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Alabama’s First Class pre-kindergarten program comment (0)

January 2, 2014

By Jim Williams

Students who participate as 4-year-olds in Alabama’s First Class pre-K program outperform their peers academically once they reach elementary school, and the advantage persists at least through the sixth grade, according to findings from an ongoing evaluation of the program by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA).

PARCA’s research is part of efforts by the Office of School Readiness in the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs to document the effects of the program, which is voluntary. The positive effects on test scores are particularly strong for pre-K participants who come from lower-income households.  

The findings showed that the achievement gap for low-income sixth graders who had participated in First Class was more than 25 percent smaller than would otherwise be the case. Research results from other states also show positive returns from investing in high-quality early childhood education. 

Alabama’s First Class pre-K program has been recognized for its high standards. The National Institute for Early Education Research found that Alabama met all 10 of its benchmarks for quality, including having high learning standards in place and requiring pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and training in early childhood education.

First Class is operated by schools that meet the program’s standards. Because the demand for participation is greater than the number of seats available, students are randomly selected from the applicant pool.  

In fall 2013 the program was expanded when the Legislature decided to increase funding from $19 million to $28 million. But even with the expansion, First Class is relatively small. About 5,500 children will be served this year at 310 sites across the state, or about 9 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds.   

EDITOR’S NOTE — Jim Williams is executive director for Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. He may be contacted at jwwillia@samford.edu.

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