NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ— Positive effects children experience from attending a New Jersey universal preschool program persist through tenth grade, according to new research by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and published this week in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
Researchers found “substantial positive effects” in language arts and literacy, mathematics, and science, and a significant reduction in students being held back a grade among children who attended a high-quality universal a preschool program in low-income urban communities.
Positive effects on achievement were much stronger for children who attended the program for two years beginning at age 3 than for those with just one year at age 4.
Five features that scholars have suggested might increase the likelihood of persistent positive effects for children are present in the New Jersey-based Abbott preschool program:
- Duration: a full-day, two-year program with wrap-around child care.
- Quality: high expectations focused on broad, deep domains of learning with aligned standards for learning and teaching; specialized teachers and leaders who are well-prepared and adequately compensated; small class sizes; supportive services including family engagement.
- Continuous improvement: A system for continuous planning, review and change supported by tools aligned with standards and curriculum including self-assessment, in-class coaching, and use of data on classroom quality and children’s learning from the individual to the state level.
- Universal but focused on the most disadvantaged: the program sought to serve all children in communities with relatively high concentrations of poverty.
- Follow-on: Investments were simultaneously made to raise the quality of education in kindergarten and the subsequent grades and to intentionally build on pre-K gains.
In the context of the broader literature, authors W. Steven Barnett and Kwanghee Jung suggest that all five features working in concert with each other may explain the greater persistence of sizeable benefits for children found in this study compared to some others.
This study adds to the evidence that large-scale publicly-funded preschool program can produce lasting benefits when properly designed, funded, and implemented. Policymakers should look closely at the features and contexts that may contribute to preschool program effectiveness.
The National Institute for Early Education Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick, NJ, supports early childhood education policy and practice through independent, objective research and the translation of research to policy and practice.