The research report, “Starting Out Right: Pre-K and Kindergarten,” says students who attend both pre-k and kindergarten fare significantly better than those who don’t on third-grade reading tests, an important predictor of future academic success. It also finds that, facing a choice between providing pre-k and full-day kindergarten, states would do better to expand access to pre-kindergarten programs.
Students who attend both pre-k and half-day kindergarten do better than those who attend full-day kindergarten but not pre-k, the report says. The gains from pre-k are especially strong for children from low-income families, blacks, Hispanics and English language learners.
The report draws on a federal data base that tracked more than 21,000 children from kindergarten through eighth grade. The Center for Public Education is an initiative of the National School Boards Association.
The author of the report, senior policy analyst Jim Hull, says the paper shouldn’t be read to endorse a move away from full-day kindergarten.
“Especially for traditional disadvantaged groups, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are investments that pay remarkable dividends not only for schools, but for communities,” Hull writes. “We should strive to give all children access to both high-quality pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten. The research is clear that this is the best option.”
The Indiana legislature this year boosted funding for full-day kindergarten with the intent of making it available in all public school districts. However, the state doesn’t fully fund full-day kindergarten, with the result that parents often have to pay for the program.
And Indiana is one of only 10 states that don’t provide public pre-k programs, according to data from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Florida, the supposed model for the education reforms championed by Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett, provides public pre-k for 68 percent of its 4-year-olds, according to NIEER.
Bennett told a Bloomington audience last month that Indiana really ought to expand access to pre-k, but there’s no money right now to do so. But as Kara Kenney of WRTV in Indianapolis reported, Indiana was one of only 15 states that chose not to apply this fall for federal Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants ranging from $50 million to $100 million to expand early-learning opportunities.
Indiana Department of Education spokesman Alex Damron told Kenney it would have been a waste of effort to apply, because Indiana wasn’t going to win. But if Indiana isn’t in a position to compete for funding to expand early-learning programs, the question is: Why not?