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Signs of a Bright Future for Georgia’s Pre-K Students

November 7, 2017
Abbie Lieberman
New America

This school year Georgia is celebrating the 25th anniversary of it’s public pre-K program, which has reached 1.6 million children since it began as a pilot in 1992. Georgia’s program became the country’s first universal pre-K program in 1995 and it now serves over 80,000 students per year –about 60 percent of the state’s four-year-olds– in a variety of settings, including public schools and private child care centers..

report that came out this summer from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that there’s reason to celebrate. The Institute’s longitudinal study commissioned by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is the third in a series of reports that analyze the impact of the pre-K program over time. From 2013 to 2018, researchers are following a diverse sample of about 1,000 students from pre-K through third grade. This most recent report presents data on student outcomes at the end of first grade.

Georgia’s pre-K program meets many of the National Institute for Early Education Research’s (NIEER) quality benchmarks that are associated with effective pre-K programs. For instance, the program aligns with the elementary school year, serving children for 180 days each year and 6.5 hours per day. Pre-K providers must follow the state’s early learning standards and must use an approved curriculum.

Consistent with the recommendations in the National Academy of Medicine’s Transforming the Workforce report, lead teachers must have bachelor’s degrees with specialized knowledge in early childhood education. One-third of Georgia pre-K teachers have a master’s degree or higher. Teachers in the study also had a great deal of experience in early education; they “reported an average of 14.5 years of teaching experience, including 8.5 years teaching kindergarten.” Assistant teachers, who often spend as much time with children as lead teachers, need a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Georgia also has what NIEER calls a “sub-parity” policyfor pre-K teacher pay, meaning the state requires that starting salaries for pre-K teachers be the same as kindergarten teachers.

But are these quality measures leading to quality child outcomes?

The short answer is yes. Researchers looked at a wide range of measures to determine how students were faring and found that “children who attended Georgia’s Pre-K made significant gains from pre-K through first grade in the areas of language skills, literacy skills, math skills, and social skills. Children’s growth on these measures, which were norm referenced, indicated that they progressed at a greater rate than would be expected for normal developmental growth.” One exception was children’s vocabulary, which slightly decreased over time. And no significant changes were found regarding children’s problem behaviors.