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Policy Makers Should Consider Full-Day Preschool

A study by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) (Is More Better? The Effects of Full-Day vs. Half-Day Preschool on Early School Achievement ,  2006), finds that the benefits of full-day preschool over half-day programs are significant and concludes that "policy makers should strongly consider implementation of full-day preschool."

The NIEER report discusses a randomized trial that compared children from low-income families in half-day and full-day public preschool programs.

Results show that children attending full-day programs did better on mathematics and literacy tests than children in a 2.5 to 3-hour public preschool program and the achievement gains continued at least until the end of first grade.

Moreover, the results indicated that quality early childhood education can help make up for "disadvantaged circumstances." The researchers said quality preschool, therefore, may be "an effective tool for enhancing equality of opportunity as well as increasing achievement generally."

The study sponsored by NIEER, was conducted by Kenneth B. Robin, Ellen C. Frede, and W. Steven Barnett.

The researchers explain, "Preschool programs vary greatly -- from less-than-half-day to full-day-plus programs. Little rigorous research is available to inform policy decisions about the relative benefits of programs with shorter and longer hours per day or days per year. To address this need, NIEER conducted a randomized trial in which 4-year-olds in a low-income urban district were randomly assigned to programs of different durations. The programs were otherwise quite similar: all had teachers with college degrees, a low ratio of children to teachers, and used the same curriculum."

According to the report, "Children who attended an extended-day, extended-year preschool program experienced greater improvement in test scores compared to peers who attended half-day programs. The difference in performance gains over time was evident for measures of both verbal and mathematic abilities. These results indicate that duration is an important consideration for the effectiveness of preschool education. Common sense and other research suggests that increased time in the classroom yields better results because it provides greater opportunity for teachers to work individually with students and allows for a more relaxing atmosphere with less time proportionately spent on routines such as meals, tying shoelaces and hand washing."

The study concludes:

"Although further research is needed to augment this single study of half-day vs. extended-day preschool, the results clearly indicate that duration and intensity matter. Extended-day preschool seems to have dramatic and lasting effects when it is high quality. All teachers in the study classrooms were certified, public school employees paid on union scale. A comprehensive curriculum was implemented with strong supervisory support offered to classroom staff. Classrooms were also well supplied, and both children and families received support services. Given the evident need of many families for full-day care for their 4 year olds and the evidence presented here that full-day preschool has important benefits for child learning, policy makers should strongly consider implementation of full-day preschool."


Is More Better? The Effects of Full-Day vs Half-Day Preschool on Early School Achievement (2006) (PDF, 220 KB, 22pp). NIEER working paper.

May 2006