Kelsey: Pre-K Study Emphasizes Need for School Reform

Press Release from the Tennessee Senate GOP Caucus, March 23, 2011:

Senator Kelsey concerned with latest report on long term effects of Pre-K

(NASHVILLE, TN), March 24, 2011 (video included at end of release) — This week lawmakers received the final in a series of reports assessing the effectiveness of Tennessee’s Pre-Kindergarten, which continues to show disappointing results regarding the long term effects of the program. The purpose of the study was to assess whether children who attended a Tennessee-funded Pre-K program perform better academically than a comparable group of peers who did not attend.

The study, conducted by Strategic Research group, measured the progress of students from 2007 – 2011 to determine whether those students who attended state-funded Pre-K perform better academically in the short and long term than a comparable group of peers who did not attend Tennessee’s Pre-K program. The study continues to confirm earlier reports showing any gains made from Pre-K are short-term and do nothing after second grade to bridge the achievement gap between children who are at-risk from those with a higher socio-economic background.

As previous reports in this series have found, there are positive effects associated with participation in Pre-K in getting students ready for the kindergarten, first and second grades, meeting the objective of school readiness. As noted in previous reports, however, the positive effects associated with Pre-K participation tend to diminish by third grade. The report says that, by grades three to five, there were “no instances where Pre-K students scored higher than non-Pre-K students.” Instead there were “a number of instances where Pre-K students scored lower.”

“When we look at these statistics about long term gains not being there from Pre-K, I think you can read that information in two directions,” said Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown). “On the one hand, you can say there is no real advantage to Pre-K, so why are we doing it? But on the other hand, you can read it as something is going wrong in grades one, two and three.”

“That is what really saddens me throughout this whole conversation,” he continued. “The Pre-K program that we have instituted is doing some good work in getting students ready for school. Unfortunately, our student performance is so low in this state that, by the time we get to grade three, the students who didn’t have the advantage of Pre-K were able to catch up because it was such a low bar to meet. That is the real problem that is exposed from this study and one that leads me to the conclusion that we need to continue Pre-K and more importantly, we need to continue to work to reform the educational process in grades K-12.”

The State of Tennessee has been funding early childhood education since 1996 when a pilot program was established for economically disadvantaged three- and four-year-olds. In the 1998, Governor Don Sundquist pushed the creation of 30 Pilot Pre-K classrooms, serving approximately 600 students, and the program was expanded under Governor Phil Bredesen.