Photo: Courtesy of Mayor Bill de Blasio's Facebook page.
Photo: Courtesy of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Facebook page.

Just nine months after he became mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio has launched the expansion of high-quality preschool in the Big Apple by creating new spots for 50,000 more young children. He’s expanding the program from its base of 20,000 spots up to 73,000 spots over two years. It’s a huge job with real challenges, but de Blasio’s ambitious effort could improve academic and lifetime outcomes for tens of thousands of children.

Here’s a news roundup chronicling the ups and downs of the new preschool season.

“Universal Pre-K Takes Off,” an editorial in the New York Times, September 1, 2014

“It’s worth pausing to note what an accomplishment this is,” the Times said. “Fifty thousand is a small city’s worth of children, each getting a head start on a lifetime of learning. It is so many families saving the cost of day care or private prekindergarten. It is a milestone of education reform.”

One caveat: “It is not certain, of course, that the preschool liftoff will be entirely smooth. Mr. de Blasio has promised not just big numbers, with enrollment projected to reach 73,000 next year, but high quality. That will require rigorous oversight and monitoring of preschool programs scattered widely among hundreds of privately run vendors.”

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“New York begins free universal pre-kindergarten,” Marketplace, September 3, 2014

“‘It’s about time!’ says Mildred Warner, who studies the economic impact of early education at Cornell University,” this Marketplace feature reports.

Warner adds: “preschool education makes kids more ready for school and less likely to drop out. As for parents, they have to skip work less often.

“‘It also increases productivity of parents at work, because they know their children are in a good, developmentally appropriate place,’ she says.”

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“New York Cancels or Postpones Opening of 45 Pre-K Programs,” New York Times article, September 2, 2014

“Nine private programs that were to offer free, city-financed prekindergarten this year will not open because of safety concerns or other issues, and 36 programs will not be ready to open on Thursday, the first day of school, New York City officials announced on Tuesday,” this article reports.

Some parents were left scrambling as city officials responded.

“The nine sites would have served 265 students. The Education Department was helping parents at those programs find other places to send their children and had re-enrolled 83 students so far.”

The 36 programs that had to open late serve some 900 students. Fortunately, most of these sites had already alerted parents about the delays which were “primarily the result of sites’ not having finished construction or not having received their health department permits on time,” the article explains.

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“City plans to spend $2M to study pre-K program,” Capital, September 3, 2014

“The de Blasio administration is in the process of hiring an independent research firm at a cost of about $2 million to conduct two studies on the implementation and results of its signature pre-kindergarten plan,” Capital reports.

“The city has revealed few details until now about how it will assess academic performance and teacher quality in its 1,700 pre-K centers, which will instruct 53,000 4-year-olds this year and 70,000 in 2015.”

The article adds, “An education official who detailed the arrangement to Capital declined to name the firm, saying that the city is still finalizing its contract. It will begin the studies this fall.”

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“De Blasio Promises Better ‘Foundation’ With Pre-K As NYC Public School Students Head Back To Class,” CBS News, September 4, 2014

“There was a great movie once that said, ‘if you build it, they will come.’ I think we knew we could build it, I think we knew people wanted and believed in it,” CBS quotes de Blasio as saying. “It would take a lot of perseverance, but it was the right thing to do.”

New York’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina adds, “This is a place that, for many of our kids, is life-saving. This is not just about education… I think also just looking at the parents who are standing here and their smiles and the fact that they are satisfied with what’s happening is also a great indicator.”

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“School Starts Amid Tears, Excitement as Pre-K Expands in New York City,” The Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2014

“At the start of a hurried tour through a school in each borough on the official opening day, Mr. de Blasio said providing free full-day preschool to 53,000 children this fall, up from 20,000 last year, was ‘a dream we’ve had for a long time finally coming to fruition,’” the article explains.

The Journal adds: “Early learning advocates applauded Thursday’s milestone for New York but cautioned that such speed brings the risk of compromising quality. Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, said the mayor achieved a ‘monumental feat’ in adding access but ‘the quality question will take a longer time to answer.’

“W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said it took New Jersey about five years to achieve consistency in care in its preschool program for children in poor cities.

“For New York leaders, ‘It’s fair to celebrate succeeding at the first hurdle, especially given the number of doubters,’ Mr. Barnett said. ‘But they still have to run the race.’”