Historically, correlations between early learning and educational success rates have proven true. From 1962-1967, a group of Michigan educators and stakeholders formed the Perry Preschool Project, which provided higher quality early education to 3-and-4-year-old black children. The curriculum, focusing on active learning in problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking, achieved exemplary success among the trial group. Following the group to age 27, participants were less likely to be incarcerated, experience out-of-wedlock births, and receive government assistance by the time they reached their postsecondary careers. In terms of educational success, the trial group had about a 39 percent difference in IQ between those who did not enter the program.
As student achievement levels continue a stagnant, and sometimes downward, trend among minorities, lawmakers are hoping to channel some of the same benefits seen in programs like the Perry Preschool Project. Last month, Congressional lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that would expand the number of, and access to, high-quality early learning programs for low-income and minority children. The bill would give federal funding to states that offer pre-K programs to 3-and-4-year olds from low-to-moderate household incomes, and states would determine how to disseminate that money.
The intent for many of these programs seems to eliminate the explicit socio-economic gap between children of color and their white counterparts who’ve learned to read and write earlier in higher quality programs. For English-language learners, the lack of higher quality programs impacts them more because it’s difficult to catch up to native English speakers and to other children who are more prepared, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. The report shows that if English-language learners enter first grade reading one year behind their native English speakers, that gap widens and becomes even more pronounced in high school.
It’s important to know that this perpetual drift in reading and math achievement goes beyond poverty. Perhaps, as high-quality pre-K programs are expanded and made more accessible, we’ll see more progress in low-income student achievement as well.
Cherise Lesesne, guest blogger, is a research assistant for American Institutes for Research (AIR), where she provides support for the development of K-12 state assessments. She can be reached via email.