Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a press conference and visits science and music programs in the pre-K center at Windsor Terrace’s Bishop Ford campus, where there are now over 20 free, full-day, high-quality pre-K classrooms serving nearly 300 children. Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a press conference and visits science and music programs in the pre-K center at Windsor Terrace’s Bishop Ford campus, where there are now over 20 free, full-day, high-quality pre-K classrooms serving nearly 300 children. Photo source: Mayor de Blasio’s Flickr page. Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office


Borscht — the red soup that’s made of beets — is the first word of David Kirp’s New York Times opinion piece, “How New York Made Pre-K a Success.”

Why soup? It’s an example of how New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has grown his city’s preschool program into a widespread, multicultural success – one that other cities and states can learn from.

“Borscht isn’t found on most prekindergarten menus, but it’s what the cooks were dishing up for the 35 children at Ira’s Daycare in Briarwood, Queens, on a recent school day,” Kirp writes. He’s a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “Many families in this neighborhood are Russian émigrés for whom borscht is a staple, but children from half a dozen countries, including a contingent from Bangladesh, are also enrolled here.

“These youngsters are among the 68,547 4-year-olds enrolled in one of the nation’s most ambitious experiments in education: New York City’s accelerated attempt to introduce preschool for all.”

Now, New York “enrolls more children in full-day pre-K than any state except Georgia, and its preschool enrollment exceeds the total number of students in San Francisco or Boston.”


Bill de Blasio ‏@BilldeBlasio Feb 22 Children in Pre-K have a greater chance of having a rewarding career. Also, their faces get big when magnified. Photo source: Mayor de Blasio's Twitter account.
Photo source: Mayor de Blasio’s Twitter account.


As Kirp points out, putting kids in classrooms isn’t enough. To make a positive difference, preschool programs have to be high quality. And while New York isn’t perfect, it does offer key lessons:

• Offer universal preschool

“New York decided early to make pre-K available to every child, rather than just poor kids. A study of Boston’s preschools found that poor and middle-class children who attended pre-K did better on subsequent tests of literacy and math. Poor youngsters also became more socially and emotionally competent. In short, everyone benefits from pre-K.”

• Quality matters

“What makes for quality? A full-day program, staffed by well-trained teachers, supported by experienced coaches and social workers, who know how to talk with, not at, youngsters; a teacher for every 10 or fewer children; a challenging curriculum backed by evidence; and parental involvement.”

• Invest wisely and well

New York spends “$10,200 for each child, about as much as Boston budgets for its public pre-K, a demonstrably effective program.”

“…quality costs money — $9,076 per student per year, according to a report by two groups, The Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Early Childhood Policy Research. Few states are willing to make that kind of commitment. Florida, the only state to deliver preschool on a scale and at a speed comparable to New York City, offers a cautionary lesson. In 2005, voters there made universal prekindergarten a constitutional right. But quality suffered because the state spent a meager $2,238 for each 4-year-old in 2013-14, largely by using underpaid and poorly trained teachers.”

• Remember that children learn through play

At Ira’s Daycare, the previously mentioned home of borscht, a lesson on apples “incorporates everything from art to arithmetic. The children draw apples, copy the names of the different varieties, peel and slice them, determine whether the weight of an apple changes when it’s boiled, build an orchard with blocks, ‘sell’ apple pies at the classroom bakery and examine slices under a microscope. The youngsters work in small groups, and the teacher moves among them, asking questions and listening closely to determine who needs help.”

• Data, data, data

“From the outset, the prekindergarten administrators made data-mining and analysis a pivotal component. An independent research firm, as well as several New York University faculty members, are digging into many aspects of the program, from the ‘home-away-from-home’ classroom and parents’ engagement to children’s academic and social progress. They are delivering their findings continually so that the school system can use the information to make improvements.”

Ultimately, Kirp writes, “Early education cannot work miracles.” Children also need “a smooth path from prekindergarten through the first years of elementary school and beyond.”

So for now, universal preschool remains “a work in progress,” but the good news is that educators can learn from New York, which has “achieved the seemingly impossible: delivering good prekindergarten to so many children so quickly.”



Current mayor, future mayors? Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office.
Current mayor. Future mayors? Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office.

To read more about New York’s work, check out our previous blog posts on:

• the city’s early plans

• the challenges and opportunities of expanding pre-K

• a news round-up on de Blasio’s progress, and

• how New York has continued its pre-K expansion