A major, statewide study conducted by The Meadows Foundation and CHILDREN AT RISK has found that Pre-K enrollment significantly improves the academic achievement of low-income students.
According to CHILDREN AT RISK, the study found that "[o]n average, economically disadvantaged students who attended Pre-K in 2010, scored 78 points higher on the 2015 state reading test in 3rd grade compared to economically disadvantaged students who did not attend public Pre-K or who attended lower quality public Pre-K."
The study found that in three years, Texas improved the percentage of economically disadvantaged students across the state reading at a college-ready pace by 1 percent; the researchers estimated that number would have been 16 percent if all disadvantaged students were enrolled in Pre-K and experienced the same gains as the students studied.
Other findings regarding the effectiveness of Pre-K include:
Using metrics like student enrollment, district Pre-K expenditures, demographics, and socioeconomic characteristics, the study looked at school districts in five major urban areas in Texas and 12 school districts surrounding these areas. Overall, the study tracked nearly 47,000 students to arrive at its findings.
Providing quality Pre-K programs to disadvantaged students is one of the ways experts estimate state leaders can level the "learning gap" that occurs between privileged and less fortunate young residents.
Children from "professional" or wealthier families, for instance, start life with an advantage; researchers estimate these children hear roughly 30 million more words by the age of three than children from less fortunate circumstances do.
Findings on the effectiveness of Pre-K on students' academic achievement have been a mixed bag thus far. In 2015, a study on the effectiveness of Tennessee's Pre-K programs found that students who were not enrolled in Pre-K actually began out-performing students who were enrolled by second grade. While the results were considered shocking at the time, many have since blamed the inconsistent results on the fact that just because Pre-K exists, doesn't mean it is of high-quality.
The researchers from CHILDREN AT RISK have made several policy suggestions for Texas lawmakers to consider based on its report that has proved, once again, the benefits of early education:
1. Sustain the High-Quality HB4 Pre-K funding at $236 million for the biennium.
2. Create sustainable funding for quality Pre-K through formula funding.
3. Limit Pre-K classrooms to a maximum of 22 students, allowing no more than 11 students for each teacher or aide in Pre-K classes with more than 15 students.
4. Create an Early Childhood through 3rd Grade teaching certificate to provide an option for teachers to gain deep expertise in early elementary grades.
5. Increase inter-agency coordination of child care and Pre-K data systems through the Early Childhood Database System to improve outcomes for children and maximize efficiency of taxpayer dollars.
6. Increase local coordination of early education programs by supporting public/private partnerships between school districts and high-quality child care centers.
Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor