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Promising effects of intensive preschool.

Disadvantaged children who, along with their parents, take part in an intensive preschool program, reap substantially more academic benefits than peers who attend a less comprehensive preschool, say Joan E. Sprigle and Lyn Schaefer of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Their data support a long-term study by the High Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich.; it found that high-quality preschool education can help poor children to lead significantly more successful lives by the time they reach 19 years old (SN: 9/22/84, p.185).

"The two studies indicate that when you have dedicated, qualified teachers and parent involvement, disadvantaged kids will benefit from preschool education," says Sprigle.

The researchers followed 90 black children from the same poor neighborhood in Jacksonville, Fla., who entered one of two preschool programs in 1968. An experimental program was designed to teach problem-solving strategies in small groups and allow for play periods in a large classroom. Teachers met with parents once a month to plan ways to help children learn at home. A comparison program involved large classroom instruction and virtually no home instruction by parents.

All 4- and 5-year-olds attended preschool through kindergarten. The intensive prorgam operated separately from the public schools through the first grade; children in the comparison group attended first grade in a public school but received additional classes.

When school records were later examined for the same children in the fourth and fifth grade, the investigators found that the experimental group had significantly higher grades in reading and mathematics. Far fewer of these children were held back a grade or required special education classes.

The experimental program was most effective for boys, says Sprigle. This finding is important but difficult to explain, she notes; boys are often academically slower and less motivated than girls in the elementary grades. The researchers will chart high school grades and dropout rates for boys from the two preschool programs to see if the differences hold up.

Academic advantages observed for the experimental group in the fourth and fifth grade disappear in the sixth grade, point out the researchers. But an unpublished follow-up of the students in junior high school finds that the achievement differences reappear, Sprigle told SCIENCE NEWS. High school data for the entire sample are now being analyzed.

Aside from preschool, a number of factors can affect school success, caution the investigators, such as parents' education, occupation and presence in the home and the child's place in the birth order. But an intensive 3-year preschool program appears to foster general problem-solving skills that cut across subject areas in later grades, says Sprigle.

An intensive preschool program is not inexpensive, she adds, but its costs would be offset by the reduced need for special education later.
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Title Annotation:for disadvantaged children
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 13, 1985
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