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New Policy Brief Released: "How Have New Orleans' Charter-Based School Reforms Affected Pre-Kindergarten?"

December 7, 2017

A new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University examines how the growth of charter schools in New Orleans contributed to a decline in pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) program offerings from 2007 to 2015.

This decline is notable, as preschool pro­grams have been shown to improve aca­d­e­m­ic and long-term out­comes for chil­dren, includ­ing reduced crim­i­nal activ­i­ty, high­er edu­ca­tion­al attain­ment, and low­er depen­dence on pub­lic assis­tance. The study finds that the num­ber of schools offer­ing pre‑K and the num­ber of school-based pre‑K seats both decreased after the reforms. The decrease in pre‑K seats rel­a­tive to kinder­garten enroll­ment occurred pri­mar­i­ly in char­ter schools. At char­ter schools that con­tin­ued to offer pre‑K after Kat­ri­na, school lead­ers dis­cussed two school-cen­tered moti­va­tions – pur­suit of high­er test scores and ear­ly recruit­ment of fam­i­lies com­mit­ted to stick­ing with the school for the long-run – in addi­tion to more mis­sion-focused com­mit­ments to pro­vid­ing ear­ly edu­ca­tion for the ben­e­fit of stu­dents and the com­mu­ni­ty. How­ev­er, the study offers lit­tle evi­dence that a char­ter school’s third-grade test scores were high­er in the long run when that school offered pre‑K. The researchers ana­lyzed stu­dent test scores from 2012 to 2015, find­ing that offer­ing pre‑K had no mea­sur­able effect on schools’ third-grade test scores, poten­tial­ly as a result of high stu­dent mobil­i­ty between pre‑K and third grade. The study also finds that schools offer­ing pre‑K pro­grams saw short-term, but not long-term, enroll­ment ben­e­fits. Lead author Lind­say Bell Weixler said, On aver­age, schools with pre‑K filled half of their kinder­garten seats with exist­ing pre‑K stu­dents, where­as schools that did not offer these pro­grams had to fill all kinder­garten seats with new stu­dents. How­ev­er, schools offer­ing pre‑K did not have any advan­tage in per­sis­tent stu­dent enroll­ment after kinder­garten.” Co-author Jane Arnold Lin­cove said, The New Orleans expe­ri­ence sug­gests that pol­i­cy­mak­ers must con­sid­er how and where decen­tral­iza­tion might lead to the reduc­tion or elim­i­na­tion of ser­vices that pro­vide ben­e­fits beyond the imme­di­ate school set­ting. Our study pro­vides ini­tial evi­dence that decen­tral­iza­tion with­out off-set­ting finan­cial incen­tives can lead to reduced invest­ments in pro­grams that advance the broad­er social goals of pub­lic edu­ca­tion.” This study marks the launch of the Edu­ca­tion Research Alliance for New Orleans’ pre‑K agen­da. In the com­ing years, ERA-New Orleans will exam­ine the new cen­tral­ized enroll­ment sys­tem for ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion pro­grams, includ­ing how par­ents choose among ear­ly child­hood pro­grams, how avail­able qual­i­ty rat­ings influ­ence par­ents’ pref­er­ences, and how to sup­port par­ents through the appli­ca­tion process. We are also explor­ing ways to mea­sure the impact of pro­gram atten­dance on children’s short- and long-term out­comes. This study was authored by Lind­say Bell Weixler (Tulane Uni­ver­si­ty), Jane Arnold Lin­cove (Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land-Bal­ti­more Coun­ty), and Ali­ca Ger­ry (Tulane University).