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CLINTON, Okla. — One of the biggest employers in this hardscrabble working class town in westernOklahoma is the Bar-S Food Company meat packing plant, where manyof the city’s 9,521 residents work. Clinton also boasts a Route 66 Museum, a somewhat epic indoor waterpark, and free universal preschool for every 4-year-old in town.
Ninety-one percent of the town’s 170 4-year-olds enroll in a public program annually, said Tyler Bridges, the assistant school superintendent here. One hundred forty attend the state-supported district preschool while another 15 children attend the local Cheyenne-Arapahoe Head Start program.
Those high numbers are impressive, especially since only 53.7 percent of 4-year-olds attend school nationally and the U.S. ranks 30th for preschool enrollment among developed nations. That’s despite decades of research showing that early education often improves students’ chances of succeeding in school. But in Clinton, some things are just taken for granted: the movie-worthy sunsets, the churches on nearly every corner, and sending kids to preschool when they turn 4.
“[Prekindergarten] has been around long enough now, I don’t think anyone thinks about it,” Bridges said.
The same might be said of the state as a whole. Oklahoma has fully funded 4-year-old preschool for every child, regardless of family income, since 1998. As long as a child is 4-years-old by Sept. 1, he or she is qualified to attend school. Seventy-six percent of the state’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in 2014, a total of 40,823 children and one of the highest enrollment percentages in the country, according to the latest annual State of Preschool report by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
“I think it is popular because it is funded,” said Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “As more attend, you can have a more enriched opportunity for everyone.”
Related: Poll: Voters agree, candidates should talk preschool
Public preschool is high on the Democratic agenda right now. In 2013 President Barack Obama called for $10 billion in federal funding to help states start new programs or expand existing ones, primarily for children from low-income families — a call he has repeated every year since. Congress hasn’t approved his grand vision, but it has incrementally increased funding for Head Start in recent years. And, since 2013, the U.S. Department of Education’s Preschool Development Grant program has awarded more than $226 million to states hoping to expand or establish state preschool programs. Another approximately $882 million has been handed out through the federal Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge competitive grant program.
But offering preschool to all kids might seem to be an even more radical move. Oklahoma is one of just four states (the other are Florida, Vermont and West Virginia) along with the District of Columbia that offer universal preschool access to all age-eligible children regardless of family income. Oklahoma’s program was the first of the four states and enrolls more students than Vermont or West Virginia. Florida’s program enrolls nearly four times as many kids, but its quality standards are far lower.
A few other states, like Wisconsin and New Jersey, come close to offering universal programs, but most states are light years behind the leaders. Even Massachusetts, generally seen as a leader in education, only serves 14 percent of its 4-year-olds in state preschool.
While the discussion of a federal expansion of early education funding has become mired in partisan politics, free universal preschool is widely accepted here. “We’re not certainly battling this at the legislature,” Hofmeister said. “That is not a conversation that I hear.”
Clinton parent Shanna Barron said the public money spent on the program made sense to her because “you can see it’s going to good use. It’s not like they’re wasting it.” And, she said it was critical for her own child, who has learned new songs, all his colors and how to identify shapes. “I think it’s a good program because single moms, like myself, we don’t have to pay for daycare,” Barron said.
Related: Preschool education: Go big or go home?
Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, called Oklahoma a role model for the many other states currently considering expanding their public programs.
“Oklahoma provides universal preschool as part of the public education system,” Barnett said. “So that means bringing all of the quality standards, all of the focus on learning and teaching, to the preschool program. And most states don’t do that.”
On a fall afternoon in Clinton, it was easy to see how preschool students benefitted from having the power of the K-12 system behind them. At Nance Elementary School, the town’s center for all of its prekindergarten through first grade students, Anita Smith’s pre-K students had scattered around a basement “maker space” stocked with high- and low-tech toys. The room, meant to inspire interest in science and technology, was paid for with a district-wide grant from the Oklahoma Educational Technology Trust.
At one table, Payton Hoffman, 4 and Yatzil Uribe Solis, 5, used an iPad equipped with a camera to play a game in which they tried to figure out the first letter of a new word. There might be a picture of a hand and the text “__AND,” for example.
