Tag Archives: pre-k

Moving Away from Magical Thinking: Understanding the Current State of Pre-K Research

Depending on what newspaper or website you’ve read most recently, you may think it’s time for your local municipality or state to fully fund pre-K or that the increasing focus on expanding pre-K is completely overblown. Either early childhood education is the panacea for all our problems and achievement gaps, or it’s not a worthwhile investment. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Universal pre-K by itself is not going to inculcate children from future bad educational experiences or magically rectify all of the problems inherent in the U.S. education system. But high-quality pre-K is still an important public investment that can dramatically improve young children’s early educational experiences and long-term outcomes.

Still pre-K advocates need to reckon with emerging research which conflicts with the accepted wisdom that early childhood education has significant long-term effects and make sure their arguments are nuanced so that the benefits of pre-K are not oversold. Even though increasing access to government-funded pre-K is embraced by politicians from both parties, advocates must not adopt rhetoric that overpromises.

Writing for the Brookings Institute earlier this month, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst asserts that it is time for pre-K advocates to “confront the evidence” and accept that expanding access to state pre-K for four year olds is unlikely to enhance student achievement. In his analysis, Whitehurst looks at the relationship between a state’s prekindergarten enrollment and fourth grade scores of students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). He finds that states with large pre-K enrollments have students who perform slightly better — but that the effects are small. Whitehurst also references the latest evaluation of Tennessee’s state pre-K program, which ultimately found that while the program had short-term effects on child achievement at the end of pre-K, these effects disappeared as children entered elementary school and turned somewhat negative by third grade. In other words, by third grade, the control group — children who did not attend state pre-K — scored significantly higher in math and science than the pre-K group.

It is certainly important for pre-K advocates to acknowledge this research, but Whitehurst makes the wrong conclusions. He insists that pre-K advocates need to temper our “enthusiasm for more of the same” and consider other policy proposals to address poverty. But when reading Tennessee’s results, there are a number of variables worth considering:

  • Is the Tennessee program truly high-quality?
  • Is there something about the Tennessee program that makes it different than other state pre-K programs?
  • Are Tennessee’s children receiving sub-par K-3rd grade education?
  • Are pre-K students repeating content they already mastered in kindergarten and therefore tuning out from classwork?
  • Are pre-K students receiving less attention from their early elementary school teachers?
  • Are the positive impacts of pre-K more likely to be captured in an analysis of children’s social-emotional development?

When children flounder after a year of PK-12 education, concerned individuals shouldn’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater. As my colleague Sara Mead has written: “Asking whether ‘pre-K works’ is as pointless a question as asking whether fourth grade works.” Continue reading

Equitable Access to Quality Credentials For Pre-K Teachers: What Would it Take?

As Marnie noted last week, there’s a heated debate going on in early childhood policy circles about whether or not educators who work with young children need higher education credentials. By focusing on whether or not early childhood educators should be required to complete existing higher education pathways — namely bachelor’s degrees and state teacher certification programs — this debate largely misses the point.

We know that early childhood teaching is skilled, professional work, and that early childhood teachers need to master a complex array of skills and knowledge about child development, effective instructional practices for young children, and effective strategies for engaging families and supporting children with learning and development differences, among other things. Anybody who’s seen a great preschool teacher knows that this is highly complex work. At the same time, we also know that the higher education landscape is shifting, and the types of degrees, credentials, and pathways to higher education that exist in the future might look very different from what we assume higher education looks like today.

The question, then, is how to envision future postsecondary education systems and supports that enable early childhood educators to obtain the knowledge and skills they need in a high-quality, cost effective way that meets the unique needs of current and future early childhood workers and leads to better practice and improved results for kids. These are questions that Kevin Carey, an expert on higher education innovation and now the Vice President of Education Policy at New America, and I explored together in a paper nearly a decade ago. And it’s the focus of a new paper, co-authored by Lisa Guernsey, Emily Workman, and myself, released jointly by Bellwether and New America today.cover of Pre-K Teachers and Bachelor’s Degrees: Envisioning Equitable Access to High-Quality Preparation Programs

Rather than trying to adjudicate the question of whether early childhood teachers should have degrees, the paper (which focuses primarily on pre-K teachers working with 3- and 4-year-olds in publicly funded settings) draws on interviews with experts in the field and a convening that New America and Bellwether co-hosted last fall to describe the strategies that would be required to increase the number of pre-K teachers with degrees, while ensuring the quality and accessibility of postsecondary programs for pre-K teachers; providing supports for current early childhood teachers to successfully complete postsecondary programs; and maintaining the racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the pre-K teaching workforce. The paper also surfaces six crucial areas and themes in need of further research and innovation in the field, including:

  1. More strategies to improve the quality of bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation programs for pre-K teachers
  2. More sophisticated approaches for defining the “early childhood specialization” of a bachelor’s degree program
  3. A deeper understanding of the implications of teacher licensure for pre-K teachers
  4. Reflection on how to motivate higher education institutions to revamp their programs
  5. Strategies for recruiting and retaining the next generation of pre-K teachers
  6. A continued push for improving compensation and workplace quality for pre-K teachers

We’ll be discussing these themes further at a forum at New America this afternoon, and on this blog, social media, and future Bellwether and New America publications in the coming weeks and months. I hope you join the conversation (and you can watch the forum streaming at New America here)!

