De Blasio Cheers on National Pre-K Movement

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In a speech to national advocates for pre-kindergarten, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday eased into his role as the face of a movement for access to early childhood education. At the same time, he gave little sense of his own administration’s preparations to have teachers and classrooms for more than 50,000 four-year-olds starting school next month.

Instead, the mayor spoke broadly about efforts to expand preschool access in cities such as San Francisco, Miami, and San Antonio—efforts he said are reshaping the national conversation.

“If we’re going to address the inequalities that we face, in many ways, more than ever in our society, pre-k is one of the answers,” he said at the Preschool Nation Summit, organized by a Los Angeles group advocating for universal access to pre-k. “We’ve got to say that full-day high quality pre-k is going to be the national standard.”

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke about her goals for New York City’s expanded pre-kindergarten offerings.

“We don’t want to make pre-kindergarten the new kindergarten,” she said, adding that she hopes to avoid unnecessary stress and testing for four-year-olds. She said she expected to assess the true impact of pre-k a few years later: “I want to see everyone reading by second grade.”

The mayor said that offering pre-kindergarten is a double investment: in the present and the future. It lightens the burden for families struggling to find quality affordable childcare, he said, and also builds skills so that all children develop skills for school.

The mayor said that a group of kindergarten teachers told him that “the first hour of the school year, they can tell which kids went to pre-k and which kids didn’t.”