Photo: Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

At Strategies for Children, our interns contribute to our research and publications. Here’s a summary of two new pieces — a policy brief and a research brief — that help us share knowledge about the field. 

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In his policy brief, Ethan McClanahan looked at how cities can increase access to their universal pre-K programs by simplifying the application process.

“If the enrollment process, and more specifically universal pre-K applications, are too complicated they will act as a barrier to service,” McClanahan writes. “Furthermore, it is important that these applications collect information that can then be used to streamline the transition from preschool to kindergarten.”

McClanahan, who earned a master’s degree in Educational Policy Studies from Boston University, was a Strategies for Children intern during the spring 2023 semester.

To conduct his research, he interviewed administrators in three Massachusetts cities — Cambridge, Northampton, and Springfield — and in Philadelphia, Penn.

Among his findings: 

• a mixed delivery system is “a vital component” of pre-K education because none of the sample cities have enough room in their public schools to provide universal pre-K

• cities are concerned about the “confusing nature of their current application process” 

• cities are interested in simplifying and centralizing their application process

• enrollment data is decentralized (public schools keep their own data) and hard to track, and

• families enrolled in programs based in community organizations have to register a second time to enroll in kindergarten

McClanahan also cites five policy implications: 

• cities should create a central application for all preschool programs and ensure that it is not too long or too complicated

• the staff of community-based pre-K programs should help design a centralized application

• a central application should simplify the transition from pre-K to kindergarten, and

• in Boston conduct research to understand why some families leave community-based pre-K programs in favor of public school programs; and take steps to educate parents about the value of all of the city’s programs no matter their location

McClanahan writes, “In order to improve quality, it is equally important that universal pre-K enrollment systems are equitable and accessible so that families from all backgrounds have equal access to services.”

We reached out to ask McClanahan about his project, and his reply was: 

“Thank you to everyone at Strategies For Children for giving me the opportunity to research universal pre-K, and to continue to identify ways in which communities can strengthen pre-kindergarten programs. I look forward to continuing the work moving forward.”

To learn more, check out McClanahan’s brief

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Photo: Huong Vu for Strategies for Children

 In her research brief, Rylie Robinson writes about the importance of having early educators who are Black.  

“Similar to race matching at the K-12 level,” Robinson explains, “research suggests that race matching in preschool is beneficial in two ways: it is beneficial for young children to see Black childcare providers, and it is beneficial for Black childcare providers to be the ones teaching and evaluating young Black children.”

Robinson is an undergraduate at Yale University where she is a Humanities major. And she was a summer 2023 intern at Strategies for Children. 

One of the key challenges to address, Robinson writes, is racism.

“In a country that continues to be marred by racism, it is easy for Black children to internalize negative ideas about themselves. Anti-Black ideas — like Black people aren’t meant or able to be educated people — are combated by the sight of a Black teacher.”

“Contrary to adult expectations, children begin to categorize people by race at six months old, and they can develop racial biases from three to five years old.”

Robinson adds, “Just as it is beneficial for Black children to see Black preschool teachers, it is also beneficial for Black preschool teachers to be the ones evaluating Black children. One reason for this is because Black teachers see Black student’s academic skills in a more positive light and have higher expectations for them.”

In Massachusetts, Robinson explains, “Black early educators are proportionately represented — and sometimes overrepresented — in the field when compared to the number of Black children attending early education programs.” 

Nonetheless, these educators are still vulnerable, often earning less than their professional peers. And low wages are driving early educators of all backgrounds out of the field. In addition, “During the pandemic, Black and Latina childcare providers across the country left the field due to these low wages, in addition to the racism and social isolation they experienced.”

One way to benefit children and rebuild the field is to recruit more Black early educators and pay them higher salaries to encourage them to remain in the field. 

“The good news is that this work has already begun,” Robinson writes, thanks to The Common Start Bill (S.362 and H.489) filed in Massachusetts, which creates a structure for increasing the pay and benefits of all early educators.

Robinson says of her internship: 

“I was so grateful to have the opportunity to research a topic related to BIPOC children, families, and early educators. I’m excited to take what I learned at Strategies and apply it to the coursework and research I’m doing in school.”

To learn more, check out Robinson’s brief