Study finds preschool reduces the need for special education

A study by Duke University, North Carolina, found that children who attended one of two state-run preschool programmes were less likely to be placed in special education in the third grade (Year 4) than other children who did not. This not only helps the children, but alleviates expensive special education costs as well.

Researchers compared funding levels for preschool in 100 North Carolina counties to the third grade special education placements in those counties during a 13-year period. They found that the state-run preschool programmes Smart Start – which provided health screening and childcare to children under five – and More at Four (now called NC Prekindergarten Program) – which offered preschool slots to disadvantaged four-year-olds – demonstrated a 39% reduction in special education placement when compared to counties not using these programmes.

Special education placements reduced most for the preventable categories of specific learning disability, educable mental handicap, and other health impairments. Less malleable categories of physical disability, speech–language impairments and behavioural-emotional disabilities were not affected. Special education programmes cost twice as much as regular education programmes. The authors outline the savings from the implementation of the two state-run preschool programmes.

Source: Impact of North Carolina’s Early Childhood Initiatives on Special Education Placements in Third Grade (2015), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

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