More states turn to Oklahoma as model for Pre-K education-- critics say not so fast

More states, like New York are turning to Oklahoma for help establishing universal Pre-K programs.

"We do really well when it comes to the quality of the Pre-K program and the percentages of the 4-year olds that are in Pre-K," said Debra Anderson, Executive Director of Smart Start Oklahoma.

Andersen says about 75% of four year olds in Oklahoma are enrolled in public pre-school, one of the highest enrollment rates in the nation.

"I think they would like to learn about how we did that and how we were able to make that happen," said Andersen.

Giving all children a head start on their education is appealing to most parents, but the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) says Pre-K in Oklahoma isn't perfect.

"This program started in 1998, and since then, our 4th grade reading scores on the National System of Education and Progress has actually gone down," said Brandon Dutcher, Senior Vice President of OCPA.

Dutcher says education leaders should take a second look at Oklahoma's Pre-K program.

"If the government decides we're going to give free childcare to people that's their decision," said Dutcher, "but I think they need to balance it and ask is this really cost effective to what our goals are as lawmakers."

Andersen says, Pre-K alone should not be to blame. She believes to improve test scores and literacy rates, education leaders must look at the system as a whole, and examine what's happening from Pre-K up to third grade.

"There's an awful lot of learning that occurs through those grades," she explained, "so we don't want to say that only attending Pre-K is going to be a surefire pass on 3rd grade reading."

Andersen says recognizing the literacy problem, Pre-K leaders are implementing an "early literacy quick assessment" to help students get on the right track.

"We really want to get tools in teachers hands to help them be more effective teachers," said Andersen.

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