Tag Archives: state 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

Success Academy Isn’t Being THAT Unreasonable About Pre-K

For the last three months, the Success Academy charter network has refused to sign a mandatory pre-k contract with the NYC Department of Education. The contract – which every other city pre-k provider already signed – would allow NYC DOE to oversee Success Academy’s five pre-k classes.

Success Academy hasn’t said why they’re not signing the contract. Some critics suggest that the network is trying to avoid program oversight, or is picking a fight with the city, or is just being difficult.

giphy2

Another standoff between Success Academy and Mayor Bill de Blasio

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. It’s more likely that Success Academy doesn’t want to be considered a “vendor” to the NYC DOE program – and with good reason. Continue reading

In Some States, Pre-K Providers That Have the Money, Keep the Money, and That’s a Problem

Charter schools should offer pre-k. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can’t. One reason they can’t: Policies in ten states privilege existing pre-k providers. When these states allocate pre-k funding, they allocate funding first to providers that are currently serving children, leaving little — if any — funding for charter schools that aren’t existing providers, which many aren’t. So the providers that have the money, keep the money. Continue reading

So Charters Should Offer Pre-K… But Can They?

As Sara wrote yesterday, we recently completed an analysis of state policies that affect charter/pre-k collaboration. In the analysis, we tried to figure out what a charter school would need to do and know in order to access state pre-k funds. So in each state, we ask: Can charter schools offer state-funded pre-k? What’s the process for doing so? How many charter schools serve preschoolers? We used this information to rank states based on how hospitable an environment they offer for charter schools seeking to serve preschoolers.

There are a few states where it’s relatively easy for charters to offer pre-k. Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma top our list, with Wisconsin and Texas close behind. In these states, charter schools are one option in a network of diverse pre-k providers.

But in a majority of states, charter schools face numerous barriers to offering pre-k. Lots of these barriers are common across states, while others are unique to a given state. For example, low pre-k funding (less than 75 percent of what charters receive to serve K-12 students) creates a disincentive to offering pre-k in 22 states (and affects all potential providers, not just charter schools).

Nine states prohibit charters from offering pre-k at all. In some of these states, the charter legislation limits – intentionally or unintentionally – the ages or grades that a charter school can serve. Ohio’s legislation says charter schools can only admit students between the ages of five and twenty-two; Arizona’s says a charter school must provide instruction for “at least a kindergarten program or any grade between grades one and twelve.” In other states, such as North Carolina, the charter and pre-k law aren’t explicit, but the state interprets that to mean charters can’t serve preschoolers.

In many states, different pre-k programs, state offices, or administrations have different rules. Charter schools in Connecticut can’t access funds through the School Readiness Program, the primary state-funded pre-k program, but if their charter includes pre-k, they receive state per-pupil funding for preschoolers just as they do for K-12 students. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration recently cancelled a charter school’s pre-k program, saying state law prohibits charter schools from offering pre-k and the school was only allowed to offer pre-k due to an “oversight in the chartering process during the previous administration.” In Georgia, the agency that administers the state pre-k program explicitly allows charter schools to apply for pre-k funding, but the state charter office won’t allow it.

Despite these barriers, at least one charter school in most states has “made it work,” figuring out a way to serve preschoolers, even if without state funding. In states like Georgia and Arizona, some charters serve preschoolers through an “affiliated program” – a separate (usually nonprofit) entity that is affiliated with the school. Up until recently, this was the only way charter schools in New York could serve preschoolers. Other charter schools fund pre-k services through philanthropy, tuition, Title I funds, or their general operating revenues. Sometimes the solution creates more problems, however, which is why we believe the best route is to enble charter schools to offer pre-k. Most states have a lot of work to do.


Note: We don’t rank all states – only those with charter laws and state-funded pre-k programs – and we intentionally only look at charter access to state funding for pre-k. Our full methodology is in Appendix A here.