FPG Launches National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center

Date Published: 08/19/2014

President Obama’s renewed call this year for universal pre-kindergarten programming joined many appeals from federal and state policymakers for increased investments in public pre-k and early learning programs—along with calls to evaluate these services. To meet the growing need for guidance from researchers with experience in early childhood education and program evaluation, UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) is launching the National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center.

The new center comes at a time when many administrators across the country are designing and implementing new pre-k or early learning programs—or updating programs they already have in place. “Thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own,” said the President during this year’s State of the Union Address. “They know we can’t wait.”

FPG director Samuel L. Odom (top row, left) said research reveals the long-term benefits of high-quality early care and education.

“FPG’s own Abecedarian Project provided comprehensive high-quality care and education for children birth to age 5, and decades later they’re still reaping the benefits,” Odom said. “Other FPG studies have shown that even the single year of pre-k can help children while in the program and for several grades afterward.”

FPG senior scientist Ellen Peisner-Feinberg (top row, middle) directs the new National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center and has headed many evaluation studies of statewide pre-k programs, including Georgia’s.

“Participating in Georgia’s Pre-K Program during the year prior to kindergarten had significant, positive effects on key measures of children’s language, literacy, and math skills,” said Peisner-Feinberg. “Our study compared two similar groups of children, where one group had completed the pre-k program and one had not.”

When Peisner-Feinberg’s team announced their findings from their latest evaluation of Georgia’s Pre-K Program, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, had praised the study as “very rigorous.” Peisner-Feinberg said the same careful science will be the foundation for her center to help states serve all children, including those with disabilities, those at risk, and dual language learners.

“We’ll help design, implement, and rigorously evaluate pre-k and early learning programs,” Peisner-Feinberg said. “We’ll also disseminate evaluation findings to policymakers and other stakeholders.”

According to Peisner-Feinberg, benefits for children have been found in several statewide program evaluations, including NC Pre-K, which she has studied since it opened as More at Four over a dozen years ago. “With North Carolina’s pre-k program, we have consistently found positive effects of participation on children’s performance in pre-k and kindergarten, as well as longer-term effects on reading and math skills at the end of third grade.”

Peisner-Feinberg said FPG’s 13-year history of bringing research-based recommendations to North Carolina’s pre-k program has helped to ensure the program’s quality as it has grown.

“The ongoing NC Pre-K evaluations clearly show the importance of strong program standards that use evidence-based indicators,” Peisner-Feinberg said. “With new early learning programs and 30 states already moving ahead on pre-k, research and evaluation will be essential to guiding design and ensuring quality.”

Joining Peisner-Feinberg on the new center’s leadership team are co-director Virginia Buysse (top row, right), who headed a seminal review of research last year on dual-language learners in public pre-k and Head Start programs, as well as FPG senior scientists Margaret Burchinal (second row, left) and Pamela Winton (second row, middle), and FPG investigator Chih-Ing Lim (second row, right).


Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, Director
National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center
UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute

FPG grants permission to publish this story in part or in its entirety.