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Early Childhood

Full-Day Pre-K Boosts Readiness Skills More Than Half-Day, Study Finds

By Christina A. Samuels — November 25, 2014 3 min read
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Three and 4-year-olds who went through a seven-hour a day preschool program demonstrated higher scores on tests of social-emotional skills, language, math, and physical development than young children who attended a program for three hours a day, according to a study released Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Assocation.

The children in the longer program also had higher rates of daily attendance, and lower rates of chronic absences, said Arthur J. Reynolds, the study’s lead author and the co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative, a partnership of the University of Minnesota and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota. The collaborative conducts research on social policy and early-childhood development.

The preschool programs that were part of this study mark a revival and modernization of one of the most well-researched early-education programs, the Chicago Child-Parent Centers. The CPCs, along with Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich., and the Abecedarian program in Chapel Hill, N.C., tracked the well-being of preschool students well into their adult lives.

Though the Chicago Child-Parent Centers showed long-lasting positive results for the children who participated, Chicago started to close down the programs because of population shifts and reallocation of Title I funds. However, a $15 million federal Investing in Innovation grant in 2011 brought the program back to life in some schools in Chicago, as well sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Now called the Midwest Child-Parent Centers, the programs are now part of a school-reform effort that is intended to create an academically-rich program for children from preschool through 3rd grade, Reynolds said.

The JAMA study focused on a group of about 1,000 black and Hispanic children, most of whom were low-income. They were enrolled in 11 Chicago public schools, either for a full day or a half day.

The researchers solicited principals who would be willing to buy into the full-day program, and sustain it with some of their own funds, Reynolds said. The benefit for principals, in addition to having children more prepared for kindergarten, was using full-day preschool as a lure for families to come to the school and keep their children there.

The preschool teachers received the same salary and have the same educational background as other teachers in the school. The teachers and aides who worked with the children were also supported by professional development provided by the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development located in Chicago.

The children were assessed on seven elements of school readiness. Researchers also tracked their attendance and parental involvement. On all the indicators except for literacy and cognitive development, the children in the full-day program scored better than their part-day peers. Full-day participants scored an average of 81 percent on the total school-readiness measure, compared to 59 percent for their part-day peers.

Close to 86 percent of the full-day students attended class every day, compared to 80 percent of the part-day students. Twenty-one percent of the full-day students were chronically absent compared to 38 percent of the half-day students. (Chronic absence was defined as missing 20 percent or more of the school year.)

Parental involvement was the same between the two groups.

The study compared students for just one school year, 2012-13. The researchers plan to continue following the students to find out if the gains that appear in the preschool year persist as the children continue through elementary school. Previous research of other preschool programs, such as the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program and the Head Start Impact Study, have shown that the early impacts of preschool appear largely to have faded out by 3rd grade.

Reynolds said he hopes that creating a whole-school reform model will mitigate any “fade out” effects, because the children will be getting a strong curriculum from preschool up to age 8 or 9. “We want to see if we can get the sustainability of the benefits,” he said.

In other research news, a recent study also found increased literacy skills among children who attend full-day kindergarten compared to those who attend a half-day program.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.