Research on the relationship between children's early care and education and school readiness has shown the potential importance of enriching learning experiences for young children and, in particular, the positive outcomes of early intervention for educationally disadvantaged children (Love, Schochet, and Meckstroth 1996; Barnett 1995; Haskins 1989). In fact, the National Research Council suggests that a finding that young children who are at risk of school failure have a greater likelihood of success if they attend high-quality early childhood programs seems to emerge across studies of early care and education (Bowman, Donovan, and Burns 2001).
In recent years, renewed attention has focused on the role that public schools might play in providing high-quality programs for prekindergarten children (Saluja, Early, and Clifford 2001; Hinkle 2000). Educators and policymakers have considered the possibility of public schools drawing upon existing resources to expand and improve prekindergarten programs and thereby help prepare young children for school (Dwyer, Chait, and McKee 2000; Hinkle 2000). Unfortunately, data on the role public schools play in providing early childhood education are limited and are sometimes clouded by a lack of common terminology. Most of the available data do not differentiate public school programs from other early childhood education programs; the data often include programs offered by private schools, public and private day care centers, and Head Start classes operating outside of the public school system.
In response to the lack of current data on public elementary school prekindergarten programs, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) used its Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) to conduct the "Survey of Classes That Serve Children Prior to Kindergarten in Public Schools : 20002001," FRSS 78, 2001. The survey gathered information on characteristics of the prekindergarten classes to answer questions such as the following:
The results presented in this report are based on questionnaire data from 1,843 public elementary schools in the United States. The data provide national estimates representing all special education and regular elementary and combined public schools in the nation.
During the 20002001 school year, there were about 19,900 public elementary schools with prekindergarten classes. This represents 35 percent of all regular and special education public elementary schools in the country. Results from the 2001 FRSS survey indicate the following:
Responses to the survey revealed that approximately 822,000 children, categorized as younger than 3 years, 3 years, 4 years, and 5 years or older, were enrolled in public elementary school prekindergarten classes (Table 4). As of October 1, 2000, 20 percent of the children were 3-year-olds and 68 percent were 4-year-olds (figure 2). Larger percentages of children enrolled in special education prekindergarten classes were younger than 3 years, 3 years, or 5 years or older, compared with those in general education prekindergarten classes.
The survey also asked about the racial and ethnic background of public school prekindergarten children.3 About half (49 percent) of the children were White, 24 percent were Hispanic, 23 percent were Black, 3 percent were Asian, and 2 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native (Table 6). Nationwide, 61 percent of all public school students are White, 17 percent are Hispanic, 17 percent are Black, 4 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are American Indian/Alaska Native.4
Other findings on the racial and ethnic background of public school prekindergarten children include the following:
There are federal and state programs designed to provide limited English proficient (LEP) children,8 low-income children,9 and children with disabilities with early childhood education experiences, such as Title I programs, Head Start, Even Start, and the Preschool Grants Program. Public school programs for children prior to kindergarten also receive funds from state initiatives for enhancing school readiness.
For this survey, public school officials were asked to report the number of LEP prekindergarten children, low-income prekindergarten children, and prekindergarten children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in their schools. Findings from the FRSS survey show the following:
During the 20002001 school year, about 58,500 prekindergarten classes were offered in U.S. public elementary schools (Table 8). About twothirds (67 percent) of these classes were general education classes; 33 percent were special education classes (Table 9). Study results also indicate the following:
School officials were asked to report the number of teachers who taught prekindergarten during the 20002001 school year. In addition, they were asked to provide basic information on the teachers' educational backgrounds and the pay scale used to determine their salaries. Results of the FRSS survey indicate the following:
Public elementary school prekindergarten children and their families receive various support services. The survey asked about three of these services: transportation, meals,13 and extended day care. The survey asked schools to report the number of prekindergarten children who received the service during the 20002001 school year. The study findings indicate the following:
Public elementary schools use a variety of funding sources to support prekindergarten classes. The survey gathered information on the use of various sources: state or local education funds; federal or local programs for children with disabilities; Title I, Part A; Head Start; child care funds through a state or local agency; and Title I, Part B. Study findings indicate that 80 percent of public elementary schools used state or local education funds and 51 percent used funds from federal or local programs for children with disabilities (Table 17). The likelihood that schools used the latter source was higher in rural/small town schools (56 percent) than in city schools (42 percent). Receipt of Title I, Part A funds for prekindergarten classes was reported by 25 percent of public elementary schools with prekindergarten classes, and 13 percent reported receipt of Head Start funds. Eleven percent of schools used child care funds through a state or local agency, and 4 percent used Title 1, Part B funds for prekindergarten classes.
In conclusion, the results from this survey offer an overview of public school prekindergarten classes in the United States. During the 20002001 school year, approximately 822,000 children were enrolled in 58,500 public elementary school prekindergarten classes nationwide. These classes were offered in about 19,900 public elementary schools, roughly one-third of public elementary schools in the country. Approximately 45,900 prekindergarten teachers instructed these classes. Many characteristics of the prekindergarten classes varied by school characteristics (including school size, locale, region, percent minority enrollment, and poverty concentration). The findings from this FRSS survey provide unique and important contextual information on public elementary schools with prekindergarten classes and the children who were enrolled in those classes.
1 School size is defined as small (enrollments of less than 300 students), midsized (300 to 599 students), and large (600 or more students).
2 Poverty concentration is based on the number of students eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch. The categories used in this report are less than 35 percent of students eligible, 35 to 49 percent eligible, 50 to 74 percent eligible, and 75 percent or more eligible.
3 Race and ethnicity were reported on the questionnaire using five categories: American Indian/Alaska Native; Asian; Black, non- Hispanic; Hispanic; and White, non-Hispanic. To improve readability, the following labels are used throughout the remainder of this report: American Indian/Alaska Native; Asian; Black; Hispanic; and White.
4 National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data 20002001, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey (NCES 2002362). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, unpublished tabulations. Data are based on all public regular and special education, vocational education, and alternative education schools.
5 See footnote 4.
6 See footnote 4.
7 See footnote 4.
8 For this study, these children were defined as those "whose native or dominant language is other than English, and whose skills in listening to, speaking, reading, or writing English are such that he/she derives little benefit from school instruction in English."
9 For this study, these children were defined as those eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch.
10 National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data 20002001, Local Education Agency Survey: School Year 2000 2001 (NCES 2002360). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, unpublished tabulations.
11 See footnote 10.
12 Among the sampled schools responding to this survey, the average number of children per prekindergarten class ranged from 2 to 48 overall for general education classes. For special education classes, the average ranged from 2 to 35 children per prekindergarten class.
13 Schools were instructed to exclude snacks.