It’s been interesting to watch reaction in the state of Tennessee to research showing that students who participate in pre-kindergarten programs do better than their peers for their first two years of school, but have no advantage at all by the time they get to third-grade. Stories in The Tennessean ‘s office on the effectiveness of programs have followed reports by State Comptroller Justin P. Wilson.
Gov. Phil Bredesen has been pushing to expand voluntary pre-kindergarten to every county in the state for years, leading to the state’s ranking as among the top states in the percentage of children enrolled, according to the National Institute of Early Education.
Initially, the Tennessee comptroller’s report found the impacts of pre-k diminish after the second-grade, and supporters used the report to argue that the foundation provided in the early grades is particularly important in helping young children succeed. The latest report found that “despite an early academic advantage, pre-k participants did not perform measurably better beyond the second grade.”
With Bredesen poised to leave office after two terms, pre-k has become an issue in the governor’s campaign — especially as the state grapples with a budget shortfall.
“More than 18,000 Tennessee 4-year-olds considered at risk are enrolled in state-funded pre-K. Its effect has become an issue in the gubernatorial race. Democrat Mike McWherter supports expanding the program, while Republican Bill Haslam says the state lacks funding to do so,” The Tennessean reported.
Supporters of pre-k will be watching the election closely. They say the comptroller’s report underscores the value of pre-kindergarten. The Tennessee Alliance for Early Education, for example, issued a statement noting:
“The state’s nationally recognized voluntary pre-K program is successful in preparing children for kindergarten and first grade. … While pre-K is proven to help children succeed in school and in life, it should not be seen as the only means of preparing a child academically for second, third, fourth and fifth grades.”