Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

From Boston to Seattle, cities are leading the way on preschool. Now a new analysis looks at quality and enrollment rates to measure progress — and awards gold, silver, and bronze medals to the most successful cities.

The analysis — “The state of high-quality pre-k in big US cities” — was done by CityHealth, a philanthropic initiative supported by the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. It was conducted as part of a larger study which rated cities in nine policy areas, including earned sick leave, affordable housing, and food safety.

“Thirty-three out of 40 cities received a medal for high-quality pre-k, including five gold, eight silver, and 20 bronze,” CityHealth explains.

The top-five, gold-medal winners are:




New York, and

San Antonio

CityHealth’s assessment “is based on the National Institute of Early Education Research’s (NIEER) 10 research-based quality standards benchmarks, along with an assessment of the level of enrollment in the city’s largest pre-k program.” A research protocol provides more details.

The CityHealth report highlights the research-documented benefits of pre-k, including reductions in special education and grade retention, and increased cognitive and social-emotional gains that can impact a child’s health into adulthood.

Here at Strategies for Children, we’re seeing smaller cities across Massachusetts make innovative progress on early education. Springfield is opening a new state-of-the-art Educare center. Somerville is improving preschool quality through a collaboration between the school district and community-based programs. And Holyoke is taking a whole family approach to early education.

City action is essential. As NIEER notes in a recent blog post:

“In the United States, the strong local government role in education means cities often have led the way in expanding access to education. Cities were the first to establish the comprehensive high school. Cities were first with community colleges. Child care was also traditionally a local concern. Today, the innovative frontier for a better education is in the early years.”

“Over the past decade, high-profile city initiatives have emerged, notably: the trailblazer Boston with a strong evidence base for effectiveness; New York City’s universal provision for 4-year-olds and nascent universal program for 3-year-olds; Philadelphia’s program funded by a tax on sugary drinks; San Antonio’s sales tax initiative; and, Seattle’s levy-funded preschool program.”

A major challenge for cities is paying for high-quality preschool programs, but cities are devising different approaches. In a related policy brief, CityHealth notes:

“While many cities are creatively braiding funding from the state and federal levels, a select few have been able to create dedicated, sustained local funding for early education. These cities use a variety of mechanisms to pay for pre-k, including sales taxes, property taxes and set-asides, social impact bond programs, family fees, and federal Title I dollars. In Philadelphia, a recently-passed soda tax will pay for the city’s investment in expanding access to its pre-k program. Each of these different strategies requires political will from city leadership and buy-in from city residents.”

As researchers continue to find more evidence for high-quality pre-K programs, we hope that political will and public buy-in will continue to grow, so that in more cities — and, eventually, all cities — children will have easy access to world-class early education and care.