MULBERRY CREEK ELEMENTARY - HARRIS COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) Georgia’s popular program for educating four-year-olds is finishing its 26th year of getting kids ready for kindergarten.
The results are clear and very heartening. Georgia’s pre-K program gets about 60 percent of the state’s four-year-olds well prepared for their next year of classes.
But how long the benefits last is becoming more clear… and that’s not good news for supporters of early childhood education.
The state’s Department of Early Childhood Learning is not explaining why results are delayed from its $12 million study Georgia lawmakers funded several years ago. The study tracks academic and social gains of pre-K students, compared to Georgia children who did not attend pre-K.
Results so far show most benefits fade by first grade. Results from second grade, expected in August 2018, are not yet public.
A Tennessee study showed some pre-K students were actually behind their non pre-K peers by third grade.
While Tennessee’s program is aimed at low-income students, Georgia’s is open to every four-year-old who applies and for whom there is room in public and private classes.
The state program pays public and private schools about $4,500 in lottery money per student per year. Classrooms are expected to follow the same study plans, and teacher quality standards are the same statewide. But the stubborn drop in longer term academic gains troubles researchers looking for reasons why.
Perhaps the delayed data can offer more answers. The data may be elusive, but anecdotes about pre-K’s success are heartwarming.
Becky Haden’s classes are the gold standard. She’s a veteran in Mulberry Creek, outside Columbus in Harris County. Years ago, her student Sidney was having trouble letting go of Grandmother.
“Sidney was one of those who had a problem with separation. He’d never been outside the home,” she told me over the ruins of an exploding volcano in her colorful dinosaur-decorated classroom.
But instead of prying Sidney from his grandmother’s arms, she gave him a stethoscope to hear her heartbeat. All day, he could hold the stethoscope and feel her near. “We’d even let him take it home from time to time. Soon he needed it less. Then, years later, at his wedding, he came up and gave me a big hug and said Ms Haden, I am a pre-med major. I am going to be a doctor because of what you taught me in pre-K.”
Becky Harden is a Harris County native who clearly loves her work and her students. They thrive way ahead in kindergarten compared to children who did not attend pre-K. National results are similar, but she can't explain, and neither can parents why the pre-K boost is fading by third grad.
Why it matters? Because year after year, Georgia milestone tests show that 60 percent of our Georgia third graders flunk the English test that includes reading, -- making 90,000 young people at a much greater risk for dropping out of school and a lifetime of poor jobs and low earnings.