Early Learning/pre-school Educating Whole Child Education

Added value from effective #pre-k programs, reform requires courage

Where is she going?
Where is she going?

Pre-K programs, “preschool” or “junior kindergarten,” come different shapes and sizes. Understanding this structure helps to set the context for how complicated pre-K funding is in the United States. Programs in different cities, states, and around the country vary as to how they are funded, whether particular education standards are used to design programs, how the day and week are structured for students, enrollment eligibility, and how early a child can be enrolled. In most cases, pre-K programs are for either 3 or 4-year-old children. Children under 3 or 4 fall into “early learning” programs.

We know that providing students with excellent early learning opportunities are only one variable in the equation that prepares a student for a life of fulfillment. In order to make significant in roads towards closing the achievement gap and being sure all students are career and college ready, we have to address a myriad of issues that under-resourced families face. David Brooks, in his New York Times article It Takes a Generation, writes:

Over the next few years, we’ve got to spend a lot more time and money figuring out how to help people from poorer families chart a course through the teenage years.” (reference k).

Tackling these important issues will require that we understand how poverty impacts student learning. It will require that we invest in wrap-around services to support under-resourced families in their school communities. Putting more resources into pre-K and early learning programs is only one piece of a more complex puzzle.

In Georgia, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), oversees early learning and pre-K programs in the state. The program is called Bright from the Start.

On July 1, 2013, DECAL’s Quality Rated program was officially launched to parents and for the first time star ratings of rated child care programs were posted.” “Bright from the Start administers the nationally recognized Georgia’s pre-K Program, licenses child care centers and home-based child care, administers federal nutrition programs, and manages voluntary quality enhancement programs.  (DECAL website)

In 2011-12, Georgia pre-K served 82,868 students. Over the last ten years, enrollment in the Georgia pre-K program as a percentage of estimated four-year-old population has increased from 53.5% in 2002-03 to 60.2% in 2011-12, as seen in the figure below. (Governor’s Office of Student Achievement )

Governor's Office of Student Achievement
Governor’s Office of Student Achievement

Since 2002-03, the percentage of Georgia Pre-K students who are classified as “at-risk” has increased from 43.2% to 57.8%, as seen in graph below. The program now serves a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than in any other year over the last decade (see figure below).   (Governor’s Office of Student Achievement)


Governor's Office of Student Achievement
Governor’s Office of Student Achievement


Findings from a study by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) to examine the outcomes of Georgia’s pre-K program. This study was conducted in 2012, Children’s Growth and Classroom Experiences in Georgia’s PreK Program.   Some conclusions drawn from the study were:

  • Children enrolled in pre-K made statistically significant positive gains from the beginning to the end of the year on all assessment measures. The gains outpaced normal developmental growth for children their age, but as the study notes, the gains cannot be attributed fully to the program because the study design did not include a comparison group.
  • The most consistent predictor of skill attainment was a student’s level of English proficiency.
  • Other strong predictors include having a higher proportion of non‐English‐speaking children in the classroom and attending a pre‐K program in a local school system, particularly where more teachers are certified.

In summary, over the past 10 years, Georgia’s pre-K program has expanded to serve more than 60% of the four-year old population, with most of these students classified as “at-risk.” A recently published evaluation from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement shows that pre-K students made significant gains in language and literacy, mathematics, basic self-knowledge, and behavioral/social skills.  These gains were made even though they also found that classroom practice, environment, and teacher-student interactions are of mid-level quality.  Most educators in the state believe that the pre-K program is a critical linchpin for Georgia students.  (Governor’s Office of Student Achievement)

The National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University reported that three conservative states, Oklahoma, Georgia and West Virginia, were among the leaders in the number of children enrolled in publicly financed preschool and in the quality benchmarks they met.

The other program that provides support for early learning is Head Start (click here for Head Start of Georgia). Since 1965 Head Start (click here for national office of Head Start) has provided support to families that otherwise could not afford early learning programs. As indicated, research does point to the value of providing young children with high-quality early learning programs as a way to close the achievement gap that we see in their later school years. Head Start’s approach in promoting school readiness has been to provide wrap-around services to address a child’s cognitive, social-emotional, health and safety needs while supporting a family and the parents’ participation in their child’s education.

