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May 03, 2010

Hey Abbott!

Abbot In 1998 the New Jersey Supreme Court mandated that 31 school districts provide universal pre-k services because of a lawsuit involving inequitable funding. The case, Abbott vs. Burke resulted in numerous changes in the districts involved in the lawsuit including the courts mandating of universal pre-k access in the districts involved. These districts have become known as Abbott Preschool Districts and their pre-k programs have been the topic of much eyeballing by policy makers and advocates interested in finding out if it would result in high outcomes for children.

Recently, Jennifer Dubin wrote a detailed story on A Preschool with Promise, a day in the life of an Abbott district preschool classroom. The center featured in the article, published by the American Federation of Teachers, is the Ignacio Cruz Early Childhood Center. Dubin describes a day of high quality services from the standpoint of children's experiences. She describes a rich and engaging day of learning that included reading and math instruction, pretend play, and social-emotional development. One of the key areas explored in the article is the differences between 3 year old and 4 year old curriculum. The primary difference is that 3 year old students focus more on social emotional development and gaining an awareness of the functions and processes of going to formal school. The 4 year old curriculum focuses on preparing students socially and academically for kindergarten.

Understanding the differences that should be addressed in a 3 year old vs. 4 year old classroom is a topic we have struggled with in my own school division. We have approached the issue by organizing a 3 year old curriculum team to consider what is appropriate to expect of childrens development before they leave their 3 year old year in Head Start based on Virginia's Milestones of Child Development. It is a hard process that has helped me understand the difficulty of vertical alignment of learning.

Lateral as well as longitudinal collaboration within the Perth Amboy school district has created a high quality environment for learning. Lateral is collaboration between the public schools and private providers who help achieve the vision of the district's superintendent John Rodecker, "The goal is to serve every eligible student, we thought we were close to that," The numbers keep growing." In January there was still a waiting list of 100 students. There is also vertical or longitudinal collaboration between the preschool teachers and kindergarten teachers. "Perth Amboy's kindergarten and preschool teachers began meeting together regularly to review state standards that outline what students should learn in each grade. Through these meetings, teachers align the knowledge and skills that children should acquire in preschool to the expectations for the transition to kindergarten."

All eyes are on the universal efforts in the Abbott school districts to keep the promise of a high quality pre-k experience. The results, at least from the perspective of children, seems to be right on track.

IMage: http://www.ourchildrenourschools.org/newsletters/nlf_intro.jpg

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