Pre-kindergarten (pre-K) enrollment has risen steadily in the United States in recent decades, largely driven by the mounting body of research evidence on the effectiveness of early childhood education. However, the same children, who are most at-risk for ongoing academic struggles and the most likely to benefit from high-quality early educational experiences, are least likely to have access to high-quality pre-K options, which contributes to inequitable enrollment within districts. Importantly, school districts are making choices about where to place pre-K classrooms and developing policies for how families can apply and who is enrolled. In doing so, districts are pulling policy levers that influence students’ access to pre-K; but to date very few of these policies have been rigorously examined.
A recent study by education researchers at Start Early, NORC at the University of Chicago, and UChicago Consortium on School Research explores whether and how Chicago’s pre-K system was more equitable after the district implemented a set of policies focused on access to and enrollment in school-based pre-K beginning in 2013-14. Furthermore, this research seeks to understand how access and enrollment varied depending on students’ neighborhood characteristics and how policy changes and access to full-day, school-based pre-K were related to learning outcomes in elementary school.
The findings from this study of Chicago’s efforts offer key insights for other school districts implementing similar policies nationwide.