Screenshot: NIEER’s website.


The State of Preschool 2016 has just been released by NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) and it’s chock full of data about state-funded preschools during the 2015-2016 school year.

A great deal has changed since 2002, when NIEER released its first yearbook. At that time, “only two states served 50 percent of 4-year-olds and just three served more than 30 percent (which is now below the national average).”

Now, the yearbook points to examples of “remarkable progress,” noting:

“State funded preschool continued to grow in access, spending, and supports for quality,” and “enrollment and spending per child increased, as did states’ total investment in preschool.”

There is also bad news: 

“Inequality in access to quality public preschool has gotten worse over the past decade as some states made great progress providing quality pre-K for all while children in other states” are being left behind, NIEER says.

In addition, “seven states still offer no program at all and 15 states (including those with no program) have made negligible progress on enrollment, serving fewer than five percent of 4-year-olds in 2015-2016. Thirteen state programs meet no more than half the quality standards benchmarks.”


Massachusetts highlights and lowlights

As it does annually, the yearbook also features state profiles that look at access, quality, public spending, and other factors. The profile of Massachusetts is a mix of encouraging and disappointing findings. Among them:

• “Massachusetts ranks 34th out of 44 states in access for 4-year-olds and 12th in access for 3-year-olds out of 29 states that served 3-year-olds.”

• “State funding per child was $3,309, an inflation-adjusted decrease of $594 from 2014-2015, ranking 42nd nationwide.” Massachusetts ranked 30th on this indicator in last year’s yearbook.

• “Massachusetts met a weighted average 6.6 of NIEER’s 10 current quality standards benchmarks.”

 Summing up, W. Steven Barnett, NIEER’s director, says in a press release on the commonwealth. “Early childhood education is a great investment. We see Massachusetts using federal grant dollars to expand preschool enrollment, but more state resources are needed to provide the high-quality pre-K that can helps children get the best possible start in life.”

As we’ve reported in the past, we know that our state’s federal Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG) funding is being well spent. However PEG only serves 850 4-year-olds in five communities. More state funding could greatly expand the PEG model. One place to start this growth is in the 13 Massachusetts communities that are ready to implement their local preschool expansion plans. With more funding, these communities could enroll thousands more young children in high-quality programs.

Strategies for Children is advocating for preschool expansion legislation that would accomplish this goal, and help Massachusetts keep pace with other states that are leading the way in pre-K.


Updated benchmarks

NIEER has raised the stakes this year by introducing “a revised set of 10 quality standards benchmarks that better align with recent research and a focus on process quality.” These new benchmarks “capture policies that affect classroom experiences that support children’s learning and development,” such as “continuous improvement of teaching through multiple pathways.”

NIEER also calls for coaching:

“We envision high-quality preschool as a system in which well-qualified teachers receive ongoing coaching as part of a larger set of continuous quality improvement processes operating at multiple levels, based on aligned standards for learning and teaching. Recent research indicates that coaching focused on improving interactions with children based on feedback from direct observations of teachers can lead to significant improvements in classroom practices and children’s outcomes.”

Among the yearbook’s other recommendations are calls for more access, quality, and preschool data. In a statement, NIEER says:

“We conclude that the federal government could promote more equal access to high quality by taking two steps. First, expand the federal Preschool Development Grant program–which appears to already be making a difference–to help more of the states that are lagging behind. Second, sponsor a national study of classroom quality in public and private preschools similar to one conducted in 2005, but with representative results for each state.”

Overall, the yearbook is a reminder to celebrate the progress of preschool – and to keep pushing ahead to make sure all the country’s children have access to high-quality programs.

“It is critically important that parents and taxpayers both know how their state’s pre-K policies stack up against what is required to provide a good early education,” Barnett says. “Research indicates most states need to do more to ensure high quality for every child.”