State Run Pre-K: Questions and Answers
Research Q&A: Pre-K Programs, What Are They And Who Benefits?
1. Why are states creating pre-k programs?
States are launching pre-k to better prepare young children for school, particularly economically disadvantaged youngsters at risk of educational failure. Many leaders believe participation in pre-k can help at-risk children narrow the achievement gap with affluent children. While only ten states had some type of program in 1980, the number with pre-k services grew four-fold, to forty, by 2005. Citing the gains recorded by at-risk children, some state leaders also are proposing Pre-K For All programs that are open to any preschool-age child. While gains for more affluent children may not be as great as those for at-risk children, proponents believe states can recoup their investments in various ways, including lower retention rates and fewer special education placements among all groups.
2. What does the research show about these programs?
While some states have yet to evaluate their programs rigorously, more than a dozen have conducted extensive research and have documented gains—often by comparing pre-k participants to a similar group of children who did not receive assistance. In many of these cases, students who participated in pre-k exhibit progress during the early elementary years.
3. How do pre-k programs differ?
Most state programs have a limited scope, focusing on lower-income students. However, Georgia and Oklahoma are among a growing number of states to pursue voluntary universal programs open to any four-year-old who wants to attend. Pre-k programs also offer varied service hours. While some states have half-day programs, most allow local school districts to determine hours of service.
4. What are key characteristics of quality pre-k programs?
A comprehensive five-state study of pre-k effectiveness documented several important elements of successful programs. These include: Teachers with a bachelor’s degree and prior experience in early childhood education.
Child/staff ratios with no more than ten children per instructor.
Manageable class sizes with no more than twenty children.
5. What are the effects of pre-k on states and communities?
Many studies have shown positive benefits to states and communities through lower special education costs and fewer students who must repeat a grade. Both of these services are costly to states and school districts. Over the long term, model pre-k programs have cited savings as pre-k graduates report reduced juvenile crime rates and less dependence on public assistance programs. Several studies also have shown higher employment rates for former pre-k students compared with peers.
6. What are examples of successful pre-k programs and how are they funded?
Oklahoma funded voluntary universal preschool from its general education budget and documented gains for children when compared to non-participants. Michigan and New Jersey are examples of effective programs that primarily target low-income students. Michigan’s program is funded by its state Department of Education; most of the funds go to school districts by formula, while a limited number of competitive grants are available to other agencies. So far, researchers have found gains for Michigan children lasting through at least fourth grade, while New Jersey children attending under a court mandate have posted gains in vocabulary, number concepts, and print awareness. New Jersey funds its court-ordered initiative through the Department of Education, after the state Supreme Court mandated that pre-k address educational disparities in certain low-income districts, where pre-k teachers must be paid at the local K–12 rate through state funding. The department also has funded other new pre-k initiatives for less poor areas. Several other states have documented long-term gains in standardized test scores and attendance.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. © 2007, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
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