Preschool and Early Reading
How Obama Can Learn From New Jersey's Expensive Effort to Narrow the Achievement Gap
In his March 10 speech laying out his education agenda, President Barack Obama established expanded and higher-quality preschool education as the plan’s "first pillar." That sensible foundation is consistent with Mr. Obama’s broader orientation of building on ideas that have proven successful in practice. There is now strong evidence that high-quality preschool enables children from even the most disadvantaged families to do better in the grades that follow.
The debate over the federal role in improving education would be illuminated by learning from some high-poverty school districts in New Jersey that have built on this first pillar. Their test results demonstrate that high-quality preschool connected organically to intensive literacy instruction in the primary grades can be very effective.
When New Jersey’s No Child Left Behind-mandated reading and writing test was first given to 3rd graders in 2004, for example, only 62.2 percent of Union City, N.J., students were proficient, against 79.3 percent for the state as a whole. Last year, Union City’s 3rd graders narrowed that gap to only 4 percentage points (82 percent vs. 86 percent). Elizabeth, the state’s fourth-largest city, showed even greater improvement, moving from 59 percent proficiency in 2004, to 80 percent in 2008. And Orange, N.J., an overwhelmingly African-American district, improved from 66.4 percent proficiency on the same test in 2004, to...
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- Princeton Public School District, Princeton, NJ
- Assistant/Associate Professor, Literacy
- Regis University, Denver, CO
- Director of School Support
- The Achievement Network, Multiple Locations
- Elementary Principal
- Forest Grove School District, Forest Grove, OR
- Perspectives Charter Schools, Chicago, IL