More for Four, in theory at least.
Recently, I was able to attend a talk by Dr. Ellen Peisner-Feinberg on her research study of the Evaluation of the NC Pre K Program, formerly known as More for Four. This is a targeted program that is specifically aimed towards students with disadvantages. This constitutes those living in poverty, having a language learning impairment, and many others.
North Carolina has about a half million children living in poverty, that is about 23%. 1 out of 12 states have a number this high. Although NAEP scores at grade 4 in North Carolina were not very different from the national average, we still have 62% that are still below proficient in reading and 56% below proficient in math. However, 95% of English Language Learners were below proficient on NAEP scores. North Carolina also ranks 43rd in the nation for how much it is spending per a child. Should we be looking earlier than Kindergarten to fix these inequalities?
ECE program research finds higher reading and math achievement scores, less of a likelihood to be retained in a grade, and better physical health. However, these findings were only small scale such as Abecedarian, Perry Preschool, and Chicago Parent Child Centers. NC Pre K program is targeted to children <75% SMI and other risk factors such as a chronic health condition or limited English proficiency. It is offered in a variety of school settings such as public schools, private, and Head Start. It has an approved curriculum, developed screening, and ongoing assessment. It has improved enormously through the years, with 40% B-K licensed teachers in the 2003-2004 year vs. 85% in 2015-2016. Only 8% of teachers had no licensure in 2015-2016.
Looking at the data, the researchers found that global classroom quality (ECERS-R total) mostly averaged in the medium-high range and similar data was found for emotional support and classroom organization. Only instructional support was skewed towards the low-medium range.
What are the short term effects of this pre-k program? A regression discontinuity design study was created between groups just entering and just leaving the program. RDD showed a slight difference in applied programs but a very large discontinuity in letter word ID. They also looked at possible long term effects and found that significant differences in third grade EOG scores. They also wondered if NC Pre-K was more effective for certain groups than others. Children that had the lowest proficiency entering the pre-k program showed the greatest and most improvement at the end of the program.
Now, Dr. Ellen Peisner-Feinberg ended the talk with this powerful quote.
If we found the scores of third graders to be too high, we wouldn’t cut out the third grade. But why are we doing that to pre-k?
Why isn’t pre-k a more prominent and enforced program, both in North Carolina and around the country. If the data has shown pre-k to have such positive and lasting effects on children and their education, why don’t more parents enroll their students in similar programs? Could it be that they are not aware of these results? In that case, I hope this becomes more publicized and parents are made more aware.