Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President, and Linda Chappel, Sr. Vice President, Child Care Services Association

This past week, Durham PreK’s new website launched as a place for Durham County families to find information about enrolling 4-year-old children in Durham PreK, to find other local resources related to early childhood development and to learn about Durham’s commitment to equitable, high-quality education for all young children.

What is Durham PreK?

Durham PreK classrooms are located in private child care centers, Durham Public Schools and Head Start classrooms. With funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners, the intent is to both enhance the quality of preschool programs and expand the number of children served through state and federally funded preschool programs. The goal is universal public PreK for all Durham County 4-year-old children – with preschool services offered for free for families with income at or below 300% of the federal poverty threshold and a sliding fee scale for families with income above 300% of poverty.

Why is pre-K important for young children?

Studies show that children who attend full-day high-quality pre-K programs are much more likely to start school with the skills to succeed, much more likely to perform at grade level and much more likely to graduate high school. A 2017 State of Durham County’s Young Children report found that only 38% of Durham children entering kindergarten had preliteracy skills at grade level (i.e., 62% of Durham children started kindergarten behind).

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released third-grade end of year test scores for those children who were in kindergarten in 2014-2015. For Durham, the gaps in grade level reading are enormous – by income, by race and by ethnicity. It’s easy to connect the dots. When children don’t start kindergarten ready to succeed, despite remediation efforts, the competency gaps remain. Children don’t fall behind in third grade, they start behind in kindergarten.

We can do better to prepare our children for school (and life)

That’s the message behind Durham PreK. Child Care Services Association is the management agency for Durham PreK and works collaboratively with Durham County Government, Durham’s Partnership for Children, Durham Public Schools, Durham Head Start and numerous other community partners to expand access to high-quality pre-K classrooms for Durham’s 4-year-olds.

County funding is used to not only serve more children but also to broaden eligibility for children to participate and to work with teachers and private centers to strengthen their quality through teacher and director support, mentoring and coaching. Going beyond licensing standards and NC Pre-K standards, Durham PreK provides instruction and coaching to strengthen the interactions between teachers and children.

Research shows that gains made across child development domains are higher when teacher interactions are more effective, intentional and geared toward the development of critical thinking skills and social-emotional development in children.[1]

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The professional development tool used in Durham PreK is called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®) developed by the University of Virginia and used in 23 state quality rating and improvement systems, many state and local public pre-K programs, and by every Head Start program across the country.[2]

CLASS is both an assessment system and a professional development coaching system. Studies have consistently demonstrated greater gains by children (including dual language learning children) in key areas of school readiness – including literacy, math, social-emotional development and self-regulation when children are in classrooms with more effective teacher-child interactions. International research demonstrates the validity of CLASS across a broad set of cultural contexts.[3]

Offering braided funding options

What makes Durham PreK unique is the community has all leaned in to make a difference for children. Where possible, funding is braided so a mix of funding supports classrooms, which promotes greater diversity among participating children. Every child receives a developmental screening, and screening results, general program eligibility, parent preference and distance from home are all taken into consideration during the child placement process.

For programs to be eligible to participate in Durham PreK, they must be a 5-star rated child care center, lead pre-K teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and either have or be working toward a Birth to Kindergarten license. Onsite curriculum implementation support, professional development and education planning, teacher improvement strategies tied to CLASS®, leadership development for program directors and other supports for continuous quality improvement are provided.

Durham PreK’s plan to expand

Estimates are that there are about 4,450 4-year-old children in Durham.[4]  In the 2019-2020 school year, the intent is for 1,200 children to participate in public pre-K, an increase of about 245 children from last year. The overall goal over the next few years is to expand each year so that Durham PreK will be available to all families with 4-year-old children who choose to participate.

There are still some open spots for children. If you have a child who turned 4-years-old by August 31 or if you know a family with a 4-year-old, let them know – Durham PreK is open for business. To complete an application, call 919-403-6960 to speak to a coordinator (bilingual support is available), or you can download the Universal Preschool Application here

If we all lean in, all our children can enter kindergarten ready to succeed!


[1] Effective Teacher-Child Interactions and Child Outcomes: A Summary of Research on the Classroom  Assessment  Scoring System (CLASS®) Pre-K–3rd Grade (2017).

[2] CLASS®: A Leading QRIS Standard (2019).

[3] Teachstone research summary (2019)

[4] Voluntary, Universal Pre-kindergarten in Durham County How Do We Get There From Here? By Durham’s Community Early Education/Preschool Task Force.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

As the President of Child Care Services Association, a mother and a grandmother, I have been following the advancement of HB 485, the Virtual Early Learning Pilot program, under consideration by the North Carolina State Legislature. The 3-year pilot would allow up to 10 school districts to offer online pre-k to at-risk, 4 year-old children, at a cost of $500,000 per year for the next three years.

