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High-quality public preschools: U-M expert addresses what must be done

  • Contact Danielle Dimcheff, 734-763-4061, dpalincs@umich.edu

Several children sit in front of a chalkboard. (stock image)ANN ARBOR—As states and the nation rush to expand public preschool programs, a University of Michigan researcher says most states and programs are not using the most effective preschool models.

In a recent study, U-M professor Christina Weiland—a research partner for the past nine years in the highly regarded Boston Public Schools prekindergarten program—finds that the curriculum and educator development most commonly used in preschool models fails to align with what scientific evidence shows to be the most effective models.

Weiland, assistant professor at U-M's School of Education, examines existing studies to identify critical areas for continued research and to recommend ways to align policy with evidence.

Weiland's study, published in the journal Behavioral Science & Policy, focuses on two questions: Is high-quality preschool scalable and what approach actually promotes strong and lasting gains for children? This is of importance, as many gains seen by children who attend preschool diminish with time.

"It's not enough to talk about expanding access to preschool. We need serious discussion and attention to what we are expanding access to," she said. "We have rigorous evidence on which programmatic elements can deliver a high-quality preschool experience for young children. More states and cities need to act on this evidence."

Presently, 42 states and numerous cities have acted to provide public preschool opportunities. Additionally, Head Start serves nearly a million American preschool children. Weiland provides evidence that most public preschool programs are not making curricular or professional development decisions that match the available science. Most programs are not implementing evidence-based models, and as a result, instructional quality tends to be low.

Weiland proposes that quality programs, like the one in Boston, with its data-driven decision-making and high instructional quality, should be studied further as possible models for a universal program.

Behavioral Science & Policy is an international, peer-reviewed journal that features articles written in lay-friendly language describing actionable policy applications of behavioral scientific research that serves the public interest. The journal is a new publication of the Behavioral Science & Policy Association and the Brookings Institution Press.

This special spotlight on pre-K education in this month's BSP issue is guest-edited by Ron Haskins, senior fellow in the Economic Studies program and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, and senior consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore. Haskins is a former senior adviser to the president of the United States for welfare policy.

 

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