High-quality early childhood programs can reduce the number of children diagnosed with certain learning disabilities by third grade, according to a study published Tuesday in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal.
The study, conducted by Clara G. Muschkin, Helen F. Ladd and Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, could have significant implications for reducing the financial burden special education services place on municipal budgets.
The researchers explored how two early childhood initiatives in North Carolina affected the likelihood that children would be placed in special education by the end of third grade. It focused on a preschool program for four-year-olds from at-risk families and a program that provides child, family, and health services for children from birth through age five. The study tracked 871,000 children who were born between 1988 and 2000 and were enrolled in third grade between 1995 and 2010.
Children who participated in the More at Four preschool program, now called NC Pre-K, were 32 percent less likely to be placed in special education by third grade, compared to peers who did not participate in the preschool program, the study found.
Those enrolled in the Smart Start program for children from birth through age five were 10 percent less likely to be receiving special education services by third grade, the researchers found.
Together, both programs reduced the likelihood of third-graders receiving special education services by 39 percent, the researchers said. That could translate into significant savings, as special education in the U.S. costs almost twice as much as regular classroom education.
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