Research affirms full-day pre-K boosts attendance, but will Chicago make it more accessible?

Two new studies from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research have confirmed what working parents already know – that when pre-kindergarten programs offer a full-day option, enrollment and attendance rates at those programs increase, especially among Black and Latinx families. 

The research comes in the midst of widespread labor shortages, with women representing a disproportionate number of those who have dropped out of the workforce since March 2020.  

The studies examined the relationship between half- vs. full-day pre-K and students’ attendance in predominantly Black, Latinx neighborhoods. One study looked districtwide; focused on four schools in North Lawndale that expanded pre-K from half- to full-day.

In both cases, when more full-day pre-K options were offered, enrollment rates for Black students more than quadrupled, and enrollment for Latinx students nearly tripled. Attendance rates in full-day programs were higher than attendance in half-day pre-K. In fact, although the number of students enrolled in full-day pre-K never surpassed more than a quarter of all pre-K students between 2013 and 2016, their increased attendance drove a statistically significant increase in overall pre-K attendance. 

Interviews with families suggest logistical challenges can play a major role in attendance. When a student is enrolled in a half-day program, families may be less inclined or able to spend limited resources and energy addressing those logistical challenges: childcare issues, work schedule conflicts, transportation problems, a sick sibling, or other family commitments. 

According to the CPS website, the district and the city “are working” to offer full-day pre-K to all 4-year-olds in the city for 2022. However parents have complained that the city’s still relatively new, centralized pre-K application process can actually make it harder for families to find appropriate seats close to home.

“Ultimately, our findings point to an opportunity for policymakers to offer quality pre-k programs that promote access and break down barriers for students and families, and it’s never been more important to break down barriers for families with young children than today,” said Elaine Allensworth, lead author of one of the studies, and director of UChicago’s Consortium on School Research.

Photo by CDC from Pexels

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Kira Dault

Kira Dault is a writer and editor who lives in Chicago with her family. She can be found on Twitter @kiradault.