This study could support Chicago’s pre-K expansion
As Chicago struggles to increase enrollment in preschool programs, a new study could help make the case for universal expansion of the district’s pre-K.
The opening of full-time preschool classes closer to where students live is linked to an increase in enrollment and academic performance through second grade, according to research released this month.
Beginning in 2013, Chicago launched a series of political efforts that increased the number of full-time pre-K classes and reassigned them across the city, intentionally placing classrooms in neighborhoods with high school rates. historically low pre-K inscription. This increased access to full-time preschools was associated with higher reading scores, math scores, and academic grades through second grade, especially for black students and those living in low-income areas, the NORC researchers at the University of Chicago, Start Early, and the University of Chicago Consortium on Academic Research.
These findings, which extend from research published last October and measure six years of administrative data from Chicago’s public schools leading up to the pandemic, as the city’s preschool programs find themselves at a crossroads. Enrollment plummeted last fall, especially for black children ages 3 and 4, surprised parents, educators and policy makers. The district plans to open 62 new classrooms over the next few months as it moves towards its goal of universal preschool, but is struggling to persuade parents to enroll their children.
We spoke with NORC Principal and Principal Investigator Stacy Ehrlich to find out more.
This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What were you looking to find that other researchers had not found before?
Much of the preschool research to date that people know about focuses on the impacts of these preschool programs – an evaluation of either a curriculum or an approach. In this case, we were more interested in understanding whether access to full-time kindergarten in Chicago public schools looked different after implementing a set of intentional policy changes.
By access we mean: are these children now living closer to a school that offers them a full-time preschool option? What if there was an increase in access, do we end up seeing a change in enrollment? All of these political efforts were aimed at creating more equity in access and enrollment, so we paid particular attention to priority student groups, which included students of color, English language learners, those living in low-income neighborhoods and higher unemployment rates.
It’s a change because it’s not just the impact of preschool, but the impact of trying to intentionally geographically place these full-time school options in particular neighborhoods for particular groups of students.
What did you learn about location and access during your study that decision makers need to know by now?
As we see more and more of these high priority students opting for full-time preschool options as a result of policy changes, we are performing better. This supports the idea that we should be providing these opportunities, especially to families who may not have had easy access to them in the past.
Especially under the Biden administration, there is a lot of talk about the expansion of pre-K. One thing you need to think about is where you place these programs – especially the full day programs. Previous research links enrollment in full-day programs to higher participation rates, compared to half-day programs, and families have reported that full-day programs are logistically easier to manage than half-day programs. These types of programs may meet the needs of families better than half-day programs or programs further away from where families live. If you understand what the needs of families are, you can have a very big impact on the participants and then help to strengthen the potential outcomes of these students in the future.
The geographic location is going to be important. Having daytime access, especially when people have to go back to work, can be very important. But I’m sure there are other needs that families have, and part of the job now is figuring out what those needs are and how to meet those needs.
What surprised you while conducting the study?
The biggest surprise was the breadth and consistency of our results, especially for black students. They are the group of students where we not only see the biggest changes in second year results. This path – geographic access to schools leading to increased enrollment among groups of students, and then an increase in kindergarten entry skills, which were ultimately tied to second grade results – is really statistically clear for these students. .
Why do you think this path has gotten so much stronger for black students in particular?
The policies themselves were really focused on the communities where black students are most likely to live, meaning that black students lived closer to full-time pre-K options after politics. It could be that you put these options in these neighborhoods and there was no membership – maybe these families would have chosen to enroll their students in a different program, or chosen not to join. to enroll at all in pre-kindergarten – but it was not. To us, this reflects the idea that these programs offered something that these families felt they wanted and needed, and enjoyed.
How did you collect your data?
We used administrative data from the CPS. We defined our cohorts by Kindergarten and looked back to see which students had been enrolled in Kindergarten the previous year. If there were any kids who were in pre-K but didn’t enroll in CPS for Kindergarten and beyond, we included them as well, as we wanted to try and capture the universe of anyone who might be. eligible for CPS pre-K. The only people who are not included in the study are students who have never been to CPS, such as students who may have always attended private school.
What were some of the limitations of the study?
This is not a causal study, so you cannot establish a direct causal link between geographic access and the results. Other factors – even other aspects of these policy changes – could have occurred at the same time to help explain these increases in enrollment and, ultimately, the improvements in outcomes.
Can you tell us some of the other variables that might help explain your results?
Along with the expansion of full-time kindergarten in the district, other policy changes were occurring at the same time. The process went live, so more information about state-funded pre-K programs became readily available on the web through the City of Chicago. There were prioritization processes in place in CPS around the choices families made for pre-K. And there were also efforts on the ground to try to increase pre-K enrollment, especially in some of those neighborhoods that are mostly black, that are low income. It is difficult to separate each of these pieces.
What question does this study raise for you that you would like to answer next?
What is happening in community organizations at the same time? It doesn’t seem like politics has had a negative impact on community organizations, but for the record, people say it may. There is always an interest in trying to understand how changes in the district might impact enrollment in community organizations.