|Abstract or Summary
- As increasing numbers of poor children enter child care programs due to changes in work requirements under the Welfare Reform Act, there is a critical need to examine factors that may affect the quality of care that these children receive. One factor that has received limited attention in the literature is how preservice teachers' perceptions of young children may vary according to characteristics of the child and the context in which the child exists. The current study employed an ecological person-process-context model to examine differences in preservice teachers' perceptions of children's social and cognitive competence.
The sample for this study consisted of 68 children and 28 preservice teachers enrolled at a university-based preschool in Oregon. The preschool was the only site in the state featuring an integrated program in which Head Start children were enrolled with non-Head Start children under an Oregon Prekindergarten Program (OPP) grant.
Hierarchical regression was used to determine if the contextual factor of enrollment in OPP would be a more significant contributor to preservice teachers' perceptions of children's social and cognitive competence than the person factors of child age, sex, race/ethnicity, temperament and actual child competence. Qualitative data was also collected through focus group discussions with preservice teachers.
Sex was the most important contributor to preservice teachers' perceptions of children's social competence, followed by enrollment in OPP, actual social competence, and age. For preservice teachers' perceptions of children's cognitive competence, age was
the most significant contributor, followed by actual cognitive competence, enrollment in OPP, and sex. While enrollment in OPP was not the most significant contributor to preservice teachers' perceptions of children's social and cognitive competence, it was still a significant contributor, beyond other person variables. For both social and cognitive competence, preservice teachers rated children enrolled in OPP lower than their non-OPP peers, girls higher than boys, and older children higher than younger children, even when the unique contribution of children's actual competence was included. Qualitative data generally supported these findings. Implications for research, policy, and practice are discussed.