Study: Full-day preschool better prepares children

Children attending full-day preschool scored higher than part-day attendees in areas like language, math and health.

Jessie Bekker

Full-day preschool better prepares children for higher-level schooling than half-day programs do, according to a University of Minnesota study released late last month.

Researchers said the finding could be the next step toward making full-day preschool available for more families.

The research, conducted by child development and public affairs professor Arthur Reynolds, showed that children who attended full-day preschool scored higher in measures of socioemotional development, language, math and physical health than their part-day counterparts. Researchers found no significant difference between the two groups in literacy and cognitive development scores.

Early childhood education advocates are pointing to the research as evidence that policymakers should expand access to full-day pre-kindergarten.

Leaders from organizations like Generation Next, a Twin Cities community partnership that aims to close the educational achievement gap, say the study reiterates the need for a standard method for delivering full-day preschool education to 3- and 4-year-olds, which would benefit students.

Jonathan May, director of data and research at Generation Next, said that while the organization hasn’t yet collected its own data on the pros and cons of full-time preschool, classroom observation shows that longer exposure to an early learning experience is generally more beneficial for a child’s education.

“If you were to ask people involved in the kindergarten network, they would tell you that, anecdotally, dosage matters,” May said.

But getting a high dosage comes at a sometimes-lofty price.

Not all families with young children can afford full-day or half-day preschool, May said, so lawmakers should make an effort to increase funding to those students and their parents.

Part of the battle, too, is educating parents about why pre-kindergarten programs are worth the cost, he said.

“First, we just need to get families to understand that preschool, in general, is important,” May said, “and then we can push for more preschool.”

The state Legislature has granted funding to early childhood education in the past, he said, but it should consider allocating more.

Studies like the University’s recent one, he said, demonstrate to lawmakers that investing in early childhood education has its paybacks — like keeping kids on track for learning, reading and graduating from high school on time.

The research examined high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, increasing the study’s validity, said Megan Gunnar, professor and director of the Institute of Child Development.

She said the study may force policymakers to re-evaluate how they can continue to work toward closing the achievement gap.

“I think it’s making a very big splash,” Gunnar said.

But even though it is a breakthrough for educational research, the study isn’t going to result in significant changes on its own, she said.

“It’s another piece of the puzzle,” she said. “No one study will ever change everybody’s mind. We’re just getting there.”