The annual rankings of state Pre-K programs by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) once again shows that Texas ranks at the bottom in quality standards measures compared to 53 programs in 40 states. Of the 10 quality standard benchmarks identified by NIEER, Texas only meets two—comprehensive early learning standards and at least 15 hours a year of in-service training for Pre-K teachers.
Texas lags particularly far behind other states in class-size limits and staff-child ratios. NIEER sets the quality benchmark for class-sizes at 20 Pre-K students or below. Most states meet this standard, while Texas has no cap on Pre-K class-sizes. Though 87 percent of states have staff-child ratios of 1:10 or better, Texas has no limit on the number of children each staff person is responsible for.
Another area of concern is the lack of health screenings and referrals provided to Texas Pre-K students. During the 2012-13 school year, 68 percent of programs provide screenings for vision, hearing, health, and at least one support service—Texas only screens for immunizations.
What the Texas Pre-K programs lacks in quality it makes up for in access. Fifty-two percent of Texas four-year olds are enrolled in Pre-K compared to only 28 percent nationally. Considering that the Texas Pre-K program is primarily for low-income children, and that over 60 percent of students in K-12 education are economically disadvantaged, there is still room to improve access.
Though it may not be the highest quality Pre-K program around, it’s still making a meaningful impact on the educational outcomes of the children who participate. A study by the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research found that participation in the targeted Texas Pre-K program is associated with increased scores in math and reading, reductions in being held back a grade, and reductions in needing special education services in later grades.
If positive outcomes can be attributed to this modest program, imagine what could be achieved if Texas adequately invested in Pre-K . The NIEER report shows that in 2008 state spending per enrolled student was $4,029—$718 more per student than in 2013. Increased investments in Pre-K would allow the state to implement class-size limits and staff-child ratios by giving districts the resources they need to hire more teachers and classroom aides. Additional funding would also make it possible to provide necessary health screenings so that vision and hearing issues that impact learning can be detected and addressed early.
If Texas is serious about closing the achievement gap and providing a quality education for all children, investing in Pre-K is a great place to start.