File photo taken on November 3, 2015 shows kids play at the Central Park in New York City, the United States. (Xinhua/Wang Lei)
A nationwide study released Tuesday indicates that academic-oriented preschools boost the early literacy and math skills of children from middle-class families in the United States.
Educators and scholars in the country have long agreed that quality preschool yields sustained benefits for poor children, while earlier studies revealed disappointing results from average pre-kindergarten, or pre-K, programs for middle-class peers.
"This is the first time that we have seen remarkable gains for the average preschooler nationwide," Bruce Fuller, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of education and public policy, who directed the research, was quoted as saying in a news release.
The findings stem from a representative sample of 6,150 children born in 2001, then tracked during the first five years of life. Oral language, along with growing understanding of words and mathematical concepts, were assessed in children's homes at about 2, 4 and 5 years of age.
In their paper published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Fuller and his colleagues reported discovering marked gains when middle-class kids attend preschool classrooms where teachers spend considerably more time on oral language, pre-literacy skills and knowledge of mathematical concepts.
In addition, the early surge powered by pre-K continues to lift children from both middle-class and low-income homes during the kindergarten year. These facets of cognitive development accelerate by at least three months for the average child nationwide after attending an academic-oriented preschool for one year, compared with children who remain at home during these early years.
The study finds that academic preschool packs the strongest punch for black children from low-income families, accelerating their pre-literacy and math skills by over four months in knowledge of math concepts, relative to peers who remain at home through age 4. And, the amount of time spent in pre-K is important. The average American child gains slightly from attending an academically oriented pre-K for more than 20 hours a week, relative to peers attending less often, while black children reap the most potent gains in pre-literacy and math skills when attending full-time.
The researchers also observe that black children are more likely to be enrolled in publicly subsidized, academically oriented preschools, while children of better-educated mothers are less likely to enter academically intense preschools.
"Many parents worry about undue pressure on young children when instantly pressed by teachers to tackle academic skills," Fuller noted. "But preschool teachers who purposefully advance these proficiencies yield stronger gains for middle-class youngsters."