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Charters and Pre-K!

Today's Washington Post article on D.C.-area charter schools extending their pre-k offerings does a pretty good job of rounding up some of the key issues here, including the potential of charter operators to link quality pre-k with quality elementary school programs, and the opportunities created by D.C.'s per-pupil funding formula, which allows D.C. charters to get full per-pupil funding for preschoolers.

I do wish that someone had thought to ask Sam Meisels if he'd ever visited a KIPP pre-k or talked to anyone involved in one before asking him to comment on it--his comments strongly suggest he hasn't, or at least is unaware of how carefully and thoughtfully KIPP has built its pre-k approach to maintain fidelity to key KIPP values while also solidly reflecting and addressing the unique developmental needs of preschool-aged students.

I've written a lot on the potential for synergies between the charter and pre-k movements, so I won't say much more here, but I will note two things the article briefly touches on that I see as big issues in pre-k:

One is that a growing number of charter schools are seizing on pre-k as a strategy to improve their student learning outcomes. To some extent, this totally makes sense--research shows that achievement gaps begin before children enter school, and charters are increasingly realizing they can do more to close them if they start earlier. The problem comes in when struggling charter schools view adding pre-k as a solution/response to their poor performance, without also addressing issues of curriculum and instruction in the later grades that are contributing to poor results. If you're not running you're K-12 program well, it's unlikely that adding pre-k will make a difference, and the same dysfunctions will likely be replicated in pre-k. But if you're operating a strong school in the K-12 grades, adding pre-k can help a school take its performance to the next level.

The second (and related) issue is that some charter schools (and this applies to traditional schools as well) are adding pre-k without a clear sense of how pre-k is different from the elementary grades or what it takes to offer an educationally strong but age-appropriate pre-k program. We're lucky in D.C. to have some very strong pre-k charter schools, but not all schools are there yet, and as more charter schools seek to offer pre-k (in D.C. but more importantly elsewhere) authorizers need to ensure they have tools in place to gauge whether schools really have solid plans to offer pre-k.

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