant) District #1 superintendent Taught in public high school for 10 years. Worked at a state agency for 5 years. Served as superintendent for 4 years. District #2 Director of Head Start in Worked in Head Start for 28 years: 10 District #2 years as an aide or teacher and 18 years as the director of this program. Was not a state-certified teacher. Lead teacher for Head Has worked in Head Start as an aide or Start in District #2 teacher for 14 years. Was not a state-certified teacher. Teaching assistant for Requested that personal information not Head Start in District #2 be shared. Was not a state-certified teacher. District #2 elementary Taught in public elementary school for school pre-K teacher 15 years: 13 as an aide and 2 years as a pre-K teacher. District #2 elementary Taught in public elementary school for 6 school kindergarten years. teacher District #2 elementary Taught in public elementary school for 7 school principal years. Principal at this school for 11 years. District #3 District #3 elementary Taught in public elementary school for school pre-K teacher 29 years; 5 years as a pre-K teacher. District #3 elementary An administrator and teacher at both school principal elementary and high school level for over 25 years. Principal at this school for 4 years. District #4 District #4 elementary Taught in public elementary school for school pre-K teacher #1 22 years; 18 years as a pre-K teacher. District #4 elementary Worked in child care for 10 years. school pre-K teacher #2 Taught in public elementary school for 3 years as a pre-K teacher. District #4 elementary Taught in public elementary school for school principal 12 years. Principal at this school for 9 years. Parochial school Parochial school pre-K First year as a teacher and working teacher toward state certification. Parochial school principal Taught in public elementary and junior high school for 9 years. Principal at this school for 2 years.
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|Author:||Brown, Christopher P.; Gasko, John W.|
|Publication:||Journal of Research in Childhood Education|
|Article Type:||Case study|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2012|
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