Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects

“Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”: this clichéd adage, often found on motivational posters, actually has something worthwhile to say. Sometimes where we set goals determines where we end up, even if the goal is seldom met. A forthcoming American Educational Research Journal study applies this proverbial wisdom to content coverage in Kindergarten. Focusing on math and reading, researchers examine whether replacing “basic” content (content mastered by 50 percent or more of incoming Kindergarten students) with “advanced” content (mastered by less than 50 percent) leads to greater academic gains, as measured by assessments administered in the fall and spring of Kindergarten. The answer? Yes. And this holds regardless of the child’s childcare experiences prior to Kindergarten (i.e., center-based care, Head Start, or “other”). The researchers conclude that lackluster content coverage in Kindergarten helps explain the fading benefits of pre-school. Basically, Kindergarten teachers spend too much time on “basic content” that, by definition, most of the students already know, especially those that attended center-based pre-K programs. Kindergarten is simply too easy. When teachers instead focus more on teaching students advanced content, every student benefits, even students who didn’t attend pre-K. These teachers are shooting for the moon, while the others are only aiming for the clouds. Sounds like it’s time to order more motivational posters for the nation’s Kindergarten classrooms.

SOURCE: Amy Claessens, Mimi Engel, and F. Chris Curran, “Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects,” American Educational Research Journal (forthcoming) (2014).

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