Effective Learning Experiences in Preschool and School Readiness

Quality in early childhood programs has been a longstanding priority in policy and practice. Identifying the contribution of specific elements of high quality or effective learning experiences (ELE) is critical in scaling effective programs to population levels. This Brief summarizes preschool findings for five ELEs in the Midwest Child-Parent Center (CPC) Expansion Project: (1) full-day preschool, (2) small classes (17 or fewer children), (3) balance of teacher-directed and child-initiated instruction, (4) a high percentage of instructional time in core domains, and (5) an engaging classroom environment. Midwest CPC is a scale-up of the CPC program established in Chicago. The program has demonstrated sustained effects on well-being from school readiness to adult educational and socioeconomic success. Based on 2012-2013 implementation and school data for over 2,000 preschool students in Chicago and Saint Paul Public School Districts, 80% of children experienced 3 or more ELE elements. This was exclusive of B.A. certified/licensed teachers (which all children had). Given that full-day preschool was limited to 25% of Chicago children and was not available in Saint Paul, the prevalence of ELE is high. Evidence was strong in Chicago that preschool learning gains increased as the number of ELEs increased. In analyses that included fall baseline performance, family and child characteristics, full-day preschool and small classes were the largest and most consistent predictors of gains during the year in literacy, math, and socio-emotional learning. Findings indicate that structural program elements are important contributors to learning gains and positively influence the instructional context necessary for effective preschool experiences.

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