Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Children who attended Tennessee’s state-funded Tennessee Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (TN-VPK) program exhibited large gains averaging 82% in early literacy and math skills, according to initial results of a study conducted by the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University.

The results come from the first phase of a project that will follow some 300 children through third grade. All 23 schools in the 14 school districts participating in the study received more applicants than they could accommodate. The study is following children enrolled in the program and a control group of children from families that unsuccessfully applied for admission. Teachers in the TN-VPK program must be licensed (which requires a BA) and also hold an additional “endorsement” in early childhood education.

The Vanderbilt study found children’s gains were most pronounced in language and early literacy skills:

A second Tennessee study, which compared 682 children who attended pre-k with 676 children who missed the birth date cut-off, accounted for the age difference and found similar results.  Children from both studies will be followed for the next four years.

With research showing that children exhibit the largest gains in early education classrooms led by teachers with BA degrees and training in early childhood, the Vanderbilt study underscores the need to support the education and training of early educators – and to link increased compensation to their increased academic attainment.

For a look at how earning her BA helped one early educator, check out the audio slide show “Back to School.”