BATON ROUGE: While most Louisiana families are satisfied with the quality of the early childhood program their child attends, they would like to learn more about the options available to them for programs that serve children from birth to age five. These are among the key takeaways of a first-of-its-kind statewide survey of families released today by the Louisiana Department of Education, in partnership with United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA) and its Women's Leadership Council (WLC).
The survey, which drew responses from more than 2,500 Louisiana families, shows:
- Families are satisfied with their early childhood providers. Ninety percent of families are likely to choose their program again, they reported, and 88 percent of families are satisfied with the quality of the program their child attends.
- Families are benefitting from recent changes to eligibility and enrollment. Most families indicated they are finding it easier to apply and access early childhood and trying to learn more about the options available for their children. These positive results are linked to recent efforts to coordinate application processes at the local level and continued work to inform and engage families, especially those most at risk.
- There are improvements to be made. Though strides have been made to improve early childhood education statewide, the survey showed only 55 percent of families believe their children are learning important skills, and fewer feel fully knowledgeable about whether their program meets quality benchmarks. Moreover, four out of 10 families said they were not familiar with key indicators of quality for their children's programs, noting specifically they did not know whether their children were making progress, nor whether they were learning the skills necessary to prepare them for kindergarten.
"This exercise allowed the Department to tap into what Louisiana families really think about their young children's education, and in turn, to better plan for their future," said State Superintendent of Education John White. "The results revealed the need to increase awareness about quality in early childhood care and education and to help parents understand what to search for in a program, and we look forward to working with our partners to meet that need."
The survey came from a partnership among the Department, UWSELA and its WLC. Through the support of this public-private partnership, the Department contracted highly-regarded vendor Louisiana State University to conduct a statewide survey of a sample of families with children enrolled in different types of publicly-funded programs, including child care, Head Start and school-based Pre-K. The survey asked participants about their experiences and satisfaction with enrollment and with early childhood programs that serve children from birth to age five.
The survey, which successfully led to a better understanding of the perspectives of these families, was instrumental in collecting information about family experiences within the newly-unified system of early childhood in Louisiana.
UWSELA and its WLC worked closely with the Department during every step of the survey process, collaborating both on the development of the survey, as well as on strategies for communication and outreach.
"It was critically important that families would have the opportunity to provide their input on how well their programs serve their children, whether they would choose those programs again and how satisfied they are with their community's enrollment process," said Michael Williamson, president and CEO of United Way of Southeast Louisiana.
"Equally important," added Cathy McRae, chair of the UWSELA's Women's Leadership Council, "we wanted to ensure that early childhood programs and their respective community networks would receive powerful feedback on what is working well for their families, as well as opportunities for improvement."
The survey also helped advance the state's ongoing efforts to address an early childhood system that prepares too few children for kindergarten. In 2012, when Louisiana passed the Early Childhood Education Act, the Department was charged with creating a statewide early childhood care and education network with unified expectations for teaching and learning, as well as licensing, funding and enrollment.
As a result, among other initiatives, the Department created a unified quality rating and improvement system built around teacher-child interactions and instruction, and released a set of practice performance profiles that include a rating based on classroom interactions as well as multiple informational metrics to inform family choice, including results from the family survey. Those performance profiles will become a regular, active evaluation measure starting next year.
Nicole Gray, a mother from Maringouin whose 3-year-old daughter attends a local child care program, said the survey, among other approaches, demonstrates the state's commitment to her family.
"I was very happy the state wanted to get involved and find out how families felt about their early childhood education programs," she said. "My daughter has been enrolled since August 2016, and we love the program. We are seeing great improvements--in her writing, her speech, her learning and her memorization."
Gray advised other parents to participate in the future. Similar to assisting children with homework assignments and attending community meetings about child care, she said, state-led initiatives are another way parents can be involved in their child's education from an early age.
What's more, she said, "It helps the state identify any issues to be resolved for the next year."