Dec 4 2017
Two preschoolers in classroom

Just two years into Seattle’s trial effort to close the kindergarten readiness gap, there are promising signs that children of color and those from low-income households are making gains.

The new study, co-led by researchers with Cultivate Learning at the University of Washington College of Education and the National Institute for Early Education Research, found children enrolled in the Seattle Preschool Program performed better on assessments of their vocabulary, literacy and math skills, with the largest gains going to children of color and dual language children.

“These are encouraging findings, especially when you consider that this is only the second year of implementation,” said Gail Joseph, associate professor of early childhood and family studies and director of Cultivate Learning.  

Researchers also found improvements in instructional quality from year one to year two, even as Seattle more than doubled the number of preschool classrooms.

“This speaks volumes about the program’s ability to provide caring and nurturing environments for children,” Joseph said. “The quality that we see in Seattle’s preschool classrooms compares favorably with that of well-regarded programs in other cities that have been around longer. That ability to scale quality as enrollment grows is essential.”

During the 2016-17 school year, the team tested 291 children in the city’s program and 132 who were on the waitlist or enrolled in other preschool centers.

While the results are promising so far, Joseph noted that there is room for continued improvements in quality. For example, she noted that additional professional development and coaching could usefully focus on strengthening personal care routines and learning activities.

“Important areas for improvement include increasing the amount of rich content, increasing integration across content areas, reducing transition time, and supporting metacognition in settings that provide high levels of individualization and choice,” Joseph said.  

The Seattle Preschool Program subsidizes preschool tuition on a sliding scale, and is open to all 4-year-olds in the city. Approximately 80 percent of the enrolled children come from families who qualified for free tuition.

Seattle voters approved a $58 million property-tax levy in 2014 to pay for a four-year trial of the city-subsidized program. Currently, approximately 1,000 children are enrolled in the program.


Gail Joseph, Associate Professor of Education and Director, Cultivate Learning

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications