- A federally funded preschool partnership between five Massachusetts school districts and community-based early-childhood programs led to positive impacts on young children’s early academic performance, especially literacy and math skills, according to a study released Wednesday.
- Gains were strongest among children whose home language was not English and who didn’t have any prior early-learning classroom experience, according to the researchers with Abt Associates, who compared a sample of children who entered the Preschool Expansion Grant program in 2016-17 with a group that just missed the age cutoff date for that year. Effects on vocabulary were smaller, but still significant, while effects on executive function were not significant.
- Collaboration between the districts and the preschool centers allowed them to “quickly implement multiple quality components,” according to the study. Early educators also had access to professional learning opportunities, coaching and paid release time for planning, which contributed to a “rich learning environment for children,” the researchers wrote.
Massachusetts was one of 13 states in 2014 that received funds for expansion through the Preschool Development Grant program, administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Another five received initial development grants. According to a 2018 progress report on the program, the funding had contributed to an increase in children served from 34,000 in 2015 to 52,717 children in 2018.
Experts have been watching, however, whether state officials are developing and implementing plans to continue providing the same level of preschool access once the grant funds dry up.
Last year’s State Preschool Yearbook from the National Institute for Early Education Research noted eight of those 18 states indicated plans to use state or other funding streams to maintain enrollment levels, nine were working on plans and one did not have a plan.
“It remains to be seen how the loss of federal PDG funding will affect access to high quality preschool for children in low-income families,” the authors wrote.
While most states also received funding through the PDG Birth to 5 grant to conduct a needs assessment — and 26 states and territories will receive renewal or planning grants as part of that program — those funds are targeted more toward building stronger early-childhood systems and strengthening connections between programs.
In Boston, one of the five Massachusetts communities that expanded preschool through the PDG program, Mayor Marty Walsh has made universal pre-K a high priority, allocating $15 million last year for classrooms in both schools and community-based programs — a “mixed-delivery” model supported by the new study.
“This research provides the field with important information about the feasibility of implementing high-quality preschool through collaborations between public schools and private early education programs,” the authors wrote, “and provides additional evidence about the benefits of high-quality prekindergarten for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.”