An increase in the minimum wage and universal pre-kindergarten education were part of the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this week. These proposals address both income inequality and low academic achievement. Expanding pre-k education would benefit all states that would be willing to participate. According to the Council of State Governments:
Today, 39 states provide funding for 4-year-old kindergarten. Nine states plus the District of Columbia offer pre-K to all 4-year-olds. No state provides universal pre-K programs for 3-year-olds, although 26 states provide pre-K for some 3-year-olds, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
This provides a good foundation to build on. What is gained by educating four-year olds? From the Council of State Governments again:
That question was the subject of a research study published in a 2005 edition of The Policy Studies Journal, a product of the academic research group Policy Studies Organization. Researchers tested four-year-olds entering pre-K and a similar-aged control group that had not attended preschool. The study revealed 4-year-olds who had completed a year of preschool scored 16 percent higher on language tests than children who had not attended preschool. The results varied widely, however, according to race and economic background.
White children showed no significant increase in test scores, while Hispanic children’s scores increased more than 50 percent. Low-income children’s scores also increased significantly, including a 31 percent increase in cognitive skills and an 18 percent increase in language skills. The research concluded children enrolled in full-day pre-K programs outperformed those enrolled in half-day programs.