Starting out right: pre-k and kindergarten

Source: Jim Hull, Center for Public Education, November 2011

What’s the best early childhood education combination communities can provide? Until now, research hasn’t had an answer. Although there is a wealth of research on pre-k and on kindergarten, they have been examined mainly in isolation. That research has shown that both high-quality pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten can have significant, often lasting, benefits for children. Therefore, students would benefit most from attending high-quality prekindergarten, and then going on to full-day kindergarten. However, these particular programs are not necessarily required or paid for by many states. Cash-strapped states and districts around the country are being forced to choose how to best spend their dollars, including allocations to publicly-funded pre-k and kindergarten that are both best for students and feasible within current budgets.

Prior to the economic downturn, state investments in early education were growing substantially, driven by research showing its powerful positive impact. That momentum has stopped with the recession, and school leaders are looking for ways to preserve their pre-k and kindergarten services. Around the country, school boards have been asking us:

Are our students better off with a combination of pre-k and half-day kindergarten?
Are our students better off with full-day kindergarten alone?

This report looks at the effect of various combinations of pre-k and kindergarten on third grade reading skills — a key predictor of future academic success — in order to provide important information to educators and policymakers as they consider how to get the most out of their early childhood programs.

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