In the US, compulsory schooling usually starts a year later than in the UK, with the first year – kindergarten – equivalent to Year 1. Pre-kindergarten programmes in the US are run privately or through federally funded initiatives typically aimed at deprived children, such as Head Start.
Tennessee’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (TN-VPK) is an optional pre-kindergarten programme for four-year‐old children. First priority is given to children who are identified as at-risk (ie, eligible for free or reduced price lunch, with disabilities, or with English as an Additional Language).
In 2013, the Peabody Research Institute published the results of a randomised controlled trial in which children applying to the programme were admitted on a random basis. The outcome measures were: emergent literacy, language, and maths; and measures of pupils’ performance or status other than academic achievement.
During the pre‐kindergarten school year, the children who participated in TN‐VPK gained significantly more on all of the direct assessments of academic skills than the children who did not attend. Positive effects were also found on kindergarten teachers’ ratings of children’s preparedness for kindergarten and, to a lesser extent, on their ratings of the children’s classroom work behaviour and social behaviour.
However, at follow-up at the end of kindergarten, the researchers found that the effects of TN‐VPK on achievement measures had greatly diminished, and the differences between participants and non-participants were no longer statistically significant. Similarly, at the end of first grade (UK Year 2), there were no statistically significant differences between TN‐VPK participants and non-participants on these measures (with one minor exception).
Sources: Evaluation of the Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program: End of Pre‐K Results from the Randomized Control Design (2013), Peabody Research Institute. Evaluation of the Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program: Kindergarten and First Grade Follow‐Up Results from the Randomized Control Design (2013), Peabody Research Institute.