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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 8, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Washington’s preschool program has good results, low participation

From left, preschoolers Emily Cortes-Gonzalez, Daisy Rojas-Pineda and Paloma Castro converse together during an open-ended activity session at the Denise Louie Education Center in the Beacon Hill. Photo by  Marcus Yam / 2014.

Seattle preschoolers interact with each other during an open-ended activity session at the Denise Louie Education Center in the Beacon Hill. Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times 2014.

Washington state’s preschool program is boosting achievement in math and reading in elementary school, but the state lags behind most of the country in signing children up, according to two recent reports.

Washington ranks 47th among states on several measures of preschool enrollment included in the annual “Quality Counts” report by Education Week, the national newsweekly.

In that report, released today, Washington earns a D grade because of lower-than-average enrollment in preschool overall and in the federal Head Start program, as well as a yawning enrollment gap between rich and poor.

For example, almost two-thirds of kids growing up in households bringing in $100,000 or more a year attend preschool in Washington. But only 4 in 10 kids from households making less than $20,000 are enrolled, according to Education Week.

Washington ranked 38th on overall preschool enrollment. Only 41 percent of children ages 3 and 4 are enrolled in preschool in Washington state, compared with the national average of 47 percent, according to Education Week.

But children who do enroll in Washington’s preschool program for low-income children are reaping the benefits years later, according to a report released last month by the state Legislature’s research arm.

Students who attended Washington’s preschool program as 3- and 4-year-olds had higher scores on the state reading and math tests in elementary school compared with students from similar households who did not participate, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

In 2013, for example, researchers estimate that the passage rates for fifth graders who participated in the preschool program were seven percentage points higher in reading, and six percentage points higher in math.

The Education Week report shows a similar mismatch between spending and results.

Washington ranked ninth overall on K-12 student achievement measures, but the state continues to lag behind most of the country in paying for education, ranking 40th for per-pupil expenditures ($9,346 compared with the national average of $11,735).

Comments | More in News | Topics: early learning, preschool, school funding

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