The topic of Pre-K has been hotly debated for many years. Should it be universal? What regulations should there be? Is it even beneficial?
Dr. Peisner-Feinberg, who has worked with the NC Pre-K Program (formerly More at Four) for about 16 years, spoke to some of these questions when she visited UNC Wednesday.
She presented the research her team has been doing over the years about the NC Pre-K Program which is state-funded and targeted for at-risk students (90% of the participants qualify for free or reduced lunch). The statistics showed that students did benefit from the program both short and long term, that stricter regulations (e.g. teacher licensure) has been enforced successfully, and that it benefits students who start the program with a lower base knowledge more than those who come in with a higher level of subject understanding.
The most interesting fact to me, though, was that while it is shown students who participate in NC Pre-K perform better in math later on, there is no obvious benefit in vocabulary, letter identification, or other reading skills. Why is it that math skills can be directly impacted by the program, but not language skills? Is it because of the program or something else? And can it be changed or will no Pre-K effort impact long-term language and literacy developments?
Interestingly enough, I recently had to analyze an experiment in my Child Psychology course about this very topic. In the experiment, researchers studied how the frequency and features of shared reading time (a teacher reading to a class of students and engaging in conversation about the text) impacted how the students developed language and literacy skills through kindergarten and third grade. The results of the study found that the higher the number of shared reading times per week, the better children did on language and literacy tests in kindergarten, but how the shared reading time was structured did not have much of an impact. Also, there were no long-term effects observed in third grade. This study also focused on at-risk students.
The combination of these two findings makes me wonder if it is not a problem with NC Pre-K that is resulting in the difference between math and reading results, but rather it is that children are not biologically capable of making huge advancements in reading at that age. Or maybe, the current way we have of teaching reading to preschool students is not the way they are equipped to learn it.
I could be wrong, but I think it is very interesting to look at how people learn to read and how the brain is developing at that stage in life.
It is also important to keep in mind what Dr. Peisner-Feinberg said, though, “If long-term effects of third grade achievements are not found, we don’t say ‘okay let’s get rid of third grade then since it isn’t doing any good.’ No, Pre-K is the only time we say it has to show long-term effects to be proven worthwhile.”
Shouldn’t we be satisfied if Pre-K is doing enough to prepare kids for kindergarten- the next step in their academic careers?