How Texas can improve its pre-k programs

From Raise Your Hand Texas:

How Texas stacks up on pre-k

Raise Your Hand Texas recently released a report highlighting research-driven practices proven effective in public pre-kindergarten programs across the country, and comparing how Texas’ pre-k program stacks up. “Pre-Kindergarten for the Modern Age: A scalable, affordable, high-quality plan for Texas” was prepared by Dr. Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and a leading expert on early childhood education.

The report shows that Texas currently has in place few of the elements of high-quality public pre-k programs and collects very little data on program quality. With regards to statewide policy and funding, Texas only partially meets three of the eight elements of effective pre-k programs. The report recommends a series of policy changes to improve the quality and impact of the state’s pre-k program, starting with the need to expand our statewide commitment from half-day to full-day for at-risk children currently eligible for public pre-k.

“The current, rigorous research is clear – there is no longer any question that publicly funded, high-quality pre-k programs play a critical role in closing the achievement gap, both in the short and long-term, and that states are getting these results in a cost-sustainable manner” said Dr. Pianta.

The report’s recommendations include:

  1. Fund high-quality, targeted full-day pre-k for currently eligible students
  2. Implement structural quality elements such as:
    • required standards and curricula
    • pre-k specific preparation and professional development for teachers
    • effective adult-child ratios to promote learning
  3. Require uniform measurement, data collection and oversight
    • require participation in Texas Student Data System
    • require districts to collect and report data regarding children’s learning and teachers’ skills
    • provide sufficient staff to ensure effective program management and oversight

According to the report, multi-state evaluations demonstrate “academic gains can be maintained at least through third grade and in many instances, beyond.” To achieve those types of gains, the report says Texas must commit additional staff resources: “No state with a pre-k program has less state-level capacity (in terms of absolute numbers of staff) to monitor and oversee pre-k than does Texas – even states as small as Delaware.”1

“Providing currently eligible populations with access to high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten probably represents the single most powerful reform tool at our disposal to give every Texas child a fair shot at success in school and in life, and to improve performance in public schools across the state,” said Dr. David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas.

To learn more, and to download the full research report or executive summary, please visit

The full report is here. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

As an example of the new wave of programs with results, an analysis of the impact of five state-funded preschool programs on young children’s school readiness in Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia showed 31% more annual growth in vocabulary skills for children enrolled in pre-k when compared to those who did not attend preschool.1 Increases in math and early literacy skills were also pronounced, showing 44% and 85% more annual growth, respectively.2

And a recent analysis combining results from 123 early childhood program evaluation studies estimated the short-term (one-year) impact of early learning programs to be about half the poverty achievement gap* , the equivalent of a four-year-old jumping from the 30th percentile to the 50th percentile on achievement tests.3

Notably, recent evaluations have demonstrated that gains can be sustained through elementary school and beyond. Although fade-out of program effects had been cited previously as evidence of preschool’s limited effectiveness, it is now clear that fade-out is far more likely a function of the stunning variation in quality of programs than in the value of pre-k per se.

Recent and rigorous research evaluations from multiple states, including studies of Texas programs, demonstrate that academic gains can be maintained at least through third grade and in many instances, beyond. Of note, in some evaluations the benefits of pre-k extend into early adulthood, with improved outcomes such as educational attainment and cognitive performance.4

In other words, the most current research indicates that high-quality pre-k programs can lead to significant and sustained gains for young children. Based on recent programs and rigorous research, there is no longer any question that publicly funded pre-k programs hold enormous potential for closing skills gaps, both in the short and long-term.

Notably, the contemporary statewide programs that show the impacts noted above are all funded at levels considered sustainable by state legislators. In other words, these programs are not “Cadillac” or boutique models with excessive costs that exceed state allocations or are offered to small select groups of children. Rather, they typically operate at per-pupil costs no greater than those of the K-12 system and still achieve these benefits.

What’s more, these investments in early education return financial benefits downstream. Analyses of various statewide and experimental studies estimate a total return on investment between $3-7 saved per child for each dollar spent on pre-k.5

Findings consistently show that the benefits of high-quality programs significantly exceed the costs by producing immediate improvements in school readiness, cuts in school spending related to retention and special education, and long-term impacts related to reduced delinquency and increased productivity.6

These benefits over the lifetime have been estimated to lead to savings of $9,901 per participant taking into account short, middle, and long-term outcomes, making pre-k a highly cost-effective intervention.7

Moreover, the rate of return on investments in quality pre-k is larger than other well-known educational expenditures, such as class size reduction.8

And although pre-k helps all children, it seems particularly beneficial for children who are low-income or dual language learners,9 which is a significant and growing percentage of the
Texas student population. So not only does pre-k work, the most recent research also makes it clear that quality preschool, especially for those children most at-risk for school failure, is a wise investment.10

Sounds pretty good, wouldn’t you say? Too bad we’re not going to get anything like this in Texas. But at least now the Early Matters folks have a blueprint for what they might want to achieve in Harris County.

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