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National research report: Mississippi pre-K programs among top in U.S.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi in its latest report on pre-K quality as one of only five states whose publicly funded pre-K program meets nine of NIEER’s 10 new quality standards for early childhood education.

The latest ranking is published in the NIEER report, The State of Preschool 2017. The annual report presents data on the state of pre-K programs nationally as well as breakdowns of each state’s progress in providing high-quality pre-K services to 3- and 4-year-olds.

NIEER evaluated Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) programs, which are partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, child care centers, and non-profit organizations.

In its 2015 and 2016 State of Preschool reports, NIEER recognized Mississippi’s ELCs for meeting all 10 quality standards for early childhood education, making Mississippi one of only five states in the nation that met all 10 benchmarks.

“Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative program has proven that high-quality early childhood education prepares children for success in kindergarten and has a lasting impact on student learning over time,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education for Mississippi. “Increased access to high-quality early childhood education is one of the key drivers of rising student achievement in Mississippi.”

The new quality standard that Mississippi has not yet met relates to professional development for teachers. NIEER added coaching for teachers to its standard for professional development for its 2017 report.

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) was awarded a $6 million grant in 2016 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to help develop the state’s early childhood education infrastructure. Major grant activities include coaching support for teachers statewide in a variety of pre-K settings.

The Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, which provided $3 million to establish a limited number of ELCs in underserved areas throughout the state. Based on the immediate results just two years later, the Legislature increased funding to $4 million and increased it to $6.5 million for fiscal year 2019.

Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative program served 3 percent of 4-year-olds in 2016-17. and even fewer 3-year-olds. When combined with district-funded pre-K programs, approximately 16 percent of Mississippi 4-year-olds attended public pre-K programs in 2016-17.

“Our report highlights which states invest best in their young children and which leave too many children behind,” said NIEER Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett. “Mississippi is focusing on maintaining quality; we urge the state legislators to make increased access to high quality a top education priority.”

The Mississippi State Board of Education has made increasing access to high-quality early childhood education one of its top priorities and has leveraged philanthropy to build the state’s early childhood education infrastructure through coaching and professional development and by providing guidance and support to school districts.

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