“Ha, ha,” they said, making the “H” sound out loud before Payton, aided by having the letter in her own last name, reached for a bright plastic “H” and held it under the camera. The image on the screen filled in the new letter to spell “HAND,” then switched to a new image.
At a table across the room Matthew Hernandez, who recently turned 5, played with LEGO-like toys that contained tiny electronic circuits. When clicked together properly, they made a light flash. Meanwhile, Lexa Panana, 5, zoomed a remote control robot around the floor in front of the whiteboard and Layla Lee, also 5, put together blocks called “cubelets,” to build her own robot. Asked what she was doing, Layla barely looked up to explain the obvious: “I’m playing,” she said.
Critics of prekindergarten programs attached to K-12 schools have worried that such programs could become too focused on building academic skills in developmentally inappropriate ways. Drilling young children in their letters and numbers has actually been found to be counter-productive. Research shows that while children taught by drill do better on early assessments, they don’t remember what they learn as long as children who are taught primarily through hands-on, play-based activities.
Nance prekindergarten teacher Tonya Gaunt has a mental list of all the things she wants her students to be comfortable with before they head to kindergarten: “Scissors, coloring, interactions with other kids and teachers, identifying their own name, the ABC’s and early numbers,” she said. “When they leave, I want them to want to go to school the next year.”
Gaunt has taught prekindergarten for 18 years in Clinton. She loves what she does and she likes to keep up with the latest technology to make sure her classroom is on the cutting edge. Like every prekindergarten teacher in Oklahoma, Gaunt holds a bachelor’s degree in education with a specialization in prekindergarten. Paired with Oklahoma’s strong early learning standards, the teacher training requirements are a big part of what makes the state’s program work for young children, Barnett said.
Related: Rival preschool studies from Tennessee and Miami shed light on fleeting benefits of early childhood education
An ongoing study of the Tulsa school system’s prekindergarten program, led by Deborah Phillips and William Gormley of Georgetown University, has repeatedly demonstrated that Oklahoma’s program is having an effect.
Many researchers have used Georgetown’s Tulsa data to run analyses and reports on the effectiveness of the program. Gormley and his colleagues found that third grade reading scores for children who attended the program after 2006 have risen. Phillips and her colleagues found that preschool grads’ attentiveness in class had increased and timidity had decreased by a significant amount. And economists, led by Timothy J. Bartik of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a think tank, have even predicted Tulsa preschool grads will earn higher salaries based on their elementary school test scores, which have previously been linked to earnings.
Those findings don’t cover programs in smaller districts like Clinton, though teachers here cite similar anecdotal advances.
Looking at the state as a whole, Oklahoma was one of only 13 states to see growth on fourth grade reading scores this year as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Oklahoma was the fourth most-improved state in that category. Its fourth grade reading scores have trended upwards since 2002, the year before its first cohort of preschool grads reached third grade. And though Oklahoma has a long way to go to catch top scorers like Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, the state is now on par with the national average fourth grade reading score for the first time in over a decade.
It has taken years for the long-term benefits of the program to show up. And some benefits, like the earnings predictions, are yet to be realized. Oklahoma’s first preschool cohort, those who attended programs in 1998-99, are just turning 22 this school year. Research shows that it took a few years of working out kinks in the program before students started to show strong positive effects beyond their first few years in school, so it will likely be another several years before the impact of the program on students who are now adults can be seen. That delayed gratification can be hard for policymakers to stomach, but it might also be Oklahoma’s most critical lesson for other states.
“One of the things [Oklahoma] offers as a model is that this is something you’re in for the long haul,” Barnett said. “It’s a decade to ramp up your program and deliver high quality to all your kids.”
Many Oklahomans point to another key reason they think preschool works here. Towns and districts are given plenty of leeway to create programs that fit their needs as long as they meet some basic quality standards.
Local control is important in Muskogee, 222 miles east of Clinton, a small town near the Arkansas River that looks more Old South than Wild West. At Muskogee’s Early Childhood Center, Principal Malinda Lindsey leads 15 prekindergarten classrooms serving 285 children, the vast majority of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a federal indicator of poverty. She takes the idea of local control all the way to the classroom, allowing teachers to design classroom environments that work for them even if that means things look vastly different from room to room.
