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Tennessee Lawmakers Pass Bill to Improve Pre-K, in Wake of Critical Study

Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill March 28 aimed at improving Tennessee's struggling state preschool system. 

A widely reported five-year study of the program by Vanderbilt University (which my colleague Christina wrote about on this blog and for the print edition of Education Week and I covered for The Hechinger Report) found that it was severely lacking. Some children who had attended state-run preschools were actually doing worse in elementary school than their peers who didn't attend.

Preschool detractors took the findings as further evidence that public preschool would never work. Advocates tried to turn the results into firepower for their argument that more time and money needs to be invested for public preschool to live up to its potential as a way to help kids do better later in life.

In Tennessee, it seems like the advocates have won the day.

"We took that Vanderbilt study and said, 'We need to improve what we're doing,'" Rep. Mark White of Memphis, one of the sponsors, told ChalkBeat Tennessee.

The ChalkBeat article explained that the bill will require:

...local districts to develop plans for implementing certain "best practices" in pre-K classroom before they can receive state funds for pre-K, including offering "meaningful" professional development for teachers. The local plans also must show how the district would improve instructional alignment in pre-K classrooms with K-3 classrooms....

No additional funding has been provided to meet these goals, according to the Early Ed & Elementary Update newsletter by New America, a think tank that follows early education issues closely. But Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has allotted $1 million in his proposed budget to develop a kindergarten-readiness screening tool.

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