Children who attend Georgia’s universal Pre-K program have significantly better outcomes on language, math, and general skills, according to a rigorous evaluation by researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
“Results showed that participation in Georgia’s Pre-K Program significantly improved children’s school readiness skills across most domains of learning,” the authors write. Using a regression analysis to account for differences in age, gender, ethnicity, race, family income, the education level of the primary caregiver, learning disabilities, English language proficiency, and the type of Pre-K provider, they examined nearly 2,000 children, comparing those who had been enrolled in Pre-K and were just entering Kindergarten and those just after the cutoff date who were about to enter Pre-K. They found that the average scores on a variety of tests were a half a standard deviation above the norm for those who had been in the program, while for those who hadn’t attended the scores were at or slightly below the norm.
In particular, children who had been in Georgia’s preschool program saw large effects on their test scores for letter knowledge, letter-word identification, phonemic awareness, and counting, with medium effects on phonological awareness, math problem-solving, and basic self-knowledge, which the authors write suggests “that these are meaningful differences.” There were no effects found on behavior skills. The researchers also ran two supplementary analyses to test the robustness of their findings and found the same outcomes.
Georgia was one of the first states to offer universal preschool when it started the program in 1995. It serves over 81,000 four-year-olds a year of all income levels. The state-funded program also comes with guidelines for quality, as classes have to be six and a half hours a day, class sizes are limited to 20-22 children for each lead teacher and assistant teacher team, lead teachers are required to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree in early childhood education, and there are minimum salary requirements for lead teachers based on credentials.
Georgia’s results mirror findings from other high-quality universal preschool programs. Oklahoma’s program, which has been in place since 1998, has been shown by a variety of research to improve cognitive, academic, and emotional skills, which has been strongly attributed to enrollment in the program. Because Chicago’s program increases children’s earnings later in life and reduces their chances of incarceration, it yields about $11 for every dollar spent on it. Other studies have found that universal preschool generates about $7 in savings for every dollar spent. Research has also shown that programs can boost human capital, children’s mobility, and economic output.
Some states have caught on and are pushing forward with their own universal plans, such as in California, Indiana, Maine, New York, and South Carolina. But President Obama wants to bring these programs to all of the country’s children with a national universal preschool effort.