MDRC in the News

Pre-K, Plus a Little Extra, Can Help Close Math Gaps for Children in Poverty

Education Week


The benefits of even high-quality preschool programs tend to fade over time, but extracurricular programs in early grades may help boost the good effects of early education after students start school, according to a new longitudinal study by the research firm MDRC.   

Low-income students who participated in both a math-focused preschool curriculum and extracurricular math clubs during their first year of school closed nearly 30 percent of the math achievement gap between themselves and their wealthier peers by the end of kindergarten, the study showed. 

As part of an ongoing evaluation partnership between MDRC and Robin Hood, a New York City-based antipoverty organization, researchers tracked students entering New York City public schools during the city’s Making Pre-K Count initiative in 2013. Some of those students participated in Building Blocks, a 30-hour curriculum focused on helping students learn numbers, shapes, and basic geometry.

“The core part of the Building Blocks philosophy is to ask children questions like, ‘how do you know?’ to really get them to elucidate their thinking and get them to expand on mathematical thinking, rather than just fact-based information,” Mattera said. “It is intended to move children toward problem-solving and a deeper understanding of math across a number of math domains.”

The Building Blocks curriculum showed some benefits, but at a time when most Big Apple preschools were moving to become more academically rigorous, Shira Mattera, a research associate and project director at MDRC, said students in control group schools saw a big jump in their own math instructional time. For example, prior studies had found that students in a typical preschool program received a little more than an hour of math instruction a week, but during the ramp-up for Building Blocks, students in the control group of schools were receiving three times that much math content. Students in the Building Blocks program had an hour more math than the students in control schools, she found…..

…..And that’s where the “High 5s” extracurricular clubs came in. Some of the students who had participated in the Building Blocks program in preschool also participated in “High 5s,” small math “clubs” held before or after school or at lunch, in which four to five students played math games and hands-on activities with a teacher. Combined, the two programs closed 29 percent of the math achievement gap between low-income children and their wealthier peers at the end of kindergarten…..

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