Middle school-students who were enrolled in Tulsa’s prekindergarten program as 4-year-olds were more likely to be enrolled in honors courses, and were less likely to be retained in a grade compared to their peers who were not enrolled in pre-K. That’s according to the latest study to find long-lasting benefits from high quality early-childhood education.
The study, “The Effects of Tulsa’s Pre-K Program on Middle School Student Performance,” was published last month in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
The researchers examined about 2,000 children who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2006. (Excluded from the study were children who attended a Head Start program run by the Community Action Project of Tulsa, or Tulsa CAP. Tulsa CAP children have been the subject of other studies by the same team, but this latest study sought to examine the impact of children who were in the school district’s regular pre-K program.)
Overall, 6 percentage points more pre-K children enrolled in honors courses compared to youth who had not attended prekindergarten. There was a small positive impact on standardized math test scores, and also a 7 percentage point reduction in grade retention. (Sixteen percent of former pre-K students were retained, compared to 23 percent for youth who had not enrolled in pre-K.)
The program also showed some evidence of diminishing effects over time—the pre-K programs effects on reading test scores, letter grades, special education, designation as a gifted student, absenteeism, and suspensions were statistically zero.
But it’s noteworthy that the Tulsa program does have benefits that are measurable, compared to studies of other state-run preschool programs, such as the one in Tennessee, the study said.
So what makes Tulsa stand out compared to other programs where prekindergarten benefits fade after a few years? William Gormley, the study’s lead author and the co-director of Georgetown University’s Center for Research on Children in the United States, has a few hypotheses.
One is that Tulsa’s program is noteworthy for its quality. Oklahoma has one of the nation’s oldest universal prekindergarten programs, and under state law, all teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and be certified in early-childhood education. State law also requires child/staff ratios be maintained at 10 to 1. And in Tulsa’s prekindergarten classrooms, teachers spent a lot of time on academic subjects compared to other school-based preschool programs elsewhere, the researchers said.
Another important factor, Gormley said: most children in Tulsa attend preschool, and that means that kindergarten teachers were able to adapt their lessons to reflect and amplify what children had learned as preschoolers.
“Tulsa’s pre-K program helps struggling students to keep their heads above water and helps excellent students to advance at a more rapid rate,” Gormley said. “A pre-K program that continues to boost math outcomes nearly a decade later is a big plus in a world that increasingly values STEM skills.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.