State Offers First Pre-K Certification

Texas is implementing a new program to provide certification to pre-school and early childhood centers. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, for the first time Pre-K classrooms will have a standard set of benchmarks to be evaluated against.

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While K-12 classrooms have long been held up for academic evaluation, until now there's been no grading system for pre-K programs. But in 2005, the state legislature passed a bill funding a state-wide, voluntary certification program. It's adminstered by the State Center for Early Childhood Development at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Dr. Susan Landry is the director.

"Parents, no matter what their income level or their educational background, we hear they all struggle with what should I look for when I'm trying to find a program for my three- or four-year-old child. What do I pay attention to, to tell when it's the right program? We're doing a lot of the work for the parent with this certification system, because we are saying with this certification the program is doing the right thing for children."

This is the first time the certifications have been issued. More than 400 classrooms across the state were certified, about 20 of them are in the Houston area. Landry says about 65 percent of the centers that applied passed the certification standards. And there's help for those that don't.

"If a program applies and they don't get certified the first year, this is a wonderful system for helping us develop profiles to support programs to get where they want to get. It's basically the way we can look at what their strengths are, where they might have some weaknesses, and write a prescription for where they go next to get where they want to be."

The Sharp Early Childhood Development Center in South Houston is a preschool targeted toward low-income families. Jeanette Greenwood-Baines is one of the teachers who went through the certification program at the Sharp Center. She says it was rigorous, but she recommends it for every preschool teacher.

"Being a parent myself, to be able to know that a school is designated and certified as school-ready, that's like a green light for me. You know that when your child is there, they're not just in daycare. They're being taught, they're learning, they're having appropriate experiences throughout the day that's preparing them for kindergarten."

Any preschool in the state is eligible to apply, whether it's a public, private for profit or faith-based program. And schools will be required to go through the certification process every year in order to ensure the center continues to meet the standards for accreditation. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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