Kids who attend Pre-K programs see greater academic gains through 8th grade, at minimum
A new white paper published in North Carolina shows that kids who attend state-sponsored Pre-K programs excel more than students who didn’t attend the program in reading, writing, and math.
In addition, the Duke University working paper found that kids who had structured learning starting at age 4 were also less likely to need special education and less likely to have to repeat a grade.
The study followed over a million kids across North Carolina, born between 1998 and 2000. Some of the kids had the benefit of a well-funded Pre-K program, while others, due to limited public school budgets, either didn’t attend Pre-K, or didn’t have well-funded Pre-K programs. The researchers compared the kids who had average Pre-K funding to those with below average funding.
They followed the kids through their eighth grade year, tracking their end-of-year reading scores, end-of-year math scores, grade retention, and special education placement.
The results were stark.
The study found that kids who attended a well-funded Pre-K program had higher reading and math abilities throughout their elementary and middle school career and were significantly less likely to have to repeat a grade. They were also, by the 8th grade, 30 percent less likely to need special education programming.
The study also tracked a number of other factors, from the kids’ birth weights, to their parents’ education, to their race and socioeconomic status. They found that Pre-K helps literally everybody – kids of all income levels performed better with early education, as well as kids of all races. Kids with educated moms performed better with Pre-K just as kids with mom who didn’t have as much education.
“The findings are clear,” said Duke University lead researcher Kenneth Dodge, in an opinion piece for the News & Observer. “The more funding that North Carolina invests for NC Pre-K (and Smart Start), the better children will fare as they get older. The benefits from that investment will not fade out but will grow over the lives of these children.”
This study also flies in the face of an earlier study conducted in Tennessee, in which researchers found that the benefits of Pre-K fade out during elementary school. Dodge explained why the two studies likely had different outcomes:
“We believe both studies report true findings,” he said. “The difference is that not all pre-k programs are the same. North Carolina’s program has high quality standards that require small class sizes, teacher credentials, and other features. Furthermore, North Carolina’s elementary school curriculum is designed to build on, and not undermine, the effective curriculum created for NC Pre-K. Perhaps most important of all, NC Pre-K is delivered to a high proportion of four-year-olds in the population so that when a child enters elementary school, that child will benefit by being in a classroom surrounded by peers who had participated in NC Pre-K and are ready to learn.”
What does this study mean? While different states, regions, and school systems may have to examine their own districts, the study heavily implies that if all kids have access to a great, adequately funded program before they enter kindergarten, everyone benefits academically – and the study didn’t even cover other benefits, such as social skills and emotional intelligence.
“To grow these benefits, state funding for these early childhood programs must grow and must be coupled with equally healthy funding for high-quality public schools,” Dodge concludes.
We hope other states are paying attention.