Is Preschool Fadeout Inevitable?

October 10, 2018

Posted By
E3 Elevate Early Education

Science in the making, does it sink or float
While support for early education and preschool has grown in recent years, research shows mixed evidence of whether preschool leads to long-term student outcomes. Some studies have shown lasting benefits of preschool, while others suggest that by 3rd grade, the advantages children who attended preschool had over children who did not, have disappeared.  This “fade-out” effect is disappointing for policymakers and others who believe that early education is the key to decreasing the achievement gap and leveling the educational playing field for children from diverse economic backgrouds.  So, is fadeout inevitable?  Does it disprove the importance of early education?  Most say, no. However, merely increasing access to early education for low-income children is not sufficient to achieve the long-term benefits we want to see.  High quality early educational experiences followed by quality instruction in the early elementary grades are critical if we want to achieve and sustain the positive impacts of early education.

In March, 2017 an Education Week article entitled, “The Preschool Fadeout Is Not Inevitable,” asserted that in order to understand fadeout, we have to look at what happens after children enter elementary school.  The article outlined several reasons why we see children lose the initial gains made in high quality preschools by the time they’re in third grade. Often elementary instruction isn’t well aligned with what children learn in preschool.  A recent Vanderbilt University study showed that much of the math instruction in kindergarten covered material that children who attended preschool had already mastered.  While this repetition is good for allowing those children who didn’t receive early education to catch up, it doesn’t strategically build upon the gains made through the preschool investment.

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Additionally, because many states’ kindergarten programs do not include curriculum with social and emotional components, teachers often do not take advantage of the opportunity to build on the social and emotional skills children develop in high quality early learning settings.  These skills, such as impulse control, highly correlate with later academic achievement and are very important to a child’s overall development.

The Hunt Institute stated the following in, Early Learning Fadeout – A Brief Review of the Research, “Though there is no definitive answer as to what can be done to stop learning gains from fading out during K-12 schooling, researchers tend to agree that there needs to be greater alignment among prenatal to three, prekindergarten and K-12 learning, enabling students to continue to build upon their gains rather than receive redundant training that allows other students to catch up to and surpass their enhanced levels of education.”

Kindergarten teachers need to know the skills children bring to their classrooms and be able to adjust their instructional plans accordingly. Assessments of students’ skills at the beginning of the academic year are becoming more and more common, however, professional development, coaching and support for teachers to help them understand the implications of those assessments for their teaching, while just as important, is rare.

E3 Elevate Early Education has been working strategically to address this issue in Virginia for several years.  In partnership with The University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (UVA CASTL) and the Virginia Department of Education, we created the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP) to define the readiness gap.  In 2018, Governor Northam, the House and Senate made early education a priority with $6 million in targeted investments.  A portion of that investment will go toward the implementation of VKRP in all kindergarten classrooms in the fall and spring to show both readiness and student growth.  The funding will also provide professional development for teachers and school divisions helping them to use the data to improve teaching and learning in the classroom and prevent the fade-out effect.

For the first time, all Virginia school divisions, teachers and parents will have data on children’s skills beyond literacy. Data will be used to determine the effectiveness of the state-funded preschool program for low-income and at-risk children, the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI). Through VKRP, Virginia educators in preschool and elementary settings are finally going to have the data and training they need to ensure that our children arrive prepared to succeed and maintain their achievement into third grade and beyond.