A new study by faculty member Ellen Peisner-Feinberg that found meaningful benefits for children enrolled in Pennsylvania’s pre-K program was profiled by the education publication Chalkbeat and the WHYY public radio station in Philadelphia.
Peisner-Feinberg led the statewide evaluation of the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts program, finding that children who participated in the program had significantly higher levels of language and math skills in kindergarten, compared to peers with no prior early childhood education experience in the two years before kindergarten.
The study was among a small but growing number of evaluations of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs across the country. Peisner-Feinberg has led teams that have conducted studies in Georgia and North Carolina which showed similar overall findings to the Pennsylvania evaluation. The Pennsylvania study was funded by The William Penn Foundation.
WHYY pointed out that the study found positive effects in preschools across the state, in rural and urban areas alike. It also mentioned that the study did not find gains in literacy, executive function, or social skills, quoting Peiser-Feinberg as saying: “I think that speaks to perhaps some areas for the Pre-K Counts program to look at in terms of professional development.” She added that elementary schools should also consider retooling kindergarten curriculums to better build on the pre-K experience.
Chalkbeat pointed out that the study highlighted areas for possible improvement in the program. For instance, children who participated in Pre-K Counts did not show greater gains in social development, cognitive processes, and some areas of literacy; these are all areas where additional teacher training might offer students more varied experiences in their second year.
Chalkbeat reported: While Pre-K Counts is among the better state early childhood programs in the country, “it still has a lot of work to do,” said Steve Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.
“One of the things research has shown over the years is that accomplishing goals set for early childhood programs is really difficult,” he said. He noted that the state funding for Pre-K Counts has varied over the years, which has “made it difficult to consistently build the level of quality that they want.”