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Volume 30, Number 5
September/October 2014

Putting a Premium on Quality in Preschool

As access to public PreK expands, experts see opportunities for improvement


Young children living in New Jersey’s poorest communities have a major educational advantage over many of their peers in other states: They all have access to free, high-quality prekindergarten (preK) programs. A 10-year investment in improving the quality of programs appears to be paying off in the form of significantly higher math, literacy, and science achievement in fifth grade, especially for students who participated in preschool for two years, according to a 2013 evaluation by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). 

New Jersey is not alone in providing publicly funded preK, but it is one of few places that has focused on quality. Forty states and a host of cities currently fund preK, and President Obama has proposed a 10-year, $75 billion initiative to expand preK programs across the country. But public debate about preK has focused largely on access, including where the funding should come from and who it should serve. Quality is often sidelined despite the fact that researchers know more clearly than ever before what quality looks like and that studies like NIEER’s evaluation of the New Jersey districts show that focusing on quality leads to better long-term outcomes for students.

Experts and advocates say that the growing interest and investment in public preK creates a window of opportunity for improving quality. “If we don’t include a focus on quality from the beginning, it becomes more challenging to improve quality later on. And improving access to low-quality programs is not going to provide the outcomes we want to see for kids,” warns Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

W. S. Barnett, K. Jung, M. Youn, and E. C. Frede. Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study: Fifth Grade Follow-Up.  New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers University, 2003.

L. M. Espinosa. “High Quality Preschool: Why We Need It and What It Looks Like.” Preschool Policy Matters 1, no. 3 (2002): 1–10.

H. Yoshikawa et al. Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. Washington, DC: Society for Research in Child Development and Foundation for Child Development, 2013.