Lessons from New Jersey’s Abbott Preschool (Webinar)

PowerPoint presentation by W. Steven Barnett and Kwanghee Jung (PDF)
PowerPoint presentation by David Sciarra (PDF)

President Biden has issued an historic call for free, universal preschool to prepare the nation’s youngsters for kindergarten and beyond. On June 17, Education Law Center (ELC) and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) convened a panel of experts to discuss “Lessons from New Jersey’s Abbott Preschool: Building a National System of High Quality Early Education.” The webinar explored how the NJ Supreme Court-ordered Abbott Preschool Program serves as a national model for the effective delivery of high quality early education for three- and four-year olds.

The webinar focused on the most recent results from NIEER’s longitudinal study of outcomes for children enrolled in the Abbott Preschool Program (APPLES-10), along with the key elements crucial for the program’s success and what it would take to replicate New Jersey’s model across the country.

The panelists were ELC Executive Director David Sciarra, NIEER Senior Co-Director Dr. Steven Barnett, Advocates for Children of New Jersey President & CEO Cecilia Zalkind, and U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Learning Miriam Calderon. ELC Staff Attorney & Skadden Fellow Jason Pedraza moderated the discussion.


David Sciarra is lead counsel in New Jersey’s landmark Abbott v. Burke case, which secured groundbreaking rulings on school funding and facilities as well as the nation’s first court order for high quality preschool. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s three separate rulings on preschool (Abbott VAbbott VI, and Abbott VIII) two decades ago embraced then current research showing high quality preschool reduces the school-readiness gap for students in districts segregated by poverty and race and, if implemented with fidelity to standards of high quality, can yield life-long benefits. Mr. Sciarra detailed the Abbott Preschool Program’s litigation origins and the legal and policy initiatives put in place to implement the program since the early 2000’s.

Dr. Steven Barnett shared NIEER’s latest longitudinal research documenting the long-term positive outcomes, now through grade 10, of children in the preschool program for two years. These outcomes include persistent gains in academic achievement, reduction in student grade retention, and a decrease in special education placement.

Cecilia Zalkind described how a unique and broad-based coalition of advocates worked to ensure that New Jersey created a preschool program with high standards that transformed a patchwork of private and public programs into a highly effective and unified mixed delivery system.

Miriam Calderon outlined the Biden administration’s plans for free, universal preschool across the nation and explained the challenges at the federal and state level to ensure early education programs replicate the successful outcomes of Abbott Preschool.