Georgia Head Start Program Statistics (http://www.georgiaheadstart.org/)

  • Head Start was funded to serve 25,749 children
  • Early Head Start was funded to serve 2,383 children
  • 26,664 children had health insurance at the end of the enrollment year
  • 23,220 children’s immunizations were up-to-date at the end of the year
  • 26,000+ children received continuous, accessible dental and medical care
  • 2,398 children received mental health assessments
  • 2,223 children with disabilities received services
  • 542 homeless families were served and 291 acquired housing
  • 24,000+ three and four-year-olds were served
  • 98% Head Start/Early Head Start classroom teachers met the degree/credential requirements
  • 89% Head Start and 81% Early Head Start assistant teachers met degree/credential requirements
  • Approximately 4,500 children are currently enrolled in blended Head Start/Pre-K programs

In Georgia, Head Start is value added to the state’s efforts to prepare all children to enter school ready to learn.  These statistics tell a fairly positive story.

On the national scene, the story is not quite so positive. With regard to pre-K programs on a national level, these are some of the statistics that paint a picture of “more work needs to be done.” (Statistics come from State of Preschool 2012, National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, http://decal.ga.gov/Default.aspx#1)

  • Total state funding for pre-K programs decreased by more than $548 million across the 40 states that offer pre-K (see figure below).
  • On average, state pre-K funding per child decreased by $442 (inflation-adjusted) from the previous year to $3,841. This is the first time since NIEER began tracking state pre-K in 2002 that funding per child spending has fallen below $4,000.
  • State funding per child for pre-K declined in 27 of 40 states with programs, when adjusted for inflation. In 13 states per-child spending fell by 10 percent or more from the previous year. Only 12 states increased funding per child in 2011-2012.
  • Only 15 states plus D.C. could be verified as providing enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards. As only about 20 percent of the children enrolled in state-funded pre-K attend those programs, the vast majority of children served are in programs where funding per child may be inadequate to provide a quality education.
  • More than 1.3 million children attended state-funded pre-K, 1.1 million at age 4.
  • In 2013, 831,440 children were enrolled in Head Start (not including the Early Head Start program designed for infants and toddlers) and 745,349 children aged three through five received IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) preschool services. (New American Foundation Report on Early Child Education)
  • Research from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has shown that more children are enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs than in any other publicly funded pre-K program: 28 percent of 4-year-olds in the U.S. are enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs; 11 percent in Head Start; 3 percent in other public pre-K programs; and 3 percent in special education, not including special education children who are also enrolled in state-funded pre-K or Head Start.
National Institute for Early Education Research
National Institute for Early Education Research


What are the major issues (including any pending federal legislation) that impact adequate preparation of young children to be school ready when they enter kindergarten?

  • Will President Obama’s plan for Early Childhood Education in the United States gain the support of the Congress? The answer appears to be no. Republicans are not likely to give him the support he needs to pass the legislation.
  • The U.S. Department of Education will receive $70.6 billion, $739 million less than FY 2013 (reference j)
    • Title 1 – $14.4 billion ($103 million decrease from FY 2013)
    • Head Start – $8.6 billion ($612 million decrease from FY 2013)
  • The omnibus bill also establishes a joint education/health and human services program competitive grant program. It will provide $250 million through the end of the calendar year for pre-K grants to states to develop or expand high quality preschool for children from families at or below 200 percent of poverty level.
  • The new mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, is trying to put forth legislation for universal pre-K in New York funded through tax increase on wealth taxpayers. What impact will this have on other cities and states?
  • Few government programs have broader appeal than preschool. A telephone poll conducted in July for the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit group that advocates early education programs, found that 60 percent of registered Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats supported a proposal to expand public preschool by raising the federal tobacco tax. (NY Times article).
  • Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, has introduced a pre-K bill that would cost $34 billion over five years. In a nod to conservative resistance to a tobacco tax, Mr. Harkin has said he is open to any funding mechanism, but he has found no Republican co-sponsors. (NY Times article)

You might conclude that there is a possibility for bipartisan support for universal pre-K programs.  Hopefully so, but don’t hold your breath given the inability of the current Congress to cooperate with one another and with the White House.  Finally, Republicans seem uninterested in supporting any legislation that will in some way put the Obama Administration is good light with the American people.  He is their enemy.  Sad but true!

