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Ongoing research in the field of early childhood education has emphasized the importance of the first years of a child’s life. Recognizing the significance of this research, the Department of Education has made a commitment to early education to meet the goal of having every child able to read by the end of grade three. The Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards describes program criteria that ensure preschool children have appropriate educational experiences to build the foundation of knowledge and skills necessary to prepare them to meet the Core Curriculum Content Standards as they continue their schooling. The department has developed frameworks to assist early childhood educators with day-to-day strategies and activities compatible with program expectations.

The state also has upgraded licensure requirements and training standards to staff early childhood programs with teachers who have the knowledge and skills to prepare children for success in the elementary grades. The State Board of Education adopted licensing regulations that create a preschool through grade three license (P-3) for early childhood teachers. Continuous professional development also is essential to maintaining high-quality programs, and districts are required to offer ongoing professional development to all teachers.

A preschool program must have a physically secure environment that is safe, accessible, organized, comfortable and predictable. Children need an emotionally secure program that is welcoming, respectful and accepting of their individual differences. One way to provide a safe, secure environment is to keep class sizes small enough to provide individual attention. Therefore, mandatory preschool programs in all former Abbott districts must adhere to the standard of no more than 15 children in a class with one teacher and one aide.

The active involvement of children’s families is critical to their success in school. Successful school/home collaborations establish relationships and ongoing communication and interaction to encourage appropriate and effective learning opportunities. Schools should have a well-defined plan for incorporating a wide range of parent involvement. Trust is the key to building collaborative relationships between teachers and parents that allow both to share ideas and to learn from each other.

In communities with high levels of poverty, it is essential to develop partnerships with other state and local government agencies, as well as private and community-based organizations that provide services in which academic and nonacademic needs overlap, such as health services, programs for parents, counseling services and recreation. Partnerships create a more coherent support network for the provision of services through schools, and they allow classroom teachers to focus greater attention on a child’s achievement in school. Social services can be offered before and after school hours to maximize the instructional time during the school day, while fully utilizing the school facility.

More information is available under Early Childhood Education.