The NC Pre-K Program began in 2001 with the intention of providing high-quality education and promoting school readiness for four-year-olds of low-income families in North Carolina. This program highlights the following development domains and aspects of a child’s well-being and success, including:
- Play and learning
- Emotional and social development
- Health and physical development
- Language development and communication
- Cognitive development
On Wednesday, March 8th, Dr. Ellen Peisner-Feinberg spoke at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surrounding her research with the NC Pre-K Program and the advantages that it presents to young children. Through this presentation I learned that NC Pre-K is a form of targeted early childhood education where low-income populations are identified and offered opportunities to prepare their four-year-old children for future schooling. Another example of these government-funded preschool programs includes universal pre-k where programs are provided to all four-year-old children statewide (regardless of family income). This is the case in the state of Georgia and Dr. Peisner-Feinberg noted that there are advantages to each differing policy in terms of funding and childhood benefits, a topic that she mentioned that she was frequently asked about in her talks about education policy and early childhood development.
With government-funded policy, such as NC Pre-K, how can we ensure that students are equipped with high-quality preschool education?
This consumes much of Dr. Peisner-Feinberg’s research today as she is responsible for evaluating NC Pre-K programs and analyzing the statistics associated with this early childhood education. Over the past sixteen years of working alongside policy reform, she has seen an enormous growth in these pre-k programs, especially noted through the increase in B-K certified teachers, a greater abundance of resources within the classrooms, heightened teacher-student instructional interactions, and a push for qualified professionals to work within these early preschool programs. This classroom environment is assessed through the Early Childhood Education Rating Scale, demonstrating that the vast majority of NC Pre-K classrooms are of high-quality. The professionals working in this system adhere to early learning standards, attend professional development, provide developmental screenings and referrals, teach via evidence-based curriculum and formative assessments, and monitor the health and well-being of the children.
When looking at the data from child learning and assessments, many of these program evaluations look at the differences between children enrolled in and not enrolled in these programs and the long-term effects that preschool has had on students. Dr. Peisner-Feinberg also noted that NC Pre-K programs were especially helpful for students who are considered a minority in some areas, including those who are dual language learners (encouraging greater gains in their English proficiency) and those identified with IEPs (about 5% of students enrolled in NC Pre-K).
As students who qualify for NC Pre-K continue through elementary, middle, and high school, I found it interesting how studies still strive to track their progress in classrooms, their test scores, and placement in Exceptional Children’s (EC) programs. Going into sixteen years of funding NC Pre-K, this year early education policy researchers are planning to perform a secondary analysis of students who participated in these programs but are graduating from high school. Dr. Peisner-Feinberg also mentioned how there would be another study looking at the effects of NC Pre-K programs on 3rd grade End-of-Grade test scores. With the wealth of research tracking the effects of government-funded early childhood programs on future schooling, I found it interesting how Dr. Peisner-Feinberg answered an attendee’s question regarding her belief that researchers should be content with success in experiences immediately following preschool, opposed to those milestones that are later measured in 3rd, 5th, 8th, or even 12th grade. While I hadn’t considered this prior to Dr. Peisner-Feinberg’s talk, preschool is really one of the only “grades” where researchers heavily study the implications through one’s secondary education and even into early adulthood. With the advancement of these programs, we should strive to ensure that all children have an opportunity for early childhood education and should value the strides that programs present for children going into their kindergarten and early elementary school years.