When the National Education Goals were set by the President and 50 state Governors in 1990, the first goal stated that "by the year 2000 all children in America will start school ready to learn." At present, there is no direct measure of school readiness, nor is there common agreement on the qualities of early learning and development that are critical for school readiness or on the activities that foster readiness. Although some qualities have been identified as important, no consensus has emerged on the degree of importance. For example, is it more important to know the letters of the alphabet and how to count or to have an enthusiastic and curious approach to learning? How should parents and teachers and schools help to develop readiness? Do teachers perceive "readiness" as a single attribute or a set of dimensions of early learning and development to be nurtured? The latter view may influence whether teachers think children should be enrolled in kindergarten even if they seem "unready."
As one step in the process of developing consensus on the definition of school readiness, the National Education Goals Panel requested a survey about the current beliefs and professional judgments of public school kindergarten teachers regarding school readiness. Conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in spring 1993, the survey covered three general areas:
The portion of the survey used to measure teachers' beliefs about school readiness contained two major items: the first asked teachers to indicate agreement or disagreement with a number of statements regarding readiness, including items about how to facilitate learning, and the second asked teachers to rate the importance of various qualities for school readiness. These items were adapted from measures used by Stipek et al. (1992) and Milburn ( 1992) in their studies of preschools and parents of preschoolers in the Los Angeles area.
Teachers were asked to provide the following information on the characteristics of their classes and teaching practices: type of class (regular kindergarten, transitional kindergarten, transitional first grade, or ungraded or mixed-grade class with at least some kindergarten students), whether the class met full- or half-day, the number of hours of class per week, the racial/ethnic composition of the class, the age distribution of the class, and the amount of assistance the teachers received, either through paid assistants or adult volunteers. In addition, teachers were asked how often their classes participated in various types of activities.
Teachers were also asked to describe their background and characteristics including: race/ethnicity, teaching experience, preparation in early childhood education, and membership in professional associations for early childhood education.
Because this study was exploratory in nature, the data were analyzed by numerous variables to see if responses varied by school or teacher characteristics. The following characteristics were used as independent variables:
Data have been weighted to national estimates of public school kindergarten teachers (Table 1). Items dealing with kindergarten classes and students were weighted to national estimates of public school kindergarten classes. All statements of comparison made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through chi-square tests or tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the .05 level or better. However, not all statistically different comparisons have been presented, since some were not of substantive importance.