MDRC in the News

In New York City Pre-Ks, Adding 123s to the ABCs

The Wall Street Journal

05/2017

In a city where 41% of third-graders pass state math tests, education officials are trying to boost children’s grasp of numbers, patterns and shapes as early as prekindergarten.

The trouble is, it can be hard to know what works.

The New York City Department of Education bet on a program called “Building Blocks” that research found had good results in Boston and elsewhere. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has launched the program in more than 1,000 prekindergarten classrooms, trained teachers and dispatched coaches to help them use its games, puzzles and hands-on projects.

Yet a 2016 study by the nonprofit research firm MDRC said that Building Blocks had no consistent impact on math skills, language ability or self-control of New York City children. The study compared children in the program with children randomly assigned to “pre-K as usual” classes. It found an early boost from Building Blocks in the fall of pre-K faded out by the end of the school year…..

…..Shira Mattera, a researcher at MDRC, said that perhaps New York City children in Building Blocks didn’t show more math skills than peers in “pre-K as usual” because the city has pushed math everywhere. Her study found children typically got 35 minutes a day of playful math in regular prekindergarten; children in Building Blocks classrooms had 12 minutes more daily…..

…..A follow-up study by MDRC aimed to see whether children who were taught with Building Blocks in pre-K would benefit from a second year of extra early math through a new program called High 5s, which provided instruction in small math clubs three times a week.

The new study, released in February, found a “modest” positive impact on math skills and working memory for children in High 5s by the spring of their kindergarten year. It wasn’t clear whether the improvement stemmed from Building Blocks, the High 5s clubs or a combination, or whether the gains would persist. These studies are funded through philanthropies and will follow the children through third grade…..

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