National study gives Seattle high marks for early childhood education; a solid foundation on which to expand

A new study of Pre-K programs in American cities ranks Seattle among the best. The Seattle Times editorial board writes,

The Seattle program has the highest quality among Pre-K programs in 40 large U.S. cities, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University in partnership with nonprofit policy advocacy group CityHealth.

Seattle’s preschool program merits high marks for teacher quality and training, student-teacher ratios and class sizes, and ongoing efforts toward quality improvement. The program gets justified low marks, however, for participation.

The study, in a spotlight on Seattle’s program, points out a significant strength the city had in building out its Pre-K program.

Cities have the opportunity to integrate Pre-K with other city services more readily than states or private Pre-K providers. Establishing an interagency coordinating council can facilitate integration across a number of important ser- vices for children and families. Seattle built on
an already strong system coordinating health and mental health services between the city offices and the county’s Public Health Seattle & King County Child Care Health Program to provide mental health and health services on site at Pre-K provider locations and specialized consultation to teachers.

In our 2017 foundation report, we highlighted as a priority

  • Focus early learning assistance on children most at risk of entering kindergarten unprepared.

And noted,

According to the Washington State Board of Education, less than half (or 44.2 percent) of entering kindergarteners in 2015–16 were able to demonstrate the six characteristics of school readiness (as measured by the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, or WaKIDS assessment). The numbers are lower for some populations (fewer than one in three Hispanic students is kindergarten ready, for example) and low-income students.15

The state’s goal is to increase the percentage of school-ready kindergarteners to 69 percent by 2020. To get there, the State Board of Education advocates for expanding access to high-quality early childhood education. We agree. Today, only 40 percent of the state’s three- and four-year-olds enroll in early learning programs, a rate that puts Washington in the bottom quartile of states.16

Focusing on kindergarten readiness is a cost-effective way to help ensure students begin their academic careers on a level playing field, thus increasing their potential for consistent individual growth, a successful K-12 experience, and completion of postsecondary programs. The state should continue to make targeted investments to expand early learning options for children most at risk of entering kindergarten unprepared.

The ST editorial says,

A new study last year from the Harvard Graduate School of Education found children who attend high-quality early learning programs are less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be retained in a grade and more likely to graduate from high school than peers who did not attend. The research supporting preschool as the best way to close the achievement gap is deep and wide.

Seattle’s preschool program deserves such commendation but should  keep working to improve participation and reach as many eligible children as possible.