Quality Makes the Difference in Long-term Pre-K Results

A new study from Duke University shows that high-quality early childhood programs deliver benefits that increase or hold steady at least through fifth grade. The study followed more than one million children in North Carolina through two state-wide early childhood programs: Smart Start, which provides state dollars to support services for children ages birth to four, and NC Pre-K (formerly More at Four), which specifically funds pre-K programs for 4-year-old who are considered “high risk.” (NC Pre-K defines “high risk” as children from families that are at or below 75% of the state median income, children with low English proficiency, or children who are disabled, chronically ill, or who have developmental needs.)

Furthermore, researchers found that those lasting benefits accrued to children no matter what their race or family income level.

Having a high-quality program is key, said Kenneth Dodge, director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy and the lead author of the study, in a November 17 NPR interview. “The long-term impact,” he says, “depends entirely on quality and how well elementary schools build on the foundations set in pre-K.”

This study on the impact of a large-scale, statewide approach is important, because it helps to better understand earlier studies, like the one conducted in Tennessee, that found a “fade out” of the benefits of early education by the time children reached third grade. In that study, the quality component was notably absent.

Duke’s findings can also serve as further evidence of the need to create preschool programs with quality at the forefront. As more states consider creating or expanding early education initiatives, they must remember that quality is key.

Working in partnership with organizations such as PRE4CLE, First Things First Arizona, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC emphasizes high-quality and taking the whole child (and all their developmental needs) into consideration, when designing, improving upon, and advocating for investments in early childhood. To learn more about our work, see the ACS PRE4CLE case study here and these articles from 2016:

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