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Study Maps Catholic Pre-K Information

Catholic preschools provide a vital means to grow Catholic schools' k-12 populations, which are otherwise declining, but little is otherwise known about the quality of academic education they provide, states the first national study to map Catholic pre-K programs.

More than 20,000 children attended Catholic early-childhood education programs during the 2011-12 academic year either in 498 free-standing preschools run by Catholic churches or as part of current K-12 programs, says research done by James M. Frabutt and Rachel Waldron and printed in September's edition of the journal Catholic Education states.

"This investigation revealed that early-childhood programming is already a key component of the Catholic educational enterprise," Frabutt and Waldron wrote. "Enrollment appears to be trending upward, presenting a moment of great opportunity for family faith development and evangelization."

But while much of the greater early-childhood education community is focused on access to high-quality preschool programs, the only constant in the Catholic pre-K community seems to be its members' intent to share faith and integrate families into the greater church via such programs, the authors wrote.

It is known that 60 percent of the 15 Catholic dioceses interviewed have no single diocese-authored pre-K curriculum, the study reported.

Most programs are instead developed locally, some in conjunction with Catholic K-12 programs, others done in alignment with state standards or developed by pre-K program leaders, Frabutt and Waldron wrote.

The resumes of pre-Keducators—often used to distinguish a high-quality program from other brands&mbdash;also differ greatly: The minimum standard appears to be an associate's degree in early-childhood education, but some pre-K programs require a bachelor's degree or state certification.

Even the age groups enrolled in such programs range greatly from birth to age 4.

Still, Catholic preschools nationally share a strong mission: to indoctrinate not just young children, but their parents as well, the study reports.

"Most sites described education in the Catholic faith as woven into the preschool programming, permeating all that transpires in the early-childhood classrooms," the research showed.

"The omnipresence of the faith dimension at such school functions led one superintendent to remark, 'Sometimes I think we're catechizing parents just as much as well,'" the report added.

Still, Catholics are failing to recognize the opportunity offered, the researchers wrote.

"This inquiry highlights a need for systematic thinking in Catholic education about providing a seamless, developmental, continuum approach to human development and education," the researchers wrote.

"This initial portrait of Catholic early-childhood education confirms that there must be an ongoing and strategic focus on how best to support and strengthen this valuable ministry, a ministry that touches and forms the very youngest hearts and minds," they state.

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