Seattleites have a historic opportunity on Nov. 4 to improve the educational success of their youngest citizens with passage of Proposition 1B. If enacted, Proposition 1B will expand access to high-quality preschool for Seattle’s 3- and 4-year-olds.
Why does Proposition 1B matter? Decades of research boil down to three simple reasons: Early learning experiences matter immensely to children’s life chances; high-quality preschool works; and the children who most need high-quality preschool are the least likely to get it.
We are experts in preschool education who have extensively researched the very effective Tulsa and Boston preschool programs. These programs in two very different cities have improved children’s school readiness by the equivalent of one-half to a full year of learning compared to preschoolers who had not received the program — unprecedented gains in programs run across entire cities. Both programs substantially narrowed, and in some instances completely closed, the significant achievement gaps that exist at kindergarten entry between children from low- and high-income families.
Tulsa and Boston have taught us that when it comes to successful public preschool programs, the design and ingredients matter enormously. Not every public preschool program delivers. Adding more seats isn’t enough; those seats, crucially, have to provide children with high-quality learning experiences.
We believe the Seattle Preschool Program Action Plan embodied in Proposition 1B will deliver meaningful results for Seattle’s young children and their families. Its architects drew on the science behind successful preschool programs around the country and they listened to stakeholders in local communities. As a result, their plan is rock solid on multiple fronts.
First, the Seattle plan directly targets instructional quality, the aspect of quality that matters most for children. In tandem with essential teacher training, the plan provides teachers with in-classroom visits from an expert coach who will observe their interactions with children and give them feedback to improve their practice. The science of early childhood education is clear that coaching is among the most proven and promising avenues for moving the dial on preschool quality.
Second, the Seattle plan has been wisely structured with a sliding fee scale so that families from different economic backgrounds can all enroll their children. Every participating family will receive some subsidy and the program will be free to many who cannot afford high-quality preschool on their own. Rigorous studies in Tulsa and Boston found that children from all income backgrounds benefited from their preschool programs. An emerging evidence base suggests that having low- and higher-income classmates together in preschool is one of the active ingredients in getting all children ready for kindergarten. This feature of the Seattle plan takes advantage of the learning children do from one another.
Third, the Seattle plan includes provisions to offer competitive salaries for teachers. Well-trained teachers with a bachelor’s degree and teacher certificate in early childhood education will be paid on the same scale as K-12 teachers in Seattle Public Schools. Salary equity matters because teachers with bachelor’s degrees who teach preschool are typically paid only two-thirds of what kindergarten teachers earn. Large differences in wage level fuel teacher turnover in preschool. To recruit and retain the best teachers for Seattle’s youngest learners, we need equitable pay for preschool teachers, as is the case in Tulsa and Boston.
Fourth, the plan gives special attention to meeting the needs of dual-language learners and children with special needs. These children can often benefit enormously from preschool and early educational exposure, but too often are shut out or served poorly by existing programs. Importantly, the Seattle plan explicitly bans suspending or expelling harder-to-serve children and offers their teachers and programs an array of supports for meeting their needs.
Finally, the plan includes extensive on-site and ongoing quality monitoring and evaluation. It also requires a vote on renewal of funding in four years. The next time the plan is on the ballot, Seattle voters will have detailed, independent information on whether the plan is serving Seattle’s children, families and other citizens well.
In our increasingly stratified society, high-quality preschool is essential for fulfilling the original purpose of public education in the United States — to level the playing field for a healthy economy, strong communities and lifelong success for all children.
The City of Seattle and the Proposition 1B architects have done their homework. Nov. 4 offers the opportunity to reward their work with a resounding “yes” on Proposition 1B.
Christina Weiland is an assistant professor of education at the University of Michigan. Deborah Phillips is professor of psychology at Georgetown University.