The ray of hope in all of this is that Georgia’s Bright from the Start program is a trendsetter so that any national initiative may look to Georgia for guidance as we try to address what I would call a national crisis.  In addition, the work of Head Start, both in Georgia and nationally, has positively impacted children’s readiness for school.  However, the jury is still out whether politicians are ready to thrown in the towel and improve funding for Head Start programs.  Here are the pros and cons from my perspective.

Pros Cons
Some studies found that preschool not only improved children’s learning, but also had positive ripple effects for years to come, including increased lifetime wages, fewer criminal convictions, higher high school graduation rates, and increased home ownership. (Lasting Benefits of Preschool Programs, Lawrence Schweinhart) Other studies of both state-run universal preschool and federally-run Head Start programs have recorded disappointing results, showing educational advances reaped from those programs fading within one to two years. (Assessing Effectiveness of Tennessee’s Pre-Kindergarten Program: Annual Report 2008-2009)
Head Start programs address various needs that students have all of which impact their success in school, e.g. health care needs, social needs, and family needs. Does the more inclusive approach of Head Start programs dilute their educational mission? Does this spread programs too thin and diminish the gains students might see in learning?
A study and analysis from the National Institute for Early Education Research asserts that “there are real, measurable returns for money spent on quality, full-day, year-round preschool,” while James Heckman, one of the University of Chicago’s economists, “has found there is a huge cost-benefit advantage in decreased jail time for poor children who attend preschool. Preschool, in general, can lead to higher IQs, better self-esteem, and fewer behavior issues.”(Pros and Cons of Public Preschools, website)

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Let’s work on behalf of high-quality education for all Americans from birth to graduation from high school, regardless of their income status.  A good education shouldn’t only be for people who can afford to pay for their children to “independent schools.”  We need to invest in our public school systems, pre-K and beyond.  We also need to address the wrap-around services that many “at-risk” families and their children need to be “school ready.”  A nation with our wealth should not be mired in this problem.


  1. Preschool Push Moving Ahead in Many States, New York Times, February 3, 2014
  2. Georgia Pre-K: Investing in Georgia’s Four-Year-Old Students, Governor’s Report, Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, April 25, 2013, http://gosa.georgia.gov/georgia-pre-k-investing-georgias-four-year-old-students
  3. Children’s Growth and Classroom Experiences in Georgia’s PreK Program: Findings from a 2011-2012 Evaluation Study, University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, http://decal.ga.gov/documents/attachments/GAPreKEval2011-2012Report.pdf
  4. The State of Preschool 2012, National Institute for Early Education Research, http://nieer.org/publications/state-preschool-2012
  5. Bright from the Start, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, http://decal.ga.gov/Default.aspx#1
  6. New American Foundation Report on Early Child Education, http://febp.newamerica.net/background-analysis/pre-k-funding/print
  7. De Blasio, on Cuomo’s Turf, Stands By Pre-K Strategy, New York Times, January 27, 2014, De Blasio’s Strategy for PreK in New York
  8. Does Head Start Work for Kids? The bottom line. Washington Post, Valerie Strauss, March 5, 2013.
  9. Georgia Head Start Assocation, http://www.georgiaheadstart.org/
  10. National Conference of State Legislatures (FY2014 Data), reference click here
  11. It Takes A Generation, by David Brooks, January 23, 2014

2 comments on “Added value from effective #pre-k programs, reform requires courage

  1. Pingback: Investing in birth-to-age-3 #education programs is a great bet! | Center for Teaching

  2. Pingback: @NatlHeadStart, early learning programs making a difference! | Center for Teaching

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