Has Janesville's 4K program helped?
Has 4K helped?
It's too early to say, said Kristin Moisson, who has overseen the program since it began.
Children who started 4K in 2007 are in second grade this year, Moisson noted, but standardized testing doesn't start until third grade. So there is no data to show whether Janesville's program made an impact academically.
But Moisson believes Janesville's program is helping.
Moisson said Janesville assesses the 4-year-olds at the beginning and end of the year, and those assessments show a positive impact.
The assessments are not tests with grades. They document children's progress in things such as zipping a coat, using the bathroom, using scissors, catching a ball, expressing emotions, following an adult's directions, accepting responsibility for actions, sharing, taking turns, listening, paying attention, using words to express thoughts, counting objects, recognizing letters in their first names, showing interest in books and copying shapes.
"Our academics have really increased at the kindergarten (5-year-old) level," Moisson said, adding that 4K "allows a child to have some of those social skills and gives them the ground floor to be ready to go to into kindergarten."
Moisson said she has heard from 5K teachers who say that a particular child was in 4K, and it seemed to help that child. Some children with no preschool experience do fine as well, she said, while others don't.
The theory behind 4K starts with children who enter 5-year-old kindergarten. Too many are unprepared, educators have said.
4K is supposed to give children social and pre-academic skills to put them on a level playing field with their peers when they enter 5-year-old kindergarten.
"Our academics have really increased at a (5-year-old) kindergarten level," Moisson said. "Preschool definitely allows a child to have some of those social skills and gives them the ground floor to be ready to go to kindergarten."
While some families can afford quality preschool, others can't, the reasoning goes. The federal Head Start program addressed this gap but never filled it.
Enter universal but voluntary 4-year-old kindergarten.
When the Janesville School Board debated 4K several years ago, some parents objected that the schools were trying to usurp the parents' role.
School officials said if parents wanted to educate their young children at home, more power to them. But the need remained because, officials believed, too many parents were not giving their children the skills to succeed in school.
A quality 4K program with certified teachers who understand young children's needs and the methods to address those needs would mean more children would enter their school years prepared to learn, it was argued.
The question of whether pre-kindergarten works remains in dispute nationwide, despite years of study.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, is one of many conservatives who question 4K's impact.
Grothman recently attacked Wisconsin's funding of 4K, saying that studies show that it doesn't help.
The Politifact fact-checking group investigated Grothman's claims and found them to be false.
It's not that 4K has been proved to work, Politifact said, but Grothman claimed that research shows that it doesn't work, and that is still in dispute.
Politifact cited W. Steven Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, who wrote in 2009:
"Not only have small-scale programs in well-controlled studies demonstrated solid, long-term effects, but large-scale public programs also have been found to produce persistent impacts on children's learning and development, showing that all children benefit."
Barnett referred to an analysis of dozens of studies to back up his contention.