States and cities with publicly funded pre-K for three- and four-year-olds typically use a mixed-delivery approach, offering programs in both public schools and community-based organizations (CBOs). This is a popular model because it gives parents more choices, allows states and cities to serve more children by partnering with preexisting providers, and helps to stabilize the much more expensive, harder-to-find infant and toddler childcare offered by CBOs. However, there are structural differences between public schools and CBOs—like variation in teacher pay, benefits, and working conditions—that can create inequities for CBOs and the children and families that choose to attend them.
In a recently published post on the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center Chalkboard, Christina Weiland (University of Michigan), Meghan McCormick (MDRC), and Allison Friedman-Krauss (National Institute for Early Education Research) discuss a new working paper examining differences between public school and CBO programs in five large-scale pre-K systems. They discuss their findings that public pre-K programs in these settings have more educated teachers, higher scores on a widely-used measure of classroom quality, and serve students who arrive at pre-K scoring better on assessments of academic skills. In addition, public school students tended to show larger gains in academic skills across the pre-K year compared to their peers who attended pre-K in CBOs. As more states and cities prepare to scale their programs to support early learning, the authors argue for the importance of understanding and measuring inequities in mixed-delivery pre-K systems and targeting resources to promote more equitable experiences and outcomes for children.