In the 2011-2012 school year, Georgia served 84,000 children in a universal program that is open to all four year-olds regardless of their family incomes. Pre-k settings include schools, private providers, and blended Head Start/Georgia’s Pre‐k classrooms. The program ran for 160 days at 6.5 hours per day. (The program had been 180 days, but was subject to budget cuts. It is expected to run for 180 days in the 2013-2014 school year.) Lead teachers are required to have a BA in early childhood education or a related field, and programs must meet minimum salary requirements based on credentials.
The program’s results: “Children exhibited significant growth during their pre‐k year across all domains of learning, including language and literacy skills, math skills, general knowledge and behavioral skills.” Gains were especially large in phonological awareness, a key predictor of later reading success. Children made progress “at a greater rate during the time they participated in Georgia’s Pre‐K Program than would be expected for normal developmental growth.” This according to a report that was commissioned by the state and written by researchers from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Researchers evaluated quality in 100 randomly selected pre-K classrooms and followed the progress of 509 children in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Children who were Spanish-speaking dual language learners did well, showing growth “in skills in both English and Spanish, although their growth tended to be greater in English.”
Georgia, however, could still improve the quality of its pre-k programs. The report said that classrooms ranked in the “medium quality range” and that “classroom practices were stronger in emotional support and classroom organization than instructional support.” Classroom quality was measured using both the ECERS-R and the CLASS tools.
One way Georgia might improve program quality is by having smaller classes, the report says, pointing out that while Georgia has classes of 20 to 22 children and adult to child ratios of 1:11, national quality standards recommend class sizes of 20 or lower for four year‐olds, and adult to child ratios of 1:10. Authors recommend further research to identify specific program elements that are associated with greater gains for students and higher levels of program quality.
It could be an exciting time for Georgia and other states, given President Obama’s budget proposals for early education. If approved, federal funding could help states continue to improve pre-k programs and give more children the strong start they need to succeed in school and in life.