I know that every year, state legislators are forced to make difficult decisions in allocating state funding. I can imagine that there is great pressure with these decisions and that legislators look for ways to save money, while still achieving intended outcomes. With regard to state pre-k funding and the goal to have all children throughout North Carolina enter school with the skills to succeed, it is important for legislators to understand how young children learn and what school readiness really means.

Decades of research show that the greatest gains made by children in pre-k occur where teacher interactions with children promote critical thinking skills as well as concept knowledge through warm and responsive relationships.[1]  This isn’t by chance. It’s by design. It’s in-person. It’s individualized to meet each child where he or she is at to build on strengths and build up areas that are not as strong.

Numerous evaluations have shown the importance of instructional, social, and emotional serve-and-return interactions that occur daily between teachers and children, as well as among classmates”[2] that result in developmental gains across early childhood domains (e.g., social and emotional, language and literacy, critical thinking and physical development). These interactions “motivate and deepen learning, enable children to organize and focus their attention and other capacities needed to learn, and promote peer cooperation and support,”[3] which comprise the foundation for school readiness. It’s about soft-skill development as well as concept development related to letters and numbers.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to visit pre-k classrooms and talk to pre-k teachers. Too many of our at-risk 4 year-olds haven’t been read to; they don’t know that books contain words and pictures that tell a story, that letters have sounds and that stories have a sequence – a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have never held a pencil or colored with crayons or written their name. Some haven’t held a pair of scissors or developed the dexterity to use a pencil or have ever put together a puzzle. You would think by age 4, children would know colors and basic shapes, but some do not.

The same children might know how to watch a video on a parent’s phone, but they can’t wait their turn or share, they can’t transition between activities and they don’t know how to use their words to express their thoughts or feelings in a group setting – to lead, follow or just get along with peers. They may or may not have consistent rules at home so they don’t know how to manage themselves appropriately and follow rules in a classroom. These are soft-skills that are learned in a hands-on experience that can’t be learned through a computer lesson.

Pre-k programs also screen children for vision, hearing, speech and physical development and help identify children who could benefit from early intervention services in areas where there may be a delay. None of this can occur through an online preschool experience – at least not in an effective manner.

The NC Pre-K program works. Studies have found that NC Pre-K raises children’s literacy, math and social-emotional skills not just for kindergarten entry[4] but also throughout elementary school and the most recent research shows gains through middle school.[5]

When kindergarten teachers are asked what school readiness means and what skills are most important for school readiness, their top responses include: children who can regulate their impulses, pay attention, listen to and follow directions, be willing to try different tasks (e.g., have self-confidence), engage in self-care, get along with peers and have motor skills such as the ability to hold a pencil.[6]

Despite the strong evaluations of NC Pre-K, current funding supports fewer than half of eligible children. To me, the answer should be to adequately fund NC Pre-K so that 4 year-old children can attend, not divert resources to an online preschool that misses the mark on what matters most for early childhood development – effective interactions with children. Not screen time.

There is still time to course correct on state budget issues. We don’t need a 3-year pilot that diverts $1.5 million from additional pre-k seats for children. Let’s put every dollar possible into expanding what works. And, for 4-year old children, that’s a setting that promotes interactions with teachers and peers.


[1] Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education, Society for Research in Child Development and Foundation for Child Development, 2013. https://www.fcd-us.org/assets/2013/10/Evidence20Base20on20Preschool20Education20FINAL.pdf

[2] The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, Deborah A. Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of  Vanderbilt University, Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Daphna Bassok  of the University of Virginia, Margaret R. Burchinal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greg J. Duncan of the University of California-Irvine, Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, Katherine A. Magnuson  of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan. (2017).  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/duke_prekstudy_final_4-4-17_hires.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program Evaluation Key Findings (2002–2016), Frank Porter Graham Institute, University of North Carolina, 2017. https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Summary%20of%20NC%20Pre-K%20Evaluation%20Findings%205-2017.pdf

[5] Evaluation of North Carolina’s Smart Start and NC Pre-K Programs: Follow-Up Through Eighth Grade, Duke University, December 2018. https://duke.app.box.com/s/pw3zv27a2jkmfas2j183yg4ekamxzl8y

[6] What Kindergarten Readiness Means to Kindergarten Teachers, New America. 2009. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/early-elementary-education-policy/early-ed-watch/what-kindergarten-readiness-means-to-kindergarten-teachers/