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Pre-kindergarten primer—2010, No. 6

2010, No. 6

In this issue:

Full-Day Pre-K Programs Show Promise

Despite an ailing economy, the concept of full-day pre-kindergarten is not a pipe dream in many communities. In fact, recent activity -- and a new study -- show that the issue remains on the front burner in some districts.

In Montgomery County, Md., where schools are experimenting with a full-day pre-k program in addition to half-day pre-k offerings, a new report has found greater gains for those in the full-day program. Some of the greatest effects are for low-income students, African Americans and children beginning to learn English.

Overall, students in the full-day program were 44 percent more likely to meet the district kindergarten reading benchmark than those in half-day Head Start and 53 percent more likely to attain the standard than those in the district's traditional half-day pre-k program.

"This report reinforces the power of full-day pre-kindergarten for our at-risk students," said Jerry Weast, the school superintendent.

The full-day program represents an evolution of services in the county just outside Washington, D.C. Under state law in Maryland, all public schools must offer half-day pre-k for low-income children. In addition, Montgomery County offers half-day Head Start.

For the 2007-'08 school year, the district offered Title I funds to help any half-day Head Start program expand to full-day service, and 13 classes signed up for the expansion. In the newly released analysis, researchers concluded that the full-day program had many benefits. In addition to the overall reading gains among all full-day students, there were important gains among many subgroups.

For example, full-day African American and male students outperformed their peers from the half-day Head Start program in reading by the end of kindergarten. In addition, there were several significant advantages for full-day children when compared to those in the traditional half-day, non-Head Start pre-k program:

  • Male students and English as a Second Language students in the full-day program were "significantly" more likely to be ready for kindergarten the following year;
  • African American students in the full-day program were 94 percent more likely to pass a rigorous kindergarten reading benchmark than those in half-day pre-k;
  • Female students in the full-day program were 68 percent more likely to meet the kindergarten reading benchmark; and
  • Low-income students were 60 percent more likely to attain the reading benchmark.

Huafang Zhao, co-author of the study, said the extra time devoted to instruction was likely the greatest reason for the difference. While the full-day program met for 6 hours, 15 minutes per day, the half-day Head Start program was open for 3 hours, 15 minutes a day. The half-day pre-k program operated for 2 hours, 30 minutes.

"The additional instructional time in the Head Start full-day pre-k program seems to have had a positive lasting impact on students' reading skills by the end of kindergarten," said Zhao, who with Shahpar Modarresi authored the study, Evaluating Lasting Effects of Full-day Prekindergarten Program on School Readiness.

The study also found significant gains in reading for students in the full-day program compared with youngsters who had no Montgomery County pre-k experience. The full-day students were 42 percent more likely than non-pre-k children to meet the kindergarten reading benchmark.

The issue of full-day pre-k is not a new one. A 2006 study from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that students attending a full-day public preschool performed better on literacy and math tests than those in a 2.5-to-3 hour program.

Research conducted by NIEER in one New Jersey school district concluded that achievement gains continued at least through the end of first grade and appeared to narrow the gap between affluent and low-income children.

This district, similar to other New Jersey low-income districts, receives funding under the Abbott court decision. The rulings in the Abbott v. Burke case affected 31 high-poverty districts and sought to address educational imbalances in part through new preschool programs. Abbott requires a six-hour educational day for young children with wraparound services.

New Jersey also has a non-Abbott early childhood program for more affluent areas, but that program is only half a day for pre-k children.

With Abbott programs in place for years, however, one expert says it is not so much the length of the pre-k program as its quality. "It's not just having a full day. It's having quality in a full-day program," said Cynthia Rice, senior project analyst for the Association of Children in New Jersey.

In part due to Abbott funding, many New Jersey districts have been able to establish a high-quality programs. "It's that combination -- full-day program and quality -- that makes it successful for kids," she told Pre-K Primer.

In New Jersey, many Abbott programs are is not in public schools. However, the standards are the same regardless of location, including a requirement that teachers have a bachelor's degree with pre-k/grade 3 endorsement. "That's what is making the difference," Rice added.

Advocates Seek Pre-K Support

A new analysis from Pre-K Now finds that states overall are attempting to hold the line on pre-kindergarten spending -- though state-by-state news includes some potentially devastating cuts.

The nation's governors are proposing to maintain pre-k spending at $5.3 billion for FY11, approximately the current funding level, the analysis states.

The group says this national finding is encouraging, since state leaders "continue to value evidence-based early learning programs" as essential for a strong education system and economy.

Yet a state-by-state breakdown shows wide variations, with a few seeking increases and several proposing significant cutbacks -- including termination of programs in one state. Here is a snapshot of these trends:

  • Nine governors are proposing increases totaling $78.5 million. They include Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is seeking a 12 percent gain. If approved, the state's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program would receive another $48 million for total funding of $412 million next year. The governor cites high demand for the program, as enrollment has increased by 50 percent during the past four years with minimal budget gains.  Other states proposing funding increases include Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina and Alabama.
  • Three states and the District of Columbia expect to increase pre-k through their state funding formulas. In the case of Washington, D.C., the extra funding is likely to result from a proposed rise in the per-pupil spending level, the analysis states.
  • Ten governors would freeze funding for pre-k at 2010 levels. This group includes Rhode Island, a state that just launched a new program in the last fiscal year. Other states on this list include Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and Minnesota.
  • State pre-k spending would drop under governors' proposals in 12 states. If enacted, these cuts would total more than $100 million.

Two of the most significant cuts would be in Arizona and Illinois. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) would eliminate the $15 million Early Childhood Block Grant entirely. Her plan also would eliminate the $218 million state aid program for full-day kindergarten.

In Illinois, a state that was a leader in 3- and 4-year-old preschool, the new budget would make significant cuts in the state's Preschool for All initiative.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D) would reduce funding by 16 percent, on top of a 10 percent reduction enacted by lawmakers last year.

Statewide, Pre-K Now says, Illinois faces a 34 percent budget gap between available revenues and spending.

Other states proposing cutbacks include: New Mexico, where funding would decline by 10 percent; Kansas, with a 5 percent proposed cut; and New York, which would reduce spending by 3.5 percent.

The complete report, Leadership Matters: Governors' Pre-K Budget Proposals Fiscal Year 2011, is available online at www.preknow.org (http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=jrKUI0OELgIPKcJ&s=&m=).

Pre-K Webinar Available

Looking for information on pre-k partnerships? The Center for Public Education's web site includes a free archived webinar on Pre-K Collaboration: Building Effective Partnerships.

The webinar from late 2009 remains timely, with presentations on pre-k trends and tips on several issues, such as how to develop memoranda of understanding between school districts and community pre-k partners.

For more information, visit www.centerforpubliceducation.org (http://www.kintera.org/TR.asp?a=mkI0J9PQKjLWImI&s=&m=) and follow the pre-kindergarten links.

Pre-K Primer is published by the Center for Public Education (www.centerforpubliceducation.org), an initiative of the National School Boards Association and the National School Boards Foundation. The Center for Public Education is located at 1680 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. We gratefully acknowledge The Pew Charitable Trusts for its support of our work with pre-k. The views expressed here are those of the Center for Public Education and not necessarily those of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Pre-K Primer is written and edited by Chuck Dervarics, an education writer and researcher based in Alexandria, Virginia. Contact Pre-K Primer at centerforpubliced@nsba.org.

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