It was disconcerting to learn that Dallas Independent School District fourth grade reading scores remained flat from 2015 to 2017, according to new results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. However, current district progress in third grade reading scores are expected to change this trend in 2019.
Since 2015, Dallas ISD third grade reading scores at the state’s “meets” standard have grown 8 percentage points (from 28 percent to 36 percent) versus 5 percentage points (from 39 percent to 44 percent) for Texas overall.
With the increasing demand for Dallas to create a skilled workforce to meet the needs of our growing region, it is more important than ever to sustain and expand public and private investments in early childhood education.
Children who attend pre-K within Dallas ISD are two times more likely to be kindergarten-ready; and students who are kindergarten-ready are three times more likely to read proficiently by the third grade. In 2014, supported by investments from the community, Dallas ISD began to substantially expand access to quality pre-K, with enrollment subsequently growing by 3,000 children to almost 13,000 total enrollment.
In addition to increasing pre-K access, Dallas ISD has been laser-focused on increasing the quality of its instruction in the early grades. During the past three years, Dallas ISD has rapidly increased its instructional support in the early grades; all pre-K classrooms and one third of kindergarten to second grade classrooms have instructional coaches. Through an assessment tool called CLASS, Dallas ISD now has proof that this strategy is working.
Both of these strategies are affecting children in pre-K through second grade and should show up in NAEP scores in 2019.
There is more we can and must do as a community. Here are two immediate ways we can invest our resources:
Advocate for increased funding so school districts can provide full-day pre-K. The state Legislature funds half-day pre-K for students meeting eligibility requirements such as low-income or English language learner status. However, full-day pre-K both meets the needs of working parents and has a significant impact on quality.
In a recent assessment of a Dallas County school district that serves both half-day and full-day pre-K, 41 percent of children who attend half-day pre-K are kindergarten-ready versus 30 percent that do not attend pre-K. Kindergarten readiness gaps between students that are eligible to attend pre-K versus those that aren’t are eliminated when full-day pre-K is implemented. The statewide price tag for full-day pre-K would represent only a 4 percent increase in total education costs.
Increase access to quality early learning opportunities to meet workforce needs. The lack of affordable quality child care is a barrier to meeting our local workforce needs. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group shows that 65 percent of Dallas County ZIP codes don’t have adequate quality child care and preschool, with affordable child care being one of the top five reasons eligible workers don’t return to the workforce after having children. There is a gap of 14,000 child care seats for infants and toddlers in Dallas County, even after accounting for parents who prefer to stay at home.