Vanderbilt researchers are digging deeper into data that finds Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program needs some work. A considerable number of students who attended pre-K eventually fell behind those who didn’t get the extra year. So the researchers wanted to see which students benefit most.
Pre-K students who went on to have top-notch first grade teachers consistently out-performed their peers who didn't go to pre-K, even those who had a first grade teacher with the highest score on the state evaluation.
Doctoral student Walker Swain led the follow-up to the highly publicized research released earlier this year.
“I think you could view this study — in some ways — as some sort of silver lining on what is actually a relatively common finding of pre-school effects fading out,” Swain says.
It’s a no-brainer that the best teachers are going to get better results. But Swain says it’s especially important for kids who go to public pre-K in Tennessee, since they are usually from low-income families or don’t speak English as their first language.
"Preschool, especially for these kids who are coming in with big deficits, helps the students benefit more from the highly-effective teachers," Swain says.
Swain points out that schools with high-minority populations often struggle to retain high-performing teachers. And principals often move their best educators to later grades when high-stakes testing begins.
If administrators believe in pre-K, Swain says, they need to think about creating a protected pathway for those students to make sure they continue building on early gains.