The Pre-K Debate

The Pre-K Debate

preschool

For those of us in New York City, the issue related to pre-Kindergarten (pre-K also known as preschool) has never been hotter. In fact, approximately 10 days ago, the new Mayor secured $300 million dollars to support a plan that has a final goal of sending all children in NYC to a full day pre-K. Allowing all children, regardless of wealth, race, ethnicity or geographic location within the city, to receive an early education seems like a fantastic idea. And personally, I feel this is a great goal to have. However, will these pre-K classes really benefit (both socially and academically) the children who attend? We turn to the research to help us better understand the answer. A recent article in the May 2014 Monitor on Psychology highlighted aspects of research that all people (not just educators, psychologists, politicians) should be aware of.
As per the article, The Preschool Puzzle, researchers reported those who attended pre-K programs had greater academic achievement, had greater rates of high school graduation and were more likely to go to college. One study found, however, that some of the intelligence gains fade over time but the social benefits continue and may even surface to a greater degree later on in life. While this news is encouraging, research on Head Start (the federal program that intended to prepare low income children under five years old) indicated there were few academic benefits. Again, though, the research on Head Start demonstrated that the effects may not be visible immediately. The longer term studies of found students who attended Head Start attended more years in school, had greater income and overall better health. Research on Head Start also found that certain students, such as those who received less “pre-academic” preparation from their mothers (e.g. teaching counting and recognizing letters), reaped the benefits more than children who had more “pre-academic” exposure. Moreover, other research uncovered that, in fact, curriculum and teacher training did not matter as much as teacher-student interactions. These researchers were able to identify that positive teacher student interactions was a better predictor of how much a child learned.
As a supporter of the New Mayor’s ideals and values on education, I have to commend him on his swift action and follow-through related to this issue. Rarely does a politician actually do what they promise they are going to do. And even rarer is to see a politician do it so quickly. Nevertheless, now is the time to look at the research so we can confirm that this program will help those it is meant to and the benefits will be realized by those who attend the program. That means comprehending the research, looking at all aspects of the program, understanding the people it serves, and utilizing traditional and non-traditional components which have been tested.
Weir, Kirsten. (2014). The preschool puzzle. Politicans are promoting the idea of universal preschool. Psychologists are helping to illuminate what works. Psychology Monitor, 45(5), p. 41.

–ZKB                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Associate, Hartstein Psychological Services