The Case for Full-Day Preschool
About Westminster Public Schools
Westminster Public Schools (WPS) is a metro Denver school district serving predominantly low-income and minority students. Only 29 percent of WPS students enter kindergarten ready to learn and 56 percent read proficiently in third grade. To help support the school readiness and future success of WPS students, GCI co-funded a three-year,
quasi-Pay for Success pilot that is testing the effectiveness of high-quality, full-day preschool through the addition of seven full-day pre-K classrooms.
As more resources are dedicated to expanding publicly funded early childhood education, it’s essential that we understand the dynamics of effective pre-kindergarten programs.” — Steffanie Clothier, Early Childhood Investment Director, Gary Community Investments
Purpose of Funding
It’s widely known that children who attend pre-kindergarten programs perform better academically, but we must better understand which characteristics of these programs, such as length of day, are needed to support children’s kindergarten readiness. If successful, the WPS pilot will validate full-day preschool as a key intervention for students and contribute to public will-building for future Pay for Success funding in the early childhood sector and preschool expansion in Colorado.
2016 - 2024
Because this investment utilizes Pay for Success components, grant dollars can be partially recovered based on cost savings that are verified through rigorous evaluation. As part of this process, WPS is following three cohorts of pre-K students through third grade to track one of the most pressing issues in early childhood education research: What are the persistent effects of early childhood investment in the long term?
Since summer 2016, WPS has been monitoring student enrollment and attendance, and conducting primary data collection by directly observing classrooms, administering individual standardized assessments, and collecting parent and teacher surveys. The early findings are promising for both children and their families.
01Overall Positive Effects on Children
Preliminary results are positive in all eight of the measured outcomes, which include early literacy, special needs, and cognitive and socio-emotional developments. For example, children in full-day preschool exhibited significantly higher early literacy outcomes than those in half-day programs.
02Overall Positive Effects for Families
Parents were less likely to report that childcare prevented them from working, and they perceived their children to be more enthusiastic and curious about new activities.
03District Support is Key
WPS is an ideal pilot partner that has demonstrated strong leadership and support of the program’s success, including adding additional classrooms to increase the power of the study and working with the state of Colorado on data tracking.
04A Strong Evaluation Team Makes a Difference
What began as a small, quasi Pay-for-Success pilot to support WPS’ interest in testing full-day preschool has grown into one of the more significant studies in the country, attracting new funding from the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to support a deeper and more extended randomized control trial.
Catalyzing funding and inspiring replication
Through its unique design, which leverages a school-based lottery to conduct a random control trial that isolates the causal relationship between full-day programs and young children’s early development, this study provides the first rigorous evidence of the effects of extended pre-kindergarten on young children’s school readiness.
Using the early philanthropic support from GCI and other funders, the evaluation partners at CU-Boulder School of Education were able to build a strong study foundation that has allowed it to become more ambitious over time. There are now plans to follow approximately 800 children through third grade, and the evaluators are collecting multiple forms of evidence on student outcomes—including reading and math assessments, early needs assessments, attendance, classroom video observational data, data on parental child care needs and working constraints, and child socio-emotional development measures—to create a deep resource for learning about this proposed policy.
“The researchers leveraged the initial funding to design a study with the strongest possible foundations,” says the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Allison Atteberry of the CU-Boulder School of Education. “We hoped this would plant a seed that would attract additional funders in the future.”
And, that’s exactly what has happened. The Smith Richardson Foundation awarded funding to add additional cohorts to the study and follow children as they move to kindergarten, and the Laura and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation is supporting the final preschool data collection and continuation of data collection through third grade. In addition, the work inspired a replication study in Pomona, Calif., which will be executed by the same set of WPS researchers and is being seed funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation.
“Without the initial investment to conduct the highest-quality study possible from the outset, these funders would not have joined the effort,” Atteberry says.
“Since her acceptance into the preschool program, my daughter’s social skills have become stronger. The staff is supportive of the children’s imaginations, creativity, curiosity and abilities, and I see how they are being molded into wonderful students.”
– Parent of full-day preschool student, Harris Park Elementary
“Full-day preschool sets students up for success and achievement at an early age. It jumpstarts their academic career at the age of four, when they are learning the fundamentals of education to help them succeed in kindergarten and beyond. I wish every school across the United States had preschool in their school districts. The academic and social emotional growth I have seen is incredible.”
– Ondra Suffolk, full-day preschool teacher, Metz Elementary School
“Our full-day preschool pilot project provides more intensive early childhood services to students from at-risk homes, as well as allows us to measure the long-term outcomes of ECE services in our district. It allows parents to have a stable, full-day experience for their children and become integrated into the fabric of their child’s future elementary school. We have received reports from families that it has allowed parents to pick up part-time or full-time work opportunities since their children are in high-quality care.”
– Mat Aubuchon, Director of Early Elementary Education, Westminster Public Schools