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New Study Shows New Mexico’s PreK Initiative Improves Language and Math Abilities of Children


August 2, 2007

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — New Mexico 4-year-olds who participated in the state’s pre-K initiative show greater improvement in early language, literacy and math development compared to children who did not, according to a new study of the program released today by a national research institute.

The study, The Effects of the New Mexico PreK Initiative on Young Children’s School Readiness, was conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University by Jason T. Hustedt, W. Steven Barnett, and Kwanghee Jung.

“The New Mexico PreK Initiative is producing positive results across multiple measures for the state’s children,” said Barnett, NIEER director. “The effects found in this study are the first link in a chain that has been found by other studies to produce improvements in long-term school success and economic benefits.”

Barnett said New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s advancement of preschool education for the state’s 4-year-olds is an example of his visionary leadership. “The governor obviously cares about the state’s 4-year-old children gaining the social, emotional and educational skills they need to succeed later in school and life,” he said. The governor, along with Lt. Governor Diane Denish and the New Mexico Legislature, played a key role in the creation of New Mexico’s PreK Iniative.

The NIEER study found that as a result of attending the New Mexico program at age 4:

  • Children showed gains in vocabulary that were 54 percent greater than the gains of children without the program. This outcome is particularly important because the measure is indicative of general cognitive abilities and predictive of becoming a successful reader.
  • Preschool education increased children’s gains in math skills by 40 percent compared to children’s growth without the program. Skills tested include basic number concepts, simple addition and subtraction, telling time and counting money.
  • The New Mexico preschool program had strong effects on children’s understanding of print concepts. The program produced a 26 percent increase in growth in print awareness among children enrolled compared to growth in this domain experienced by children without the program. Children who attended New Mexico PreK before entering kindergarten knew more letters, more letter-sound associations and were more familiar with words and book concepts.

The study estimated the effects of preschool education programs on entering kindergartners’ academic skills. With the assistance of the New Mexico Public Education Department and the Children, Youth and Families Department, researchers collected data on 886 preschool and kindergarten children in the fall of 2006.

“The message in our findings for people who run state and federal preschool education programs is that they need to be of high quality if they’re going to make a real difference for children’s school readiness,” Barnett said.

In 2006, the New Mexico program served 2,200 4-year-old children. Funds are distributed equally between the Public Education and the Children, Youth and Families departments. Participating providers include public schools as well as private centers such as Head Start, child care facilities, faith-based centers and tribal programs.

A large body of research shows that high-quality preschool programs can lead to increases in school success, higher test scores, fewer school dropouts, higher graduation rates, less special education, and even lower crime rates.

A copy of the report is available on the NIEER website, www.nieer.org.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research (www.nieer.org), a unit of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported through grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others. The Pew Charitable Trusts (www.pewtrusts.org) is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.