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Study Supports Prekindergarten Effectiveness in Boston Schools

A study of 2,000 Boston children enrolled in the city's universal full-day prekindergarten program in 2008-09 showed that the program had moderate-to-large positive effects on the students' language, literacy, numeracy, and mathematical skills.

The program also showed a small positive impact on the children's executive functioning skills. Yet it found little difference in results among children of different races or income levels; this differs from some other studies that suggest the highest impact for prekindergarten is seen among children from low-income families, the study authors said.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, is the latest in a series of reports that have found positive effects for prekindergarten programs. A recent study of children in low-income communities in New Jersey showed similar long-term academic benefits. And Georgia's universal preschool program was shown to have moderate positive effects for children.

Boston has some unique features to its program, said Christina Weiland, the study's lead author and an incoming assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Education, in an interview. The district made an intentional effort to implement a uniform, high-quality program (in this case, a literacy and language curriculum called Opening the World of Learning, and a math curriculum, Building Blocks) along with onsite coaching for teachers from an experienced early-childhood educator.

Teachers in the Boston preschool program are also paid at the same rate as elementary school teachers, and all of them have at least a bachelor's degree and are expected to earn a master's degree within five years of hiring.

The study hypothesizes that it is this combination of supports—an evidence-based instructional program and highly-educated teachers with strong professional development—that played a role in the positive effects of the preschool program.

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