California continues to fall behind in rankings of the nation's best public preschool systems. The state was one of only five that met fewer than half the criteria measured -- such as class size, teacher qualifications and learning standards -- on The National Institute For Early Education Research 2013 study of preschools.
California is making moves to improve but still scores far below other states and nations, said Michael Furlong, professor in Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California at Santa Barbara.
"In every other civilized country, it's not a question if you have access to preschool experiences, it's a given," Furlong said. "We're trying to build a high-quality infrastructure ... but it's like we realized the dirt roads weren't sufficient" and are now trying to build a highway.
The arrival of new state money for preschool brings a promise of improving quality among state-funded programs. Meanwhile, local education advocates have already taken advantage of federal resources to achieve the same goal. Fresno County is one of several in California that snagged federal Race to the Top dollars to help fund a new rating system of preschools.
Fresno County parents now have an online window into all their options, officials say, and can see how each stacks up on such measurements as health and safety, teacher qualifications and class sizes.
"It helps parents be an informed consumer," said Mary Ann Cusator, coordinator for Fresno County's early care and education programs. "If someone says that's a great program, now you can say why and how. There's a common measurement."
Several Fresno County school districts are also taking a closer look at why certain children are more prepared for primary school than others. A recent review of kindergartners across the central San Joaquin Valley can help explain what factors are most closely related to early academic success, said Furlong, who helped organize the study.
Findings from the Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile reveal what types of students are "ready to go" on their first day of kindergarten. Children's age, whether they attended any type of preschool, and the parents' education were most closely tied to their readiness.
"It's really trying to provide objective feedback for the community -- provide some inspiration and motivation to be more responsible (about preschool quality)," Furlong said.