One vital input to optimal early childhood development is insuring that all children have access to high quality early learning experiences. For many years, more affluent families have sent their children to high-quality, center-based early childhood education programs; but their cost has placed these opportunities out of the reach of lower-income families.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University recently released the latest edition of their longitudinal study of pre-kindergarten student achievement in New Jersey - The APPLES Blossom: Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study Results through 2nd Grade. The study follows children from their entry into the pre-school program at age 3 up through second grade. The study finds that children who participate in public pre-kindergarten in New Jersey, “ perform better in oral language and conceptual knowledge, reading skills and mathematics” than children who don’t attend pre-k. Moreover, attending pre-k reduces the likelihood that a child will be held back a grade by half (Hester, July 2009).
How can public pre-schools consistently improve children’s performance in their first years of school? By creating a unified set of quality standards for all pre-k classrooms. Currently, New Jersey’s Abbott pre-school programs serve about 43,000 children a year, roughly 80% of eligible students, and participation in the program rose dramatically after the New Jersey Supreme Court mandated the following quality guidelines:
~ Maximum classroom size of 15 students;
~ Certified teachers with early childhood expertise;
~ Assistant teachers in every classroom;
~ Comprehensive services; and
~ A developmentally appropriate curriculum designed to meet learning standards (Hester, July 2009).
Through careful enforcement of these guidelines, the Abbott program delivers a high quality pre-K experience across both public and private providers.
This May, the Tennessee Legislature voted to require that private child care programs must have earned a 3-star rating to be a public pre-K provider (TN State Legislature, 2009). This is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to providing high quality pre-K. Even better would be for Tennessee to follow New Jersey’s example and mandate that a single set of quality standards apply to all pre-K classrooms, regardless of the provider.
This strategy has proven not only to improve outcomes for the youngest children, but has also increased the public’s support for state-supported pre-kindergarten. Those are results that will help guarantee a strong start for children, and a strong future for proven best-practice programs.
Hester, Tom (July 13, 2009). “Study: N.J’s Abbott Pre-school Program Working,” New Jersey Newsroom.com. Accessed July 14, 2009. http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/state/study-njs-abbott-preschool-program-working
Frede, Ellen, Kwanghee Jung, W. Steven Barnett, and Alexandra Figueras (June 2009). The APPLES Blossom: Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study (APPLES), Preliminary Results through 2nd Grade. Rutgers: National Institute for Early Educational Research. Accessed July 2009 http://nieer.org/pdf/apples_second_grade_results.pdf
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2006). Early Influences on Brain Architecture. Accessed June 2009. < http://www.developingchild.net/pubs/persp/Early_Influences/Early_Influences.html>
Tennessee State Legislature (2009). Bill Summary, Public Chapter 226. Author. Accessed July 14, 2009.