What We Can — and Can’t — Learn From New Jersey to Improve Pre-K Teacher Training and Pay

teacher chalkboard word cloudShould pre-K teachers have degrees? A recent New York Times Magazine article looks at both some of the challenges facing early childhood teachers and the debate over whether or not policymakers should raise education requirements for them. I explored these issues further last week in U.S. News & World Report — but I also wanted to comment on the Times piece’s coverage of New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program.

Times author Jeneen Interlandi highlights New Jersey’s Abbott pre-K program, which both requires all pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and pays them comparably with public school teachers. This practice is in sharp contrast with the norm of low education requirements and pay in many other early childhood settings. A little background here: In the 1990s, a court first ordered New Jersey to offer universal pre-K to three- and four-year-olds in thirty-one high-poverty districts and, later, to ensure that teachers in those pre-K programs held both a bachelor’s degree and state certification. As Interlandi argues, the strategies New Jersey used to meet that requirement offer lessons for other efforts to elevate the skills and training of early childhood teachers.

Yet, as someone who’s studied New Jersey’s Abbott program, I fear that the article misses some key points about it that have implications for what policymakers can take away here:

1. Pre-K is pretty much the only part of the Abbott program with evidence of demonstrable, lasting benefits. New Jersey’s Abbott preK was the result of the long-running Abbott v. Burke school finance litigation. Besides mandating pre-K, various Abbott decisions required the state of New Jersey to increase spending in poor districts, repair school facilities and reduce overcrowding, and cover costs of supplemental services to address the needs of children in concentrated poverty. Billions of dollars have been spent on these efforts. Yet there is no clear evidence that they resulted in improved outcomes for students in high-poverty. Abbott Pre-K, however, is the exception.

Interlandi writes: “Abbott studies show fade-out effects, albeit less significant ones than in many other preschool studies.” This statement, while technically correct, underplays the evidence of Abbott pre-K’s results. Research shows that Abbott children made meaningful gains in pre-K — and that a portion of those gains persisted through at least 5th grade.

Interlandi is correct that the magnitude of Abbott pre-K advantage diminished over time, as some degree of fade-out is to be expected over time from any intervention. And, in the context of the Abbott results (or lack thereof) more broadly, the Abbott pre-K results are quite striking. Put another way, the Abbott pre-K results, combined with other evidence on quality early childhood programs, suggest that a marginal education dollar is more likely to generate results if spent on pre-K than if simply added to general education budgets.

2. New Jersey’s pre-K program is expensive — but so is education in New Jersey generally. Interlandi reports that New Jersey spends about $14,000 per child on pre-K — more than double the typical state spending on pre-K. The implication is that requiring pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree is really expensive. Continue reading

Relationships Matter: How States Can Include Teacher-Student Interaction in ECE and ESSA Plans

This blog post originally appeared at New America as part of the Early Learning and ESSA Blog Series

Pre-k class at the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, photo by Jocelyn Biggs

Relationships and interactions between teachers and students make a big difference in the classroom. Teacher-child interactions form the cornerstone of children’s academic and social emotional development, especially in early learning classrooms. As states look for ways to measure and improve educational quality beyond test scores, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act provides an opportunity to consider data on teacher-child interactions. Washington, DC, and Louisiana provide two examples of states exploring this promising avenue, with some valuable lessons for their peers who might be considering teacher-child interaction measures, or other non-traditional quality measures that include or emphasize the early years.

So, what should other states take away from DC and Louisiana?

Pick a reliable tool and get to know it well

States, localities, and Head Start grantees are currently using tools designed to reliably measure teacher-child interactions in ECE settings. Both DC and Louisiana use the Classroom Observation Scoring System (CLASS), a well-researched observational tool widely used in early childhood and Pre-K settings, with versions available through high school. Both states took several years to pilot the implementation of this tool to learn more about teacher-child interactions before using it as a quality measure. DC has used CLASS for several years as a citywide Pre-K performance measure in a sample of 3- and 4-year-old classrooms. The DC Public Charter School Board also uses CLASS for Pre-K in its formal Performance Management Framework, the accountability tool for charter schools. Similarly, after the Louisiana Department of Education chose CLASS as a common statewide measure of early learning quality, the state piloted CLASS for several years, working with local early childhood networks to improve local implementation and understanding along the way. Continue reading

The Charter Model Goes to Preschool

Richmond College Prep emphasizes a student-centered atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of Richmond College Prep

Over the past 20 years, both charter schools and prekindergarten have taken on increasingly prominent roles in the schooling of America’s children. Charter schools in 43 states now serve more than 2.6 million students — roughly six percent of all students attending public schools. And more than two-thirds of four-year-olds attend some form of public or privately funded preschool, with 1.4 million of them enrolled in state-funded pre-k programs.

As separate reforms, charter schools and pre-k produce strong, positive results for high-need children. But what happens if we marry high-performing charter schools with high-quality pre-k? Could the combination of these two reforms produce a result better than the sum of its parts?

Continue reading