In Nerissa Whitaker’s classroom, Kash McDaniel, 4, practiced writing his name at a well-stocked writing and art station. So far, he was only particularly clear on how to make a “K,” but he was assiduously making dozens of them. Down the hall, in Elizabeth Salas’ classroom, Dante Larson, 5, served coffee and bacon from a play stove to Natalie Hernandez, also 5, who snuggled a baby doll while chatting on a play cell phone. In yet another classroom, this one lit softly and featuring nature-oriented toys and decorations, Grace Marder, age 4, tried to find the right words to describe the leaf she found during an earlier nature walk with her class. The leaf was now glued to a piece of white printer paper.
“It’s red,” she told her teacher, Jana Dunlap. But then she struggled to find another adjective. Dunlap prompted her with a list of possibilities: smooth, bumpy, rough? “Bumpy,” Grace said finally and watched as Dunlap carefully wrote, “It’s red and bumpy,” below the leaf.
Related: Can a $5,000 scholarship for preschool change a kid’s life? Minnesota is banking on it
With so many struggling to make ends meet, most of her students’ families could not afford private preschool, Lindsey explained.
“For children like these, the opportunity to get a free public education offers them a strong start that is vital to success later on,” Lindsey said.
It also offers them the opportunity to do things they might not get to do at home, she said. Ra’Kyla Brown, 4, agreed. In fact, when asked, she offereda very long list of such opportunities, such as: having some crayons, putting your name on things, having computers, sitting on the carpet, watching a movie, making handprint chickens, doing letters, having some toy boxes and making pictures.
Lindsey said support for preschool in Oklahoma transcends politics. While offering free universal preschool to all can sound like a liberal talking point on its surface, Lindsey pointed out that it was also in line with traditional conservative values of protecting children and helping families.
“I’m not sure it’s a liberal or conservative issue,” she said. “It’s about people wanting to do the best thing for kids.”
This story was written byThe Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused oninequality and innovation in education. Read more about early education.
The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.
- The United Kingdom. ...
- The United States of America. ...
- Australia. ...
- Netherlands. ...
- Sweden. ...
- France. ...
- Denmark. ...
- Final Note: By sending your children abroad, they will earn not only a degree but also a unique advantage that can open doors to innumerable opportunities.
A loophole in Oklahoma law had allowed school districts to pad their kindergartens with 4-year-olds as a way to collect large amounts of extra funding. A bill to close the loophole contained an amendment expanding the school funding formula to include pre-kindergarten.How do I choose a preschool location? ›
An ideal location for the preschool should consist of a safe neighborhood around. Opening playschool around residential complexes is a good option in accordance with safety and space requirement. The location should be pollution free with least possible vehicle traffic for keeping up with the safety concerns.Does Oklahoma have universal Prek? ›
The same ruby-red state that recently passed a near-total abortion ban and last supported a Democrat for president in 1964 has operated a no-cost pre-K program open to all four-year-olds regardless of income since 1998.What state has the best child education? ›
- Massachusetts. Massachusetts has the best-ranked public schools in the United States and is the second-most educated state, just behind the District of Columbia. ...
- Connecticut. ...
- New Jersey. ...
- Virginia. ...
- Vermont. ...
- New Hampshire. ...
- Minnesota. ...
Oklahoma is one of just four states (the other are Florida, Vermont and West Virginia) along with the District of Columbia that offer universal preschool access to all age-eligible children regardless of family income.Does Oklahoma have free preschool? ›
Since 1998, Oklahoma has had fully funded preschool for every child, regardless of family income. As long as a child is 4 by Sept. 1, he or she is qualified to attend school for a year prior to entering kindergarten.How much does preschool cost in Oklahoma? ›
The average private preschool tuition in Oklahoma is $6,564 per year (2022-23).Why location is important in choosing a school? ›
As such selecting a school with a convenient location and effective security system is the only thing that you can do to safeguard to your child. . A good school location fulfils certain criteria as well connected roads, fortified spot, allocated away from hustle and bustle and is sheltered.
