Recently there has been a white-hot spotlight on early learning in Tennessee, after a Vanderbilt University study questioned the efficacy of the state’s voluntary pre-K program. The study’s authors repeatedly point out that quality matters, and that Tennessee has a long way to go to improve quality in its preschool and K-3 education.
This week Tennessee’s pre-K program is back in the press, but this time for some good news. Republican state Rep. Bill Dunn, the biggest pre-K critic in the state legislature, voted to not only keep the state program – he wants to strengthen it.
Tennessee Chalkbeat reports:
The bill, which would help require certain “best practices” in pre-k classrooms, passed and now goes to the House Education Instruction and Programming Committee. The support of Dunn means the legislation likely has overcome its most formidable hurdle in the House.
And just today, Senator Steve Dickerson and Representative Mark White – both Republicans in the state legislature – penned a joint op-ed supporting the legislation, reiterating the broad support behind Tennessee’s early learning program and this measure.
When considering that educational attainment is the strongest predictor of economic success, the stakes could not be higher. That is why this legislative proposal has the support of a diverse set of Tennessee stakeholders — including the Memphis and Nashville chambers of commerce, the CEO members of Memphis Tomorrow, Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, many county district attorneys general and a large number of faith-based organizations.
Fortunately, the Vanderbilt Study results come early in Tennessee’s investment in early education, and the state’s policymakers, educators and media remain committed to improving the program and the lives of disadvantaged children.
Studies of high-quality preschool programs in other states show they consistently produce results such as school readiness, higher achievement, and reducing the need for special and remedial education. For example, a study of Tulsa’s Pre-K program showed that children who attended Tulsa’s preschool program demonstrated persistent education gains, better retention rates, better attitudes about school, and less absenteeism into 8th grade. Tulsa’s Pre-K program also showed gains in cognitive abilities, executive function and social skills. North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and New Jersey are other high quality programs that have delivered high quality results.
High quality preschool programs are being replicated and scaled in states with good results. We know what works and what doesn’t. The Tennessee study adds to this body of knowledge. Fortunately, Tennessee now has the information – and a possible legislative proposal – that it needs to improve its program and its outcomes.