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Preschool Chain and Accrediting Agency Team Up to Set Standards

As educators discuss how best to evaluate early-learning programs, a chain of private preschools and an international accrediting and school-improvement organization are already at work piloting a new set of accreditation standards.

The standards for corporations were developed by Primrose Schools, a Georgia-based, for-profit company that runs more than 240 schools in 17 states, and AdvancED, an organization that runs three regional accrediting agencies, accrediting 30,000 institutions in more than 70 countries.

Forty-one Primrose schools are piloting the AdvancED Standards for Quality Early Learning Schools this school year. The standards will "align with AdvancED's overall accreditation process, but are designed to specifically support early-childhood education best practices and continuous improvement," according to AdvancEd officials.

Claudia Carter, AdvancED's vice president for accreditation, said the organization partnered with Primrose "because of its long-standing history of leadership, quality delivery of early-childhood education and strong systems approach." The new standards for early-learning schools "will be the highest-level accreditation institutions can achieve within the early-learning arena," she said in a release.

The standards set best practices for educating young kids, including the use of developmentally appropriate practices, and focus on learning as well as cognitive, emotional, social, creative and physical development.

Other best practices gauge the quality of relationships among the kids, staff and parents at early-learning schools, the "preservation of the child's dignity in care routines," children's health and safety in facilities, space and activities, and respect for self and others.

In developing the encompassing set of standards, AdvancEd recognized that accrediting early-childhood education involved more than examining academics, said Mary Zurn, Primrose's vice president of education. "They have to be concerned about the care and safety" of the children as well, she said.

She noted that the standards will help early-childhood educators to focus on preparing their students academically for kindergarten, as well as developing social-emotional skills and regulating behavior. The standards aren't based on the Common Core standards, which govern K-12 education and have been adopted by many states, Zurn said.

Rather, the AdvancEd standards are designed to make sure that early-learning schools offer a consistent program with well-defined teaching and learning objectives that fit their students. AdvancEd is "not trying to define what schools should be teaching at any one level," she said.

That's because preschoolers are "moving targets, they're not born with these skills," said Zurn, adding that developing such skills is a cumulative experience. "You can teach about fairness, but you have to experience it before you can internalize it."

As part of the ongoing pilot program, AdvancED is examining how Primrose has incorporated the new standards within its corporate culture and applied them in its participating schools. AdvancEd is expected to evaluate the participating schools in late March and April, Zurn said.

AdvancEd says it will offer its new standards in the 2012-2013 school year for early-learning schools that want to apply for accreditation.

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