Children who are age five on or before September 1 are eligible for the public school Kindergarten program. Full-day Kindergarten is currently offered in every school district in Oklahoma (some exceptions apply).Do kids have to go to pre-K in Oklahoma? ›
Pre-K is not a mandatory grade, and attendance is voluntary. In 2003, Georgetown published the first study on Pre-K in Oklahoma. The report showed significant gains in language development for children attending a Pre-K program.What age do you start Prek in Oklahoma? ›
When can my child enroll in Pre-K? Children are eligible if they turn 4 years of age on or before September 1 of the school year they will begin Pre-K.Where do the smartest kids go to school? ›
|Characteristic||Average test score|
|California Institute of Technology||1,545|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||1,535|
|Harvey Mudd College||1,530|
|Washington University in St. Louis||1,520|
Pennsylvania was ranked 10th for pre-k to 12th grade and 50th for higher education.What state has the highest child care? ›
Study ranks best, worst states for child well-being: Massachusetts tops list, New Mexico trails.What is the most popular type of child care in the United States? ›
Family care remains the most common type of child-care arrangement across all marital and employment statuses.How much do Pre-K teachers make in Oklahoma? ›
The average Preschool Teacher salary in Oklahoma is $34,210 as of October 27, 2022, but the range typically falls between $30,940 and $38,940.How much is daycare for an infant per week in Oklahoma? ›
Pursuing a daycare for your child's childcare needs is incredibly cost-effective. In Oklahoma, the cost of daycare for children per week is as follows: Infants - $144, 4-Year Old - $108, School Age - $62.
Child care centers in Oklahoma charge an average of $715 per month for infant care and $550 per month for a four-year old child. The median household in Oklahoma in 2018 made just over $4,300 per month in gross income.What is Head Start Oklahoma? ›
What is Oklahoma Head Start? Head Start is a Federal program that promotes the school readiness of children from birth to age five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development.Is kindergarten mandatory in Oklahoma? ›
A child who is five (5) years of age shall be excused from kindergarten attendance until the next school year after the child is six (6) years of age if a parent, guardian, or other person having custody of the child notifies the superintendent of the district where the child is a resident by certified mail prior to ...Is there free preschool in the US? ›
Many states offer free or low-cost prekindergarten programs that are also considered preschool programs. Many organizations offer preschool programs, including schools, places of worship, nonprofit organizations, and child care centers.How many days a week should a toddler go to preschool? ›
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to deciding how many days your child should attend preschool. Whether your child attends three, four, or five mornings per week is ultimately a personal decision based on the particular needs of the child and family.How much should you spend on preschool? ›
The average cost of child care for pre-school children (from ages 3 to 5) is $850 monthly or $10,300 per year. The average cost of child care for school-age children (6 to 12) is around $483 per month or $5,800 annually.Is 2 year old preschool worth it? ›
Preschool can be very good at helping your child develop social and academic skills. Recent research shows that the type of preschool your child attends may play an important role in their future academic success – and that play-based programs may be most beneficial.What is the most important item in a preschool? ›
We call this “active learning” or “hands-on learning,” and it's an important characteristic of any high-quality preschool or nursery program. Lots of reading time, arts and crafts, music, dance, exploring the natural world, outdoor play—these are all critically important to young children.
In a high-quality preschool, children develop positive relationships with each other and their teachers. Teachers. Are warm and caring, and they get to know each child and family well. Help children learn how to play, work together, and make friends. Plan activities so that all children can join in.What is the most important thing in preschool? ›
develop problem-solving and creative thinking skills. develop responsibility, independence, confidence and self-worth through doing things like looking after their own belongings and spending time away from home. get ready for the transition to school.
- Classroom interaction. ...
- Positive environment. ...
- Support. ...
- Stable workforce. ...
- Administrator support. ...
- Appropriate curriculum for age group. ...
- Family interaction. ...
- Quality improvement.
Evidence suggests that children who attend high-quality preschools gain consistent and positive short-term effects in literacy, language, and math skills. These benefits even extend to later years, when children who attended preschool experience a lower percentage of grade retentions and special education.Which curriculum is best for preschool? ›
- Reggio Emilia.
- Parent Co-Ops.
- Bank Street.
The location differences and the differences in the quality of instruction from one school to another can create differences in the level of knowledge acquisition of the students. This shows that the learning facilities children are exposed to and the socio-economic effect on them can affect their academic performance.What factors are to be considered in choosing a location? ›
- Proximity to the market. ...
- Rent price. ...
- Demographics. ...
- Infrastructure and accessibility. ...
- Distribution network. ...
- Competition – to be closer or not. ...
- Remote business location. ...
Districts must admit children at the beginning of the school year (or whenever they move into a district) if they will be five years of age on or before September 1 (EC Section 48000[a]). Children who are age-eligible for kindergarten may attend any pre-kindergarten summer program maintained by the school district.Should I send my child to kindergarten at 5 or 6? ›
Should my child start kindergarten at 5 or 6? Individual states have different laws in terms of age cut-offs for starting school, but generally, children can start kindergarten when they are 5 years old. They do not have to, but schooling of some sort is compulsory when the child turns 6 years old.What should my 4 year old know before kindergarten? ›
Many kids who are ready for kindergarten can say the alphabet and count to 10. Kindergarten readiness includes motor skills like holding a pencil and using scissors. Self-care like getting dressed and not needing help in the bathroom are important kindergarten skills.Does Oklahoma have universal Pre-K? ›
The same ruby-red state that recently passed a near-total abortion ban and last supported a Democrat for president in 1964 has operated a no-cost pre-K program open to all four-year-olds regardless of income since 1998.Can my child go to any school in Oklahoma? ›
Oklahoma Traditional Public Schools
Open enrollment refers to whether parents can send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. In Oklahoma, students can request a transfer to a school in any district, regardless of where they live.
Many preschools do have age restrictions, but they tend to allow children between the age of 3 and 5 years old into the classroom. In early childhood, the difference of a few years in a child's life can be huge.What is the youngest age to go to preschool? ›
For the most part, educators define preschool as the two years before a child begins kindergarten. Some preschools set a minimum age for when they'll accept kids—usually, they have to be 3 by December of the academic year, although some will allow children as young as 2 to attend.What age is prekindergarten in Texas? ›
Pre-K is for children who will be 4 years old on or before September 1 and meet Texas Education Agency eligibility requirements. Click here for the TEA's eligibility requirements. Children must be five years old on or before September 1 to enroll in Kindergarten.What is the #1 country for education? ›
Story highlights. It's a world-class teacher's pet – a straight-A student that's top of the class: Singapore is officially the country with the smartest high-school kids in the world.Which country is best for toddlers? ›
- Croatia with a Toddler.
- Disney Paris with a Toddler.
- Germany with a Toddler.
- Italy with a Toddler.
- Iceland with a Toddler.
- Ireland with a Toddler.
- Malta with a Toddler.
- Spain with a Toddler.
1. The United States of America. The American education system is known for its practical learning and offers a wide array of educational choices to international students.Which country has best government school? ›
Countries With Best Education System in the World 2022. United States. United Kingdom. Canada.What country has the smartest people? ›
Which countries are the smartest in the world?
- United States.
- United Kingdom.
Which country has the hardest education system? South Korea, Japan, Singapore are a few countries which have one of the hardest education systems. Which country has the hardest math? The United Kingdom, The United States of America, etc are the countries having one of the best education systems.
The top three smartest states include Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland. West Virginia and Mississippi rank lowest on the index, scoring a 12.6 and a 13.3 respectively. (Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television.Which child is most likely to be the smartest? ›
Oldest children are the smartest, research shows
Research published in the Journal of Human Resources found that firstborn children outperform their younger siblings on cognitive tests starting from infancy — they are better set up for academic and intellectual success thanks to the type of parenting they experience.
- Japan - 106.48.
- Taiwan - 106.47.
- Singapore - 105.89.
- Hong Kong - 105.37.
- China - 104.1.
- South Korea - 102.35.
- Belarus - 101.6.
- Finland - 101.2.
|Rank||Country||Nutrition and health|
Japan, Singapore and South Korea are a few countries which have the toughest education system.Why United States has the best education system? ›
That's because American schools are well known for providing high-quality education through a balanced, tried-and-tested curriculum. The US education system is informed by cutting-edge research, which helps develop students into critical thinkers with well-rounded social-emotional skills.Which country degree is most valuable? ›
Which country's MS degree is most valuable from the global perspective? Ans. The top countries that will help you get maximum global recognition after an MS degree include US, UK, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, France, and Germany.