Report: Tenn. Pre-K Not Effective After Second Grade

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A new report shows the effectiveness of Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program diminishes after the second grade, but supporters say it still provides a valuable foundation that will help at-risk children succeed.

The report commissioned by the state comptroller’s office late last week reveals kindergarten students who participated in the pre-K program performed better academically than a group of those who didn’t.

However, it shows that there is “little evidence that the unique effects of pre-K” last beyond second grade.

The report summarizes previous reports and reviews similar pre-K studies that have been conducted in other states, according to the comptroller’s office.

“This analysis of year-end assessments in kindergarten reveals that students participating in the pre-K program demonstrated an increase in school readiness ... which confirms that this objective of the state’s pre-K program is being met,” said Phil Doss, director of the comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability.

“Other considerations for policy-makers include the finding that the effects tend to fade over time and that there is significant variation in the types of pre-K curricula students are exposed to statewide, which makes it difficult to assess the impact of program characteristics.”

Since 2005, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, has created 786 new pre-K classrooms serving 15,000 children. There are now 934 state-funded pre-K classrooms in the state, serving about 18,000 children.

There was heavy debate during the recent Tennessee General Assembly about how the program should be funded.

Senate Republicans had previously suggested drawing $22 million of pre-K funding from lottery reserves. Democrats, including Bredesen, criticized the move as a first step toward scaling back or ultimately killing the program targeted at 4-year-olds from poor families.

Comptroller Justin Wilson, who took office in January, is Republican and his party has been somewhat skeptical of the program since its inception.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin said the report reaffirms his beliefs.

“Pre-K kids do well for kindergarten through first grade, but then that money we’ve invested seems to be lost from second grade on,” he said. “I’m wondering if we shouldn’t keep those children at home that one more year and then put that money in K-12.”

Rep. John Deberry, a Memphis Democrat and chairman of the House Children and Family Affairs Committee, said he still believes pre-K is effective, but the issue of what happens at the second grade level and beyond needs to be addressed.

“This report says that we have been successful with pre-K,” Deberry said. “We need to ask ourselves why, and then why can’t we be equally successful in the second, third, fourth and fifth grades.”

Mark Rogers, Tennessee director for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said studies disagree on the short-term education benefits of pre-K. But he said there’s no disagreement that having at-risk children in a structured pre-K program will help them graduate and reduce the chance they’ll get involved in crime.

“Those kids will do well enough that they will want to stay in school,” Rogers said. “And that has dramatic benefits all across the board down the road.”

Diane Neighbors, chair of the Tennessee Alliance for Early Education, said the report doesn’t contain new data or draw any new conclusions about the state’s program.

“The fact remains that the pre-K program is doing exactly what it was intended to do, prepare at-risk 4-year-olds for kindergarten and put them on par with their peers,” she said.

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