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Can Kindergarten for 4-Year-Olds Help Close Equity Gaps?

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This week we are hearing from the Madison Education Partnership (MEP). Today's post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner's perspective on the partnership work.

This post is by Dominique Bradley, Project Manager, and Eric Grodsky, Co-Director for the Madison Education Partnership.

Wisconsin is home to some of the most extreme disparities in academic success and incidence of poverty between African American and non-Hispanic white students in the nation. These disparities are evident in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), which serves a racially and economically diverse group of about 27,000 students (learn more here). A shared commitment to equity for MMSD students and concern for addressing these challenges inspired the formation of the Madison Education Partnership (MEP), a research-practice partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and MMSD. The district and WCER have a long history of working together, and this collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship is now formalized through the MEP partnership.

MEP aims to address problems of practice in the district that also advance the research interests of WCER affiliates. This philosophy permeates MEP's structure, with Co-Directors from both agencies, a Steering Committee comprised of three district administrators and three university faculty, and an Advisory Group comprised of community stakeholders and leaders. The research agenda is informed by all three groups and executed by the MEP Directors and staff.

In its initial year, MEP focused on the degree to which the district's 4-year-old kindergarten program (4K), now in its sixth year, has enhanced educational opportunities for students of color and those eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. The district currently offers half-day programming to 1,749 4K students in 24 school-based and 28 community partner sites. Using administrative data, MEP sought to answer these basic research questions:

Who participates in MMSD 4K?

  • Does participation vary among children by race/ethnicity, free and reduced lunch eligibility, English Language Learner status, or parental education?

  • Do program elements, such as morning vs afternoon sessions, influence who chooses to participate and are those programmatic elements associated with demographic characteristics of the students?

How, if at all, is participation in the MMSD 4K program associated with a student's readiness for five-year-old kindergarten?

  • Does this association vary by student race/ethnicity, free and reduced lunch status or parental education?

We place our analyses in a broader state context by drawing on state data to complement our more nuanced district analyses. These simple descriptive analyses help set the context for the district's policy discussions around 4K and also form the foundation for future work on the part of researchers. The analyses MEP performed in its initial year has strengthened trust between the district and WCER, and lays the foundation for carrying out a more intensive research agenda to better our schools.

The MEP team has been actively working on answering these research questions, as well as the questions that arise from preliminary analysis. We anticipate completing and releasing our reports by the end of summer 2017. Look for published versions here.

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The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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