The Importance of High-Quality Preschool Education

The Barber National Institute has been offering the Pre-K Counts program for fourteen years in Erie and Corry.

The program is designed for children three to five years of age who may be considered “at-risk” because of the family’s economic, language, cultural or other circumstances which may prevent the child from developing the skills necessary to enter kindergarten ready to learn.

We have seen many outstanding results as the children have progressed through the program and have numerous anecdotal comments from families about their child’s later success in school.

So, I was very interested in reading about the New Jersey Abbott Preschool Program longitudinal effects study through tenth grade.  Twenty years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court Abbott v. Burke mandated that the state establish high-quality preschool education in the thirty-one highest poverty school districts.  Many of the features of their program are similar to Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts program.

  • Access to low-income families.
  • High expectations for learning
  • Teachers with four-year degrees and paraeducators with a minimum of associate degrees
  • Full day throughout the school year
  • No parent fees

Their program is offered in a mixed delivery system including Head Start, public and private schools.  The Pennsylvania program is overseen by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) whereas the school districts oversee the New Jersey program.

The study looked at initial effects at entrance to kindergarten based on individualized assessments and effects on statewide assessments from grades three through ten.  The achievement effects were smaller in grades three through ten than at kindergarten entry but did not “fade out” and remained substantial through grade ten in language arts, literacy and math.

Attending the program for two years beginning at age three had roughly twice the effects of achievement as one year at age four.

Grade retention was fifteen points lower through grade ten and there was a seven percent point reduction in special education.

As we hear more and more discussion of universal preschool, I would think that Pennsylvania and New Jersey could serve as model programs for our nation.

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