OKLAHOMA CITY (April 29, 2020) – Oklahoma climbs to third in the country for Pre-K access for 4-year-olds, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). In the same report last year, Oklahoma scored among the top eight states in the nation. Oklahoma serves 86.5% of eligible 4-year-old children when public pre-kindergarten enrollment (76.3%) is combined with Head Start enrollment, the annual report states. Only the District of Columbia (87.3%) and Vermont (86.8%) serve more students.
In addition, Oklahoma was named a leader in policies to support standards for high-quality Pre-K education for the second year in a row. Only nine states met at least nine of the 10 benchmark categories, which include academic standards, staff professional development and caps on class sizes.
“Oklahoma has a long tradition of excellence in early childhood education and stands out in the level of professionalism and expertise of Oklahoma’s Pre-K teachers. Preparing our children to be ready to read by kindergarten remains a key priority here as we value the health and development of our youngest learners,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NIEER introduced a policy recommendation advising Pre-K programs to quickly develop guidelines to provide emergency services and educate young children remotely for the remainder of this school year and for the coming summer and fall. On March 25, Hofmeister and the State Board of Education unanimously approved an order that implemented distance learning for all grades, including a unique partnership with the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority to broadcast programming tailored to the Oklahoma Academic Standards.
“Oklahoma education acted quickly and effectively to ensure that families with children in Pre-K programs had the resources and supports needed to foster learning in home environments,” said Debra Andersen, the executive director for the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness. “Once again, the Oklahoma Standard shines bright for our Pre-K students.”
NIEER recognized Oklahoma for its fully aligned academic standards for Pre-K to 12th grade in 2016 and for the Professional Learning Focus in 2018. Oklahoma is one of the few states requiring Pre-K teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree with teaching certification, and it ensures them equal pay with other grade-level teachers. Pre-K teachers in Oklahoma also have the same individualized professional development opportunities as other teachers at the state level.
Oklahoma launched its Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program in 1980, years ahead of the rest of the country. In 1998, Oklahoma became only the second state to offer Pre-K for all 4-year-olds, with 99% of school districts participating.
Oklahoma’s commitment to early education is evident in the state’s eight-year strategic plan, Oklahoma Edge. The comprehensive education plan, required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), lists one of the state’s six primary goals as aligning early childhood education and learning foundations to ensure at least 75% of students are “ready to read” upon kindergarten entry.
The NIEER report is based on data from the