Children in Georgia's state-funded, universal pre-K program produced higher scores in language, literacy, and math than children who were not enrolled, and those not in the program scored at or below the national norm, a new study reported. The findings could lend credence to those who are pushing for similar programs at the state and national levels.
The study is especially noteworthy, said lead author Ellen Peisner-Feinberg in a statement, because it used a sophisticated design allowing a comparison to be made between two groups. All participants agreed to enroll in the state's Bright from the Start program, but only one group had actually done so when the study's data was collected in the fall of 2012.
"There are not many studies of real-world programs like Georgia's pre-K that are actually able to include such a valid comparison group in order to examine the impact of the program on children's outcomes," said Peisner-Feinberg, senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, in a statement.
The report, released March 6, looked at outcomes for 1,200 children on teacher-administered evaluation and state exams, the report said, with 611 children having had experience in the pre-K program and 570 for whom services were not yet provided.
Participation in the program "significantly improved children's school readiness skills across most domains of learning" by half a standard deviation, the report concluded.
"It's important to note that positive effects of the program were found for all children—boys and girls, from families with different income levels, as well as for children with differing proficiency with English," Peisner-Feinberg said. "This is a universal pre-K program that truly benefits children from all backgrounds."
Such an experience did not, however, seem to impact vocabulary or behavior skills, the study stated. Both groups of children were within the normal range for such abilities, it said.
Georgia's universal pre-K program is free for 4-year-olds no matter what the family's income level. It is one of the oldest programs of its type in the nation and has served more than 81,000 children since it began in 1995.