New Jersey Preschool Study Findings Bolster Call For Expanding Early Education Programs

Mar 27, 2013

By Emily Firgens

President Obama's announcement of a national, early childhood initiative in his State of the Union Address turned the country's attention to early education. The initiative's most discussed element has been the expansion of state-funded preschool to reach families below 200 percent of the poverty line by supporting state efforts with federal funds. The President's early childhood initiative recognizes the research demonstrating both the short- and long-term benefits of providing children and families, particularly those who are low income, with access to high-quality early childhood programs.

An excellent example of the kind of program envisioned by President Obama is New Jersey's Abbott preschool programs, which offer high-quality early-learning experiences to all children in 31 high-poverty New Jersey communities. The recently released Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study: Fifth Grade Follow-Up shows that children who participated in the Abbott preschool programs increased their achievement in language arts and literacy, math, and science on fourth and fifth grade New Jersey standardized tests. Additionally, participation in the Abbott preschool program decreased the likelihood of grade retention and special education placement. Children who participated in Abbott for two years saw larger gains across subject areas, but similar rates of grade retention and special education placement as children who only participated in Abbott for one year.

First offered in 1999 in response to the New Jersey Supreme Court school-funding case, Abbott vs. Burke, Abbott preschool programs are offered to both 3- and 4-year-olds and are designed to help children be school ready. The Abbott Preschool Program Longitudinal Effects Study (APPLES) is following the cohort of 4-year-old children who completed preschool in 2004-2005. The APPLES studies have found continued positive gains from preschool attendance. 

As we await more details and action around the President's initiative, the most recent Abbott preschool study adds to the evidence demonstrating the importance of access to high-quality preschool and the positive impact preschool programs have on children's education and lives.

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