Boston Public Schools' prekindergarten program boosts children's skills

March 28, 2013

Boston Public Schools' prekindergarten program is substantially improving children's readiness to start kindergarten, according to a new study of more than 2,000 children enrolled there. The program uses research-based curricula and coaching of teachers, is taught primarily by masters-level teachers, and is open to any child regardless of family income.

The study, out of Harvard University, appears in the journal Child Development. Some of the study's findings on the effects of the program are the largest found to date in evaluations of large-scale public prekindergarten programs.

Researchers found that the program substantially improved children's language, literacy, math, executive function (the ability to regulate, control, and manage one's thinking and actions), and skills citywide. Children in the program were 4 and 5 years old and from racially, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds. While all students who participated benefited, the improvements were especially strong for Latino children.

Preschool has been shown to help prepare children for kindergarten and is an increasing priority among federal, state, and local . But many preschool programs struggle to attain good instructional quality.

"We can draw several important lessons from our findings about factors that support quality in prekindergarten," notes Christina Weiland, incoming assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Education, who was at Harvard when she led the study.

First, the combination of explicit, evidence-based curricula (in language/literacy and math) and in-classroom coaching of teachers as part of professional development likely played a major role in improving student outcomes. Investing in such quality supports for prekindergarten teachers may lead to gains in students' , the study found.

Second, implementing consistent math, language, and literacy curricula might build children's executive function skills. "Our results suggest that curricula in these areas may also improve such domains as executive functioning, even without directly targeting them," according to Weiland. "Interestingly, research shows that these kinds of skills—which reflect early brain development, the ability to focus, and behavior—are critical to children's success down the road."

Third, students in the program also may have benefited from having more mixed-income peers than is typical in most public prekindergarten programs, which are means tested and therefore tend to include mostly low-income students.

"Given the particularly large impacts for Latinos, a group that tends to be underenrolled in , efforts to increase the enrollment of in high-quality prekindergarten programs such as the one studied here may be beneficial," Weiland adds.

Explore further: Self-regulation abilities, beyond intelligence, play major role in early achievement

Related Stories

Pre-K students benefit when teachers are supportive

May 15, 2008

States are investing considerable amounts of money in pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds. A new study finds that the quality of interactions between teachers and children plays a key role in accounting for gains in ...

Benefits of preschool vary by family income

November 16, 2010

State-funded preschool programs have historically enrolled low-income children, aiming to help them start school on a footing closer to nonpoor youngsters. Today, more and more states are expanding access to preschool programs, ...

Preschool beneficial, but should offer more, study finds

February 1, 2011

As more states consider universal preschool programs, a new study led by a Michigan State University scholar suggests that two years of pre-K is beneficial – although more time should be spent on teaching certain skills.

Recommended for you

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

Fractals patterns in a drummer's music

August 28, 2015

Fractal patterns are profoundly human – at least in music. This is one of the findings of a team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and Harvard University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.