Life in Early Childhood Settings
Although the majority of preschool-aged children in the U.S. spend at least part of the time in out-of-home care, very little is known about the instructional quality, the emotional climate, and the learning opportunities that young children experience in preschool settings. With their examination of the interplay of state policy, program implementation, and children's experience in two state systems - New Jersey and Wisconsin - Graue and colleagues are developing a comparative case study to understand the opportunities for learning and teaching provided by each state's early childhood education policy context and how those policies are interpreted and experienced within each system at differing levels and in various administrative and instructional roles. In the field of research on pre-kindergarten programs, this study represents a unique effort to examine multiple levels of state pre-K systems at once, including the policy context, the instantiation of the state policy in local sites, and the experiences of children served in those sites.
By attending to the relationships among policy interpretation, quality of program, and children's outcomes, the PIs aim to avoid the limitations of prior studies that offer snapshots of early childhood education programs, but cannot explain why structurally similar programs (i.e., programs emanating from similar policies) vary significantly in quality of instruction. Reflecting the study's interest in the interrelationship of state policy, program implementation, and children's experience, data will be gathered from a wide variety of sources: policy documents, curricula, program descriptions, administrator and teacher interviews, classroom observations, child observations and interviews, and home visits. Ultimately, this project stands to improve our understanding of how state quality standards become actualized at the local community and classroom levels, the kinds of support provided to program administrators and instructional staff to understand and interpret quality standards, and how these factors combine to produce children's experiences and outcomes.