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Universal Pre-K: Bipartisan Support vs. Washington’s Priorities

In today’s political climate, common ground on any issue is hard to come by—especially when it comes to education.

But there are certain avenues of compromise that have the power to inspire successful, bi-partisan initiatives, says early childhood learning expert David Jacobson in a recent commentary for Education Week:

“Common ground is emerging where conservative commitments to character formation, strong families, and local solutions meet liberal commitments to services that help low-income families overcome obstacles to improving their quality of life.”

One area rife for across-the-isle support is the expansion of pre-Kindergarten learning programs.

Jacobson cites a poll taken during the 2016 election by early childhood advocacy group the First Five Years Fund which showed broad agreement among both Trump and Clinton supporters on expanding pre-kindergarten opportunities throughout the country.

Add to that dozens of studies showing the positive effects of pre-K programs on young students, and a solid argument emerges for prioritizing pre-K in America’s schools.

Pre-K shows real benefits

According to a report released last month by the Brookings Institution, more than 4.5 million three and four year-olds attended pre-school programs—either private or public—in 2014. Another 3.7 million currently do not attend formal pre-school programs.

The benefits experienced by students who did attend pre-school show the value of these programs in better-preparing students for kindergarten and other grades, according to Brookings:

  • Poor and disadvantaged students and English-language learners saw the most improvement by the end of their pre-K programs.
  • Students who attended pre-K programs were more prepared for Kindergarten and beyond–especially when it comes to literacy and numeracy–than those that didn’t.
  • Students who attended pre-K programs also showed improvement in social-emotional skills, but more research needs to be done in this area.

Not all programs are equal

While preschools in general have proved their value in improving students’ preparation for elementary school, the Brookings report notes that some programs are better than others.

To identify the most effective ways to roll out pre-K programs, Brookings calls for expanded early-learning research. Some evidence already exists.

As Claudio Sanchez reports in Mind/Shift, successful pre-K programs focus on “evidenced-based curriculums” and strong teacher training and evaluation. They also combine social-emotional tenets like play, art, and movement activities with more rigorous lessons on counting and the foundations of reading.

Taking the lead on pre-K

With more than 1.3 million students enrolled in public pre-school in 42 states, it’s clear that local school communities, parents, and states see value in pre-K programs.

Many educators see pre-K as a bridge between students’ lives at home and their elementary education. “Home-based parenting and other community interactions are good,” former school superintendent Dr. Gerald Dawkins recently told us, “but we need to ensure students have a better transition from home life to kindergarten.” It’s why many education leaders have called for a national, universal pre-K program.

While universal pre-K appeared in previous presidential candidates’ stump speeches, neither Congress nor the Trump administration have made early learning a priority, at least not early in the current administration.

In the absence of a national initiative, local districts can take the lead on improving early childhood learning. That starts with a conversation with your community and solid research into what works.

Does your school or district currently offer pre-K programs? What steps, if any, are you taking to improve pre-school initiatives? Tell us in the comments.