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Study: Georgia Children in State-Run Preschool Show Growth, But Classroom Quality Could Improve

An evaluation of 509 students enrolled in Georgia's state-funded universal preschool program in 2011-12 showed that the children made significant growth in language and literacy skills, math skills, general knowledge and behavioral skills. The children in the program who had the greatest gains were those who came in with limited English proficiency. However, classroom practices remain, in general, at "medium quality," the report noted.

The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C. was authorized by the Georgia General Assembly to evaluate the state program, which enrolls about 84,000 children. The Georgia program was one of several profiled in a recent story about state reaction to the Obama administration's efforts to increase preschool enrollment. The president also visited a Decatur, Ga. preschool in February to outline some details of his preschool expansion proposal.

Compared to a study of a 2008‐2009 sample of preschool classrooms in the state, the institute's study found that the 2011-2012 sample scored lower on average on the measure of global quality and slightly lower on the measure of teacher‐child interactions on emotional support and classroom organization. The latest sample of students scored slightly higher on instructional support, which the evaluators attributed to a recent effort to improve professional development among early-childhood educators. The overall quality of the program was evaluated at 3.6 on a 7-point scale.

The study authors suggested that one way to improve quality might be to reduce class sizes, currently anywhere from 20 to 22 students. The teacher-student ratio currently stands at 11 to one. Bobby Cagle, the Georgia commissioner for early care and learning, said in an interview with The Telegraph newspaper in Macon that he agreed that quality would be improved by dropping enrollment in classrooms. State budget shortfalls had forced the preschool program to increase class size and shorten the instructional calendar two years ago, but Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has proposed increasing state pre-K to 180 days in his fiscal 2014 budget, restoring the preschool program to its original length.

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