Full-day pre-K linked to higher student attendance in Chicago, research finds

UChicago Consortium findings point to policies to better support Black, Latinx families

A new research summary of two UChicago Consortium on School Research studies shows that when more full-day pre-K programs were available to families, students were more likely to enroll in full-day programs, and student attendance rates increased.

Using pre-pandemic data (2013–2017), these studies used policy changes in Chicago to examine the relationship between half- vs. full-day pre-K and students’ attendance.

“As Chicago offered more full-day pre-K, students spent more time in school because of the longer school day, plus higher attendance rates,” said Stacy Ehrlich, lead author on the first study. “And because Chicago prioritized full-day expansion in neighborhoods where more Black, Latinx and lowest-income families lived, those families saw the biggest enrollment and attendance changes—a win for students, families and educational equity.”

These research findings are particularly notable given universal pre-K policy goals of President Biden and a number of governors and state legislators, coupled with the reality that pre-K enrollment has dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings also point to policies that better support juggling childcare, school and work—support that families with young children are clamoring for in the early days of 2022.

“Ultimately, our findings point to an opportunity for policymakers to offer quality pre-K programs that promote access and break down barriers for students and families,” said Elaine Allensworth, lead author of the second study, “and it’s never been more important to break down barriers for families with young children than today.”

Allensworth is the Lewis-Sebring Director of the UChicago Consortium, which was founded in 1990 to support stronger and more equitable educational outcomes for students through rigorous research into policy and practice in the Chicago Public Schools.

Key findings from the two new studies include:

  • District-wide, more CPS students enrolled in full-day pre-K programs from 2012–13 through 2015–16, while enrollment in half-day pre-K declined.
  • Full-day pre-K enrollment increases were especially large for Black students, whose enrollment more than quadrupled.
  • CPS-wide pre-K attendance rates increased, driven by higher full-day attendance rates—particularly notable given that full-day student enrollment never reached more than 25% of total pre-K enrollment.
  • After switching from half-day to full-day pre-K, attendance improved more in North Lawndale schools than CPS-wide, and were significantly higher than at similar schools.

This story was adapted from a UChicago Consortium on School Research press release.