Great Britain Officials Tour Oklahoma Schools

10-27-05 - Officials from Great Britain took a firsthand look at Oklahoma's pre-kindergarten programs this week in an effort to learn more about how the state educates young children.

A delegation of educators and government leaders from Great Britain visited Madison Elementary in Norman on Wednesday as part of its two-day early childhood exchange tour.

R. Mitchell Jeffrey Jr., vice consul for the British Consulate-General in Houston, said Gov. Brad Henry told British officials about the success of Oklahoma's program.

"We did our research and learned this is the No. 1 place in the nation" for preschool education, Jeffrey said.

The National Institute for Early Education Research gave Oklahoma that distinction last year. About 70 percent of the state's 4-year-olds are enrolled in public school pre-kindergarten courses, the state Education Department reports.

Among the questions asked of Oklahoma educators were whether districts track academic progress of students who enroll in pre-kindergarten and if activities are available before and after school.

Steffani Allen, director of Norman's early childhood programs, said teachers are in their third year of collecting data on student performance. After-school programs such as art are available daily as late as 6 p.m.

Bridget Bennett, who has a job in Britain similar to Allen's, was surprised Oklahoma pre-kindergarten teachers must be certified.

"The investment the state makes is something we need to learn from," Bennett said.

Ninety-eight percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in East Riding of Yorkshire _ the largest unitary local authority in England _ are accessing free early childhood education, she said.

Half- and full-day early childhood programs are available in England.

Bennett said plans include almost doubling the number of hours students are in class each week _ from nearly 13 hours to 20 for 3-year-olds.

The delegation also visited the Edmond School District and toured museums.

Bennett said she's impressed with the enthusiasm of Oklahoma educators and the consistency of early childhood programs.

"The bottom line is our passion for good, quality education for children is the same," she said.