Study Highlights Strategies for Optimizing Chicago’s Full-Day Preschool Impact

Study Highlights Strategies for Optimizing Chicago's Full-Day Preschool Impact A recent study spotlighted the positive impact of full-day preschool programs in Chicago, especially for low-income students. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the research emphasizes the crucial role elementary school leaders play in maintaining the benefits of early education.
The study, led by child development professor Arthur Reynolds, found that students in full-day preschool programs aligned with elementary schools performed notably better in reading and math by the end of 3rd grade compared to those in half-day programs. These full-day preschool attendees also displayed improved social-emotional development and were almost three times less likely to repeat a grade.
Reynolds stressed the importance of leadership quality, stating, “The length of instructional times is making a difference, but I think without strong leadership, you wouldn’t see these differences.” The study highlights a leadership structure that creates a positive school climate and fosters strong relationships among key stakeholders, including children, families, teachers, and the principal.
This insight is particularly relevant as over 60 percent of public elementary schools now have attached preschools, according to Urban Institute research. However, the study notes that most states and districts provide little guidance for principals on aligning early-childhood classes with primary grades.
Michael Little, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, emphasized the importance of engagement for principals. “They can either see the pre-K program as simply renting space in the building, and engagement is very, very low. Or in some cases, the principal can really see the value of the program for the broader school environment and really integrate the school.”
The study delves into Chicago’s 2012 expansion of the Child-Parent Education Program, one of the most intensive preschool alignment initiatives nationwide. These school-sited preschools provide a comprehensive approach, including health, family and social services, small class sizes, a leadership team, and aligned curriculum with ongoing professional development for preschool teachers.
Through tracking the progress of nearly 1,000 low-income 3- and 4-year-olds at 11 Chicago schools offering both half-day and full-day on-site preschool programs, the study reveals compelling results. By the end of 3rd grade, full-day preschool students demonstrated a significant proficiency advantage in reading and math over their half-day counterparts. Additionally, only a little over 3 percent of full-day preschool students were held back by the end of 3rd grade, compared to 9.5 percent of those in half-day programs.
The study underscores the need for greater training for school leaders in incorporating early grades, as many are not certified in early childhood education. Lauren Norwood, principal of the Burke Child-Parent Center, emphasized the importance of principals jumping into the early childhood arena, stating, “Principals definitely need to jump in the sandbox and not feel as if, because you are not endorsed in early childhood, that you may be less able to really make change in those departments.”

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