We know that quality pre-K matters, but what constitutes a high-quality program? Our partners, Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families, recently mapped out this very topic in a report titled “The ‘Elements’ of Quality Pre-K.” Here are the features that have been identified as the foundation of a high-quality pre-K program:

  1. Highly qualified teachers: In order to make a truly meaningful difference in children’s lives, lead teachers should have at least a bachelor’s degree and specialized training in a pre-K area, and assistant teachers should have at least a Child Development Associate Credential (CDA). In addition, all staff members should receive at least 15 hours of professional development each year.

    According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Arkansas is one of the few states that does not already require lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, NIEER also reports that Arkansas Head Start teachers make about $8,000 less than their public elementary school teaching peers.

  2. Family support: The efforts of our best pre-K centers are amplified when students’ families are engaged. In order to accomplish this, Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families recommends funds be allocated toward transportation, parent involvement and the addition of a family service manager to each classroom. We know that parents are busy and need help not only getting their children to school, but also continuing their education at home. Parent access to things like Ready Rosie programs—education-based videos sent via text or email two to five times a week—helps parents identify ways to engage with their preschoolers. And a family service manager, very much like a social worker in a K–12 setting, assists with developmental and/or learning struggles and helps families navigate them.

  3. Health: One of the most important aspects of our pre-K programs is the role they play in ensuring that students receive at least one meal per day, and also receive screenings for vision, hearing and overall health.

  4. Class size and student-teacher ratios: Much like in our K–12 classrooms, pre-K students learn best in small classes. Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families recommends that total class size should not exceed 20 children and that there should be no more than 10 students per staff member.

  5. “Behind the scenes” elements that include curriculum, monitoring and administration: Lastly, it’s important that, in addition to establishing strong early learning standards and curriculum, we monitor each pre-K site to ensure that all elements of quality are present.

We know that Arkansas benefits tremendously from quality pre-K, with one estimate telling us that for every $1 invested, Arkansas reaps a $7 return. Help us advocate for high-quality pre-K in Arkansas! Find and email your legislator today.