Nashville is slowing down its march to universal pre-K. City officials released a plan Monday in response to a widely-cited Vanderbilt study that questioned the long-term benefits.
A few years ago, the city was on its way to making sure every 4-year-old could attend pre-K. But this long-running study out of Vanderbilt's Peabody College found that it was hard to tell from their test scores who had been to pre-K. And by the time students were in 3rd grade, some were even doing worse than their peers who didn't get the extra year.
"We still want to ensure that every 4-year-old in Nashville has access to pre-K," says Laura Moore, who is an education advisor to Mayor Megan Barry. "But we know that making sure it's high quality access is really important."
One critique of Tennessee's pre-K is its lack of standardization. Some classes look a bit like daycare. Others are overly structured, according to the Vanderbilt research.
The plan released this week will use the next couple of years to improve performance evaluations and focus on professional development for Nashville's pre-K teachers. The city will hire a coordinator to oversee it all. It would be at least three years before any further expansion.
Currently, Metro Schools and the Head Start program administered by the Metro Action Commission served 7,517 4-year-olds in the most recent school year. City officials say roughly 1,800 children don't have a seat at the moment, and that number is expected to rise as the population increases.
"Our data...were a wakeup call," says Dale Farren. She's part of the city's working group to reset early childhood education and the Vanderbilt researcher responsible for the study that cast doubt on pre-K's effectiveness.
"What's wonderful to me is to see the kind of proactive response of this state and now the city," she says. "Not to deny the effects that we found but to say we don't want those effects again."
Farren says she's also glad to be part of the solution rather than just identifying pre-K's problems.