Early Education

Study Finds Positive Results for Disadvantaged Children in Fifth Grade from Public Pre-K Programs

A recent study conducted by University of California Irvine School of Education associate professor Jade Jenkins, along with other researchers, showed marked positive outcomes for Black and Hispanic disadvantaged children in the fifth grade who had attended pre-K programs. The study has implications for states such as California providing funding for free pre-K attendance.

The study, “Understanding Heterogeneity in the Impact of Public Preschool Programs,” was recently published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). Along with Jenkins, team leaders Tyler Watts from Teachers College at Columbia University and Kenneth Dodge from Duke University, expanded on research done in 2014, when North Carolina’s public pre-K program, NC Pre-K, was begun.

The study followed 1.2 million students who had attended NC Pre-K. Of those, 58% were White non-Hispanic, 29% were Black non-Hispanic, 7% were Hispanic, and 6% were multiracial and Other race/ethnicity. It revealed the greatest positive effect on Black and Hispanic students from disadvantaged backgrounds as measured by fifth-grade achievement.

“Most surprisingly, we found that funding for pre-K had larger effects for children who later experienced more adverse environments, like going to elementary schools with lower average achievement, or with many inexperienced teachers; this suggests to us that pre-K may help protect children against future adverse experiences,” Jenkins said.

As California continues its rollout of its new universal prekindergarten (UPK) initiative, to provide free prekindergarten programs to all 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year, the study’s outcomes suggest the importance of pre-K learning for disadvantaged children.

Jenkins said the team will be monitoring the role of pre-K learning in “enhancing educational equity for young children … during the UPK implementation.”

Visit this SRCD page to read the abstract and download the study.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.