Athens, Ga. – For children who live in poverty, participation in Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program results in academic achievement through middle school, a study by two University of Georgia College of Education researchers suggests.
The findings came from a 10-year longitudinal study of approximately 500 children who attended pre-k in the Clarke County School District. They were followed in the 1999-2000 school year through their ninth grade year. Stacey Neuharth-Pritchett, a professor of educational psychology, and Cynthia Vail, an associate professor of special education, led the study.
The researchers found that children who live in poverty, which is considered at risk, and who attended the pre-k program outperformed their peers who did not attend pre-k on achievement measures in kindergarten and first-grade reading and mathematics. In elementary and middle school, these children continued to outperform their peers in reading and language arts.
In addition to higher achievement scores, grade retentions throughout elementary and middle school were significantly lower for at-risk children who attended pre-k than for those who did not.
“These findings add a unique dimension to the literature on comprehensive state pre-kindergarten programs because the data suggests that a state-sponsored intervention can have lasting effects on achievement and other school-related markers,” said Neuharth-Pritchett. “At a cost of about $5,100 per child in 1999, a cost that is significantly less than other highly cited and intensive interventions such as Head Start, the findings suggest that large-scale, state-sponsored interventions can be effective.
“The cost also is far less than the cost of an extra year or two of kindergarten through 12th grade schooling if children are retained,” she said. “Children in poverty who attended pre-k maintained scores through middle school that were six to 10 points higher on achievement tests than their peers who did not attend the program. Currently, the cost per child in 2011 for pre-k in Georgia is about $4,000 since there are more children enrolled than in 1999.”