Pre-K strides

Study: Students in New York City’s Pre-K for All program show learning gains

PHOTO: Emma Sokoloff-Rubin
Judith Colon, left, asks her pre-K students at P.S. 63 to use the word "if" in a sentence.

New York City’s universal pre-K program is paying off in more ways than one, according to a set of reports released Tuesday.

An independent research firm hired by the city’s Department of Education found that families are highly satisfied with the program, which now serves more than 70,000 students, and that most teachers are happy with their jobs. Notably, the research — which was done with help from New York University — also found that students were gaining measurable academic skills.

Students at the 75 UPK sites studied gained seven months of learning in just five-and-a-half months. More than 70 percent of the children assessed performed at or above national averages in early literacy; in early math skills, it was 62 percent.

But the results also highlight stubborn learning gaps. While all students showed growth over the time period studied, minority children still fell behind their white peers. Hispanic children lagged in all tested areas, while black and Asian students scored lower than white students in early math.

Since the study did not include a control group of students, it’s impossible to say how much children would have learned if they weren’t in pre-K.

“Children naturally learn and grow over time,” the study states. “Therefore, we cannot estimate the extent to which Pre-K for All was responsible for the children’s learning and growth.”

Still, the results provide important baseline information that can be used to improve UPK, said Steven Barnett, a Rutgers University professor and director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“These are valid and reliable measures of children’s learning,” he wrote in an email. “By tracking this kind of information over time as well information on classroom practice, the city can determine if they are continuing to move in the right direction and what they need to do to improve.”

Universal pre-K has been a signature achievement of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Since 2014, the city has more than tripled the number of 4-year-olds in free, full-day classes. But education leaders and politicians across the country have closely watched whether the program’s quality could keep up with its breakneck expansion.

According to the study:

— All racial and ethnic subgroups showed better-than-expected growth on measures of pre-writing skills, compared to national norms. Asian students almost doubled their expected growth.

— Hispanic students start pre-K behind their peers in letter recognition, but gained three-and-a-half more months of learning than expected. While black and Asian students started on par with their white peers, they did not meet expectations for growth in letter recognition.

— White children entered school outperforming all other racial and ethnic groups in early math skills. But Asian and Hispanic children grew more than expected, while black children grew slightly less than expected.

— Children whose primary language at home is not English entered school behind their peers in all subjects and remained behind them. However, they made better-than-expected gains in all areas.

#GovTest

Where Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker stand on key education issues, from charters to Chicago’s school board

PHOTO: (Rauner) Alex Wong/Staff/Getty Images; (Pritzker) Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Our conversations with Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) and challenger J.B. Pritzker will be aired on Oct. 3 on WBEZ 91.5 FM.

The race for Illinois governor is shaping up to be one of the most expensive in U.S. history, and anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has probably seen or heard one of the barrage of ads for the candidates. There have been puppies, toilets, and plenty of barbs over wealth and taxes — and the back-and-forth has drowned out the discussion over where the candidates stand on education, arguably one of the most crucial policy areas facing the state.

To dig deeper, Chalkbeat Chicago is teaming up with the education team at WBEZ 91.5 Chicago for a WBEZ/Chalkbeat 2018 Election Special: Testing the Candidates. Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker each have agreed to join us for a conversation about where they stand on everything from boosting the state’s profile in early childhood education to stemming the exodus of undergraduates from Illinois.

The interviews will be separate, but will be broadcast back-to-back on WBEZ 91.5 FM on Oct. 3 starting at 8 a.m.  

In advance of the discussion, Chalkbeat and WBEZ asked each candidate for his position on five questions, and we’ve reprinted their answers in their entirety. We’re also soliciting interview suggestions from our readers and listeners. Use this form to submit a question to us, and follow along with the discussion on Oct. 3 using #GovTest.

#GovTest

What would you ask Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker about education?

Chalkbeat Chicago is teaming up with the education team at WBEZ 91.5 Chicago for a WBEZ/Chalkbeat 2018 Election Special: Testing the Candidates. Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic candidate J.B. Pritzker each have agreed to join us for a conversation about where they stand on everything from boosting the state’s profile in early childhood education to stemming the exodus of undergraduates from Illinois.

Use the form below to submit questions for the conversations, which will air back-to-back on Oct. 3 at 8 a.m.