Making Pre-K Count



Making Pre-K Count is the result of a partnership between MDRC and the Robin Hood Foundation whose goal is to build evidence about ways to improve the life trajectories of children living in poverty in New York City. The partnership’s first project focuses on improving preschool children’s math skills.

Why math?  Recent research suggests that early math skills may be a key to dramatically improving the lives of children from low-income families. Studies have shown that preschoolers with strong early math skills do better in both math and reading in later elementary school, and children who maintain these math skills are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college. However, math instruction is widely recognized to be an area of weakness in most preschools.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The Making Pre-K Count Project is studying an innovative program that aims to improve the instructional quality of math education in preschool classrooms in New York City. The program consists of two major components:

  • A curriculum-based intervention called “Building Blocks” that helps teachers improve children’s early math skills.
  • A high-quality professional development model for pre-K teachers, including training and coaching for lead and assistant teachers. Skilled coaches from Bank Street College of Education support teachers on the use of “Building Blocks,” the use of formative assessments, and classroom management techniques.

By testing the long-term effects of a program that could effectively change the math skills of preschool children, the project will test the claim that strengthening early childhood mathematics skills can address a broad range of child outcomes in the long term. It is our expectation that a math program may not only improve math skills but also children’s language abilities, as well as their self-regulation or executive function skills, which include attention, inhibition, and working memory. Executive function skills are thought to support children’s ability to engage in the learning tasks of school.


Design, Sites, and Data Sources

During the 2012-2013 school year, the research team conducted a successful pilot phase involving more than 40 lead and assistant teachers in eight preschool programs in low-income neighborhoods across New York City. Lessons from these pilot experiences are strengthening the implementation of the Making Pre-K Count model during the current full-scale phase of the program.

The full-scale phase consists of two academic years of program implementation (2013-2014 and 2014-2015), which allows teachers to immerse themselves in the model for a full year before the impacts on children are assessed. Sixty-nine preschool programs and approximately 150 teachers and 3500 children are currently involved in the study.

Sites selected for participation in the study include a mix of center- and school-based programs that:

  • serve large proportions of children from low-income families, as measured by the federal poverty level or receipt of free and reduced-price lunches;
  • operate full-day preschool programs in two or more classrooms that primarily serve typically developing four-year-old children who speak English or Spanish; and
  • have offered their preschool programs for no less than two years.

Making Pre-K Count is a random assignment study: half of the selected preschool programs were randomly assigned to the program group, which is receiving the “Building Blocks” curriculum and coaching, and half of the programs were assigned to the comparison group, which is conducting business as usual. Beginning in the second full-scale year (2014-2015), the research team will track both groups of children over time (at least through third grade) to understand the impacts of the program. The team will examine changes in teachers and classrooms over the two years of program implementation, and follow children’s outcomes such as math ability and executive function. The team will also conduct implementation research in order to understand what happened during the course of the study and how training and coaching may have affected implementation.