Make no mistake, prekindergarten education is critical to a child's future academic success. But not just any pre-K; instead, early education where quality is paramount accomplishes the long-term benefits that are sought.
As discussed in a recent New York Times op-ed, curricula that actively engage children's minds make the difference. Accordingly, preschoolers are more inclined to retain knowledge and learning techniques beyond their kindergarten years when they are immersed in an early-learning environment where, for example:
This is the case in Boston where research indicated that preschoolers there were four to seven months more advanced in reading and mathematics. These accomplishments were identified as factors contributing to the city's pre-kindergartners narrowing the achievement gap on Massachusetts' third-grade examinations: approximately 27 percent more scored "proficient" or better on the state's tests.
The successes in Boston are mirrored in other parts of the country: Michigan, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Okla. have noted comparable outcomes. More specifically, results from New Jersey showed that when children from low-income families attend quality preschool programs the achievement gap is reduced by up to 30 percent at the fifth-grade level when measured against the nationwide average. The benefit was more enduring in Chicago, Ill., where high school students who were enrolled in the city's Child-Parent Centers' pre-K program had a graduation rate 29 percent higher than their peers who were not.
Early education that is less rigorous does not produce similar long-term benefits, however. In Tennessee, for instance, children enrolled in state preschool programs made significant progress in reading, mathematics, and language. But none of these advantages was noticeable by the end of their kindergarten years. And they remained absent when the children were evaluated at the third-grade level.
There is a remarkable distinction in how preschool children in Boston and Tennessee are educated. Tennessee's method lacks a systematic strategy, and essentially, "each teacher is inventing pre-K on her own," observed Dale Farran, a Vanderbilt University professor and one of the researchers who conducted the study of the children enrolled in the state's preschool program. Conversely, Boston's approach is more wholesome. Teachers are trained in child development and mentored in their profession by more experienced educators. The city's commitment is equally evident in its curriculum, which emphasizes children's active participation in learning. "Too often, children sit in a circle and the adult does all the talking," chides Dr. Jason Sachs, Director of Early Childhood Education for Boston Public Schools.