Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

Research shows pre-K can have meaningful impacts on school readiness and future outcomes.

The seventh-largest school district in the country announced Wednesday that it would expand its free, full-day pre-K program for eligible students in 12 new elementary school campuses, two of which don't have an existing pre-K program. The expansion adds a total of 38 pre-K classrooms.

The program is available for free to eligible, enrolled students. To be eligible students must be either 3 or 4 years old and satisfy just one of the district's criteria, including being unable to speak and understand English, being considered economically disadvantaged, being homeless, being a child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, being a child of the school's faculty or staff or having ever been in state foster care.

Click on the dots below to see which schools will be expanding full-day pre-K offerings. Map: Leah Binkovitz.

The research on full-day pre-K shows that it can have big impacts. The Kinder Institute's own Houston Education Research Consortium found that "students who received two years of pre-K education had greater improvement in “school readiness” than those who only got one," in a study that used test scores from some 40,000 kindergarten students in the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 school years.

“There is a clear boost that happens with one year versus zero years with HISD pre-K and then incrementally from one to two years,” study author Erin Baumgartner told the Urban Edge. “White students, black students, Hispanic students: one is more than zero, and two is more than one,” she said.

But few students are benefitting from two years of pre-K with the district. Roughly 90 percent of students enrolled in the district's pre-K program were only enrolled for one year. More troubling, perhaps, Baumgartner also found that even with the boost in readiness, "many students, whether they attended pre-K with the district or not, were still not ready for kindergarten by the time they got there." Overall, Baumgartner, now the associate director for HISD research and relations with HERC, said roughly a third of the district's kindergarten students were coming in with zero years of pre-K with the district.

Other research suggests that even when academic gains aren't particularly long-lasting, the connection to future outcomes is still strong. "Kids who enter intensive preschool programs are less likely to be arrested, more likely to graduate, and less likely to struggle with substance abuse as adults," wrote Kelsey Piper for Vox. "One study with a followup when the students were in their mid-30s found that they were likelier to have eventually attended and completed college."

Overall, Houstonians are supportive of expanding pre-K offerings. In the 2018 Kinder Houston Area Survey, 67 percent of Harris County respondents said they supported increasing local taxes to pay for universal preschool education for all children in Houston.

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