The True Benefits of Preschool
Vol. 14 No. 4
Perhaps your school has a preschool, or is thinking about adding one. Perhaps you see preschool as a doorway into full enrollment at your school. But is it worth it? In short, does it meet the needs of your families, your students, and your school’s mission?
Academic leaders, parents, and researchers believe a quality preschool program improves skills like simple math and phonics, and prepares children for the social and emotional behaviors as they enter kindergarten and elementary school. For example, a study in Virginia last year, including more than 20,000 students in a government-funded preschool program, indicated that children in the system showed great improvements in alphabet recognition. But do the benefits of preschool extend into student experience in later schooling?
Recent research, Impact of North Carolina's Early Childhood Programs and Policies on Educational Outcomes in Elementary School published in the journal Child Development, indicates yes, they do. The study tracked students in North Carolina who attended state-funded programs between 1995 and 2010. The results showed that children who had attended preschool had higher test scores and a lower chance of being held back a grade, with gains shown through at least the fifth grade.
Another study performed in Oklahoma, The Effects of Tulsa’s CAP Head Start Program on Middle-School Academic Outcomes and Progress, was published in Developmental Psychology. This research showed that students who attended Head Start had higher test scores on state math tests through the eighth grade.
On an international level, data released earlier this year shows that 15-year-olds who attended preprimary school scored better on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) math test than those students who didn’t attend preschool. But interpretation of the data is inconclusive when attempting to determine country-to-country patterns.
Other studies, however, have shown that, overall, the benefits of a preschool education don’t carry over into elementary school or beyond. The most notable research report here is A Randomized Control Trial of a Statewide Voluntary Prekindergarten Program on Children’s Skills and Behaviors through Third Grade, prepared by the Peabody Research Institute/Vanderbilt University. The findings in that study indicated that, by the end of second grade, those students who attended state-funded preschool fared worse than those who did not.
The discrepancy in research findings ostensibly comes down to the quality of the preschool program. The long-term benefits of preschool depend not only on the quality of your preschool, but on how well your elementary school builds on the foundations established by the program.
Here are key questions to ask to determine the quality of your program—and expose areas that may require enhancement.
- Does your school respond to parent requests for individual attention, especially in the preschool? If you fail to respond sympathetically, parents may question or criticize your school’s “academic standards.” The effectiveness of your program almost always depends on effective teacher-student interaction. Make sure your preschool staff members have been trained in early child development and education.
- Do you have a parent education program that tells your parents the importance of your preschool’s program? Continually forward information to your preschool parents about the importance of readiness and appropriate developmental programs. Highlight the importance of socialization, following directions, and love of learning as opposed to joyless scholastic drill. Many schools can certainly do more to share the values of their preschool programs.
- Does your lower school administer standardized tests to gauge reading and math achievement? What are the test results? An effective preschool program will have a positive impact on those test scores. If your scores are good, this demonstrates that your teachers are properly attending to early education academics. Be sure to share the scores with parents to validate your program.
- Are your preschool students getting enough computer time? Many believe children are too exposed to technology today—but a proficiency in the use of computers is a fact of life. Parents are incredibly aware of the importance placed on the use of technology in our society, and they want their children to be properly taught concerning its use. Even in preschool, students are expected to have a facility with technology. In preparation for kindergarten and lower school, it’s now a prerequisite.
Meeting the needs of students requires the goodwill of both parents and schools. Nothing less will serve these children and keep them in your school. And it all starts with your preschool program!
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Advancement Vol. 10 No. 2 Kindergarten Is the New First Grade
ISM Research Full-Day Kindergarten and Academic Achievement 2010
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 40 No. 11 Three Hallmarks That Lead Parents to Choose Your School
I&P Vol. 27 No. 14 Creative Ways to Demonstrate Programmatic Success