Report: MCPS Pre-K Program is a Model for the Nation

August 30, 2010
   Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) investments in prekindergarten are paying huge dividends for students—especially poor children—and should serve as a model for the nation, concludes a report released today.
   The Foundation for Child Development and Pre-K Now—a campaign of the Pew Center for the States—have published Lessons in Early Learning: Building an Integrated Pre-K-12 System in Montgomery County Public Schools. The report details how MCPS created its high-quality prekindergarten program over the last decade and directly connected its early childhood curriculum to the ambitious student achievement goals set for students in grades K-12. MCPS has also expanded access to full-day prekindergarten in recent years to help narrow the achievement gap before students start kindergarten.
   That strategy, say the report’s authors, is paying off in achievement results that have continued to soar even as the district’s population of English language learners has grown by 103 percent and the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals has increased by 44 percent.
   “Investing in high-quality early childhood programs has been a critical part of the foundation for all of our school reform efforts,” said Patricia O’Neill, the president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. “We are pleased to see that national early childhood experts are validating the efforts that we’ve been focused on for more than a decade.”
   Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast said the report makes it clear that an investment in early childhood education has a huge impact.
   “Our focus on providing a comprehensive pre-K program, especially for our most vulnerable students, has significantly closed the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps in elementary grades,” Dr. Weast said. “This report is an affirmation of our community’s commitment to preparing all students for college and the work world.”
   In the 20-page report, author Geoff Marietta writes that MCPS’ approach to early childhood learning is not just a model for other school districts to replicate, but a guide for federal policy makers to follow as they look for ways to help public schools close the achievement gap and turn around low-performing schools.
   “The evidence is clear. High-quality early learning, integrated into the broader public education system, is vital to raising critical elementary reading skills, closing the entrenched achievement gap and preparing all students for college and career success,” the report states. “Investments in early learning have the highest rates of return, and MCPS has clearly demonstrated how to spend those resources wisely.” 
   The report identifies five key lessons from MCPS that district leaders and policymakers can follow to expand and improve early childhood learning:
   1. Establish a clear and compelling district-wide goal that links to early learning.
   2. Craft integrated district-wide and early learning strategies.
   3. Align early learning programs and services to create a seamless pre-K-12 system.
   4. Balance support and accountability to ensure effective and consistent implementation.
   5. Innovate and monitor for continuous improvement.
   “The innovative strategy of starting with pre-K and pointing all compasses toward college and career readiness is paying off for kids and families in Montgomery County,” said Marci Young, project director of Pre-K Now. “This report is a roadmap for turning around underperforming schools and setting kids from all backgrounds on a path to success.”
   Achievement gains across all grade levels can be linked back to MCPS’ early childhood programs, according to the report. Nearly 90 percent of MCPS’ kindergarten students enter first grade with essential early literacy skills that include identifying all letters and their corresponding sounds, and reading aloud from familiar texts, the report states. Nearly 88 percent of MCPS 3rd graders are reading at or above grade level, while roughly 90 percent of MCPS students graduate from high school and about 77 percent of them enroll in college.
   MCPS has used a research-based plan to develop its early childhood programs, directly linking what is taught in all prekindergarten classes to the district’s third-grade reading proficiency goals and other key K-12 benchmarks that are among the Seven Keys to College Readiness. 
    The MCPS prekindergarten program serves more than 4,000 children. The program includes locally funded pre-K classes and classes for special education students, as well as locally and federally funded Head Start classes. The MCPS full-day prekindergarten program includes 21 classes in 19 schools and serves 420 students, a dramatic increase from the 260 children enrolled in 2007-2008, the program’s first year. These classes provide early learning experience for mostly four-year-old children who meet Head Start and pre-K program income-eligibility guidelines.

National Study on MCPS Pre-K Program

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