A multimillion-dollar preschool and child-care center that education leaders say will help close achievement gaps between low-income and wealthier students is coming to California.
The center is part of a national network of independently run early education centers operated under an umbrella organization known as Educare. The Educare model calls for public-private partnerships to provide funding; professional development for center staff; full-day, year-round services for families; and a focus on research-based practices that help children learn through exploration and play.
“It’s taking all the research and making it real,” said John Porter, superintendent of the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, where the new center will be located next to Santee Elementary School.
Research on early childhood education shows that year-round care from highly qualified teachers is crucial to academic success. Because publicly funded programs generally don’t have enough money to make that level of care a reality for low-income children, Educare centers — there are 18 others in the country — supplement public funding with privately raised funds.
The San Jose center will be the first Educare center in California. There is also one in development in Los Angeles, according to Educare’s website.
Nearly 200 students from infancy to age 5 who are enrolled in federally funded Head Start, state-funded preschool or a local child-care program for children of teen parents will be eligible to attend classes at the center when it opens next fall. The staff at these programs will also relocate to the new center and will begin receiving additional training this year and next year to make sure the San Jose center is meeting the Educare standards. The long-term vision includes a professional development institute where early child-care educators from around the state can take classes and observe model classrooms.
The national Educare model has made inroads in closing the achievement gap, according to an independent study of 1,800 children at 12 Educare centers conducted by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Researchers found that children who enrolled in the centers before age 2 nearly caught up to their more affluent peers on measures of school readiness, such as vocabulary acquisition, by the time they entered kindergarten.
The vision is for the Silicon Valley center to act like a teaching hospital for early education, where educators from all over the state can come and learn best practices. There is also a training program in the works for local high school students interested in pursuing a career in early childhood education.
In San Jose, the list of local public and private funders committing to supplying money for the center includes: The Santa Clara County Department of Education, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, The Health Trust, The David and Lucille Packard Foundation, First 5 Santa Clara County, the Franklin-McKinley School District and the East Side Union High School District. The nonprofit Educare Network also provides some funding.
The first step to opening the 35,000-square-foot San Jose center — meant to house 16 classrooms, outdoor learning space and vegetable gardens — is to finish raising the money needed to build it. The partnership has already raised $11 million and wants to raise $3 million more by the end of 2013.
Organizers hope the center will influence more than just the students, families and teachers who will spend time at the site. They hope it provides an example of how to provide quality care to low-income children.
“Policy makers have a hard time changing policy if they don’t see it,” said Dennis Cima of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade association that is leading the fundraising efforts. “They can now come to San Jose and see Educare in action and see what investing in high quality does for kindergarten readiness and for (longer term) student achievement.”
Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau.