Education Opinion

New NIEER Report Rates DC #1 in Pre-k Access

By Sara Mead — May 14, 2014 2 min read
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Yesterday the National Institute for Early Education Research released their annual “State Pre-K Yearbook,” which profiles pre-k programs, policies, enrollment, and funding across the 50 states and Washington, D.C. I’ll say more about the overall findings later, but for now I wanted to flag the report’s coverage of pre-k programs in Washington, D.C. Although NIEER has described D.C.'s preschool policies in this past, this year is the first time the yearbook has treated D.C. as a state. When compared to other states, Washington, D.C. ranks first in the country in pre-k enrollment for both 3- and 4-year-olds.

D.C. still has a long way to go in improving educational outcomes for our city’s children, but, alongside the 2013 NAEP results (which showed D.C. elementary and middle school students making significant gains that outpaced those of students in other states) and the 2013 NAEP TUDA results (which showed DCPS students making gains in both elementary and middle school math and reading that outpace their peers in other large urban districts), this week’s NIEER report provides further evidence that some exciting things are happening in education in D.C. and that the city is headed in a positive direction. I’d also wager that D.C.'s pre-k programs are playing a valuable role in contributing to positive trends in later grades, both by helping ensure that more disadvantaged kids enter school on track to succeed and by attracting more middle class families into both the DCPS and charter school systems. Right now, D.C. is pretty much the only place in the country where middle-class families have access to free, publicly funded pre-k for 3-year-olds. And I have to say that every time I visit one of our great 3- or 4-year-old pre-k classrooms, and see what our kids are doing and learning in these classrooms, I struggle to understand why there’s so much debate everywhere else about whether kids this age need or benefit from these types of experiences.

I’m also pleased to see that NIEER has adjusted its approach to evaluating the quality of D.C.'s pre-k programs to more accurately reflect how preschool works in the District and the actual quality of our city’s publicly funded charter- and DCPS-based pre-k programs. In past years many in the D.C. charter community (including me!) were frustrated by NIEER’s approach, which failed to take into account charter autonomy or how authorizers hold charter schools accountbale. It’s good to see that they’ve learned from feedback to understand how we ensure the quality of pre-k charter schools in D.C.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.