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Education

Pre-K Application Deadline Today

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December 15, 2014 — IPBS and Network Indiana — Today is the deadline for families in Lake, Allen, Marion, Jackson and Vanderburgh counties to apply for grant money to participate in On My Way Pre-K, the state’s preschool pilot program.

The January launch of the program targets children who are four now and will attend kindergarten next fall.  Eligible families must have an income below 127 percent of the poverty line, which is about thirty thousand dollars a year for a family of four.

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Supporters of pre-K usually mention research on the benefits of early childhood education.  But Network Indiana’s Ray Steele says an education researcher from Indiana University says Indiana likely won‘t offer the same type of preschool used in that research.

Most of the preschools those students will attend will have classes that could mirror the length of a regular school day – some will be shorter.   But Ashlyn Nelson, associate professor at IU‘s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says none will likely contain the type of instruction used in the two major studies on early childhood education that are typically cited by those touting the long-term benefits of preschool.

Nelson says two early education studies were conducted in the 1960‘s, one in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and another in Ypsilanti, Michigan. They were aimed at low-income children, often in single-parent households, and were more intensive than almost all preschools in Indiana and elsewhere.

“(The program in Chapel Hill) featured 10 hours of instruction per day year round. It cost about $16,000 a year for three-year-olds and $12,000 a year for four- and five-year-olds. It targeted low-income children and provided them with all sorts of services like home visits and free transportation,” Nelson said. Children in the studies have been tracked in the decades since, and Nelson says the intense intervention at an early age appears to have helped them. “The kids who got this high quality intervention did significantly better than kids in the control group in a variety of measures,” Nelson said. “That includes student achievement that leads to higher graduation rates from high school, greater college attainment rates, and higher wages and higher likelihood of employability.”

Does that mean Indiana children will receive “high quality” preschool, as those pushing for pre-K say they will under the programs from the state or from Indianapolis? Not necessarily, Nelson says. “When we say ‘high quality‘, it‘s important to take into account often difficult to measure factors like quality of the teacher-student interaction when saying ‘these are the types of things we need to have in place to produce the types of gains that we care about.”

The two studies Nelson mentions ultimately seem to show outcomes dictated not by the presence of preschool itself, but instead by the relationship between the student and the teacher, particularly when talking about low-income children who may lack a stable adult relationship at home.

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