Early childhood education can have a strong influence on later academic achievement.1 As states increasingly recognize the importance of early education, allotments of funding towards public prekindergarten programs have increased, a trend which may be especially beneficial for school readiness among children in low-income families.2 Some research has found positive relationships between prekindergarten programs and children’s language and cognitive test scores. One national study found that kindergartners who had attended a prekindergarten program scored higher on math and verbal proficiency tests than did children who had only been cared for by their parents, even when controlling for family characteristics.3 A study of children in Oklahoma showed significant improvements in letter-word identification, spelling and applied problems test scores4 and small improvements in motor proficiency, but not significant differences in socio-emotional outcomes.5Prekindergarten in public schools may also ease the transition of children to kindergarten. Because they are often located in the same schools as kindergarten classes, children become familiar with the school building and environment.6 Prekindergarten classes in public elementary schools are an essential component of the PK-3 approach to early education, which stresses the importance of continuity and integration of early learning experiences to produce better educational outcomes for young children.7
Beginning in 1986 with the amendment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, public schools are required to offer free and appropriate educational services for children ages three to five (and older) with disabilities.8 The law attempts to ensure that children with special needs receive a free appropriate education. Implementation of special education prekindergarten programs or inclusion of children with disabilities in general prekindergarten classes raises additional issues for teachers and school administrators, who may feel they are not adequately prepared to deal with young children’s special needs without additional training.9
In 2000-2001, 35 percent of public elementary schools offered prekindergarten classes. Fifteen percent offered prekindergarten with special education. (See Table 1) Data for previous years are not available.
Schools with high levels of minority enrollment are more likely than schools with low levels of minority enrollment to offer prekindergarten classes. Nearly half (47 percent) of schools with 50 percent or more minority enrollment had prekindergarten classes in 2000-2001, compared with 27 percent of schools with 6 percent to 20 percent minority enrollment and 28 percent of schools with less than 6 percent minority enrollment. (See Figure 2)
Similarly, 18 percent of public schools with 21 percent or more minority enrollment had special education prekindergarten classes, compared with 12 percent of those schools with less than 6 percent minority enrollment. (See Figure 2)
Schools with more students are more likely than smaller schools to offer special education prekindergarten classes. In 2000-2001, 20 percent of schools with 600 or more students had special education prekindergarten classes, compared with 12 percent of schools with less than 300 students and 16 percent of schools with between 300 and 599 students. (See Figure 3)
Public elementary schools in areas where most children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches are more likely than schools in wealthier areas to offer prekindergarten classes. (See Figure 1) During the 2000-2001 school year, over half (51 percent) of public elementary schools with 75 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch had prekindergarten classes, compared with 25 percent of elementary schools with less than 35 percent of students eligible for free lunch.
In 2000-2001, public schools in the Southeast10 were the most likely to have prekindergarten classes. Similarly, they were more likely than other regions to offer special education prekindergarten classes. (See Figure 4)
Public schools in cities were more likely than public schools in rural areas/small towns and in urban fringe/large towns to have prekindergarten classes (45 percent versus 34 percent and 30 percent, respectively, in 2000-2001). (See Table 1)
State estimates of the number of schools with prekindergarten programs can be produced online using data from the Department of Education’s Common Core of Data. Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/.
In April 2002, as part of the Bush Administration’s Early Childhood Initiative, Grow Smart, Right Start, the government aims to partner with states to improve early childhood learning. The plan calls for states to take steps to ensure that children enter school ready to learn. More information is available at:
None available at this time.
1Bainbridge, Jay, Meyers, Marcia K., Tanaka, Sakiko, & Waldfogel, Jane. Who Gets an Early Education? Family Income and the Enrollment of Three- to Five-Year-Olds from 1968 to 2000. Social Science Quarterly, 86(3): 724-745.
2Bainbridge, Jay, Meyers, Marcia K., Tanaka, Sakiko, & Waldfogel, Jane. Who Gets an Early Education? Family Income and the Enrollment of Three- to Five-Year-Olds from 1968 to 2000. Social Science Quarterly, 86(3): 724-745.
3Magnuson, K., Meyers, M., Ruhm, C., & Waldfogel, J. (2003). Inequality in preschool education and school readiness. New York: Columbia University, School of Social Work, as cited in Gormley, William T. & Phillips, Deborah. The Effects of Universal Pre-K in Oklahoma: Research Highlights and Policy Implications. Policy Studies Journal, 33(1): 65-82.
4Gormley, William T., Gayer, Ted, Phillips, Deborah, & Dawson, Brittany. The effects of universal pre-k on cognitive development. Developmental Psychology, 41(6):872-884.
5Gormley, William T. & Phillips, Deborah. The Effects of Universal Pre-K in Oklahoma: Research Highlights and Policy Implications. Policy Studies Journal, 33(1): 65-82.
6Desimone, Laura, Fedoravicius, Nicole, Henrich, Christopher, & Finn-Stevenson, Matia. Comprehensive school reform: An implementation study of preschool programs in elementary schools. The Elementary School Journal, 104(5): 370-389.
7For a review of current research see Reynolds, A., and Magnuson, K. (2006) PK-3 Education: Programs and Practices that work in Children’s First Decade. FCD Working Paper: Advancing PK-3, No. 6.http://www.pakeys.org/uploadedcontent/docs/PK%203%20education%20Programs%20and%20practices%20that%20work%20in%20childrens%20first%20decade.pdf
8Marvin, Christine, LaCost, Barbara, Grady, Marilyn, & Mooney, Paul. Administrative Support and Challenges in Nebraska Public School Early Childhood Programs: Preliminary Study. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23(4): 217-228.
9Brotherson, Mary Jane; Sheriff, Georgia; Milburn, Penny; Schertz, Mary. Elementary School Principals and Their Needs and Issues for Inclusive Early Childhood Programs. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 21(1): 31.
10States in the Southeast include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In this indicator, prekindergarten programs in public schools refer to programs housed in public schools and/or classes at public schools that primarily serve children ages 3 to 4 who have yet to enter kindergarten. These programs may or may not include children with disabilities.
Special education classes are classes that serve only children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
Smith, Timothy, Kleiner, Anne, Parsad, Basmat, & Farris, Elizabeth. Prekindergarten in U.S. Public Schools: 2000-2001, NCES 2003-019, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: 2003: Tables 2 and 3. Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003019.pdf.
NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS)
Child Trends Databank. (2006). Public schools with pre-k and special education pre-k programs. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=public-schools-with-pre-k-and-special-education-pre-k-programs
Last updated: March 2006