States Improving Pre-K Education Quality and Access, But What Happens Next?

Early Learning

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This is a guest blog post by Matt Weyer, a policy specialist in NCSL’s Education Program. 

With state pre-k investments increasing to nearly $7 billion dollars nationally (and up 12 percent from 2014-2015), states have been at the forefront of improving educational outcomes for three- and four-year-olds.

Increasing access and improving quality have been the foundational goals for this effort as high-quality pre-k increases students’ achievement compared to students not receiving high-quality pre-k, especially for those living in poverty and who are non-native English speakers.

But what about when these students enter kindergarten and beyond? Fade-out effects can best be described as the “fading out” of the beneficial effects of high-quality pre-k once a student enters a k-third grade system that lacks in quality. Indicators of k-3 systems lacking in quality include half-day kindergarten, high student-to-teacher ratios and more.

For example, research demonstrates that children attending full-day kindergarten significantly outperform their peers who attend half-day. Currently, 14 states plus Washington, D.C., require full-day kindergarten.

Statistics such as these are the result of a new k-third grade database and report from the Education Commission of the States in partnership with NCSL and several other national leaders and organizations in the early childhood education field.

Other statistics reveal that states range in their teacher-to-student ratios in k-3 from 1:15 up to 1:33 (generally, ranges of 1:15-1:20 are recommended for the best educational results). Facilitating transitions from pre-k to kindergarten have become increasingly important; five states require pre-k providers to complete written transition plans, focusing on students’ strengths and weaknesses as they enter kindergarten.

This database and report are great resources for state legislators and legislative staff to better understand where their state stands on a variety of k-3 education policies and what states to look to for innovative practices and policies.

For more information, check out the Early Learning and Support webpage for links to policy briefs, legislative tracking, research, resources and news articles relating to pre-kindergarten through third grade education issues, and the Early Care and Education webpage for birth-pre-k coverage. 

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