The latest study of New Jersey's high quality preschool program shows major gains in all tested subjects. The findings of the Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study (APPLES) support the wisdom of states investing in high-quality pre-K and the President's recent proposal to match state investments with federal funds.
The study's findings add to the "considerable body of evidence indicating that high quality preschool education significantly improves children's learning and development over the long term," the authors write, and add to the "evidence that public pre-K programs can produce meaningful, long-term educational gains on a large scale."
Over 45,000 children are currently participating in Abbott preschools, and the program has reached even higher quality benchmarks since the 4th and 5th graders in this study were in pre-K, in 2005.
The APPLES study shows that children in the state's most disadvantaged communities who participate in the pre-K program make significant gains in literacy, language, math, and science at least through 4th and 5th grade, with larger gains for children with two years of pre-K compared to those with one year. These findings build on previous results for Abbott preschool children at kindergarten entry and in 2nd grade.
In addition, Abbott Preschool Program participation is linked to lower retention rates and fewer children needing special education. These findings reflect lower special education costs now and portend higher graduation rates and lower schooling costs in the future.
The APPLES study was conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University. Co-author of the report and NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett said of the latest report, "We have found solid long-term academic gains for children who participated in the Abbott Preschool Program." But, Barnett cautioned, "preschool expansion in New Jersey has stalled, and we can't afford to backslide on pre-K now."
The study also asserts that high-quality pre-K should be expanded to offer a comparable program to all low-income children in the state, as required by current New Jersey law. "Today's findings continue to prove the long-term value of high-quality preschool," said Cecilia Zalkind, the Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. "It provides further proof of why it must be available to all 3- and 4-year-olds, especially those in low-income families."
Massachusetts is among the states now considering how to expand access to high quality preschool in order to realize its dramatic and long-lasting benefits for the Commonwealth and its children. As reported in the Cape Cod Times, the Joint Committee on Education invited experienced leaders from New Jersey to speak to them and a standing-room-only crowd about how to accomplish this goal.
At the hearing, David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, and Cynthia Rice, senior policy analyst with Advocates for Children of New Jersey, gave an overview of what happened in the Garden State. The multi-year process wasn't easy, or fast --- especially phasing in a system that required preschool teachers to be on par with elementary school teachers as far as their own education and pay was concerned, Sciarra said.
Moreover, after two years of deliberations, the Equity Commission under the U.S. Education Department has called for bold action in making broad access to high quality preschool "the highest national priority." It's "For Each and Every Child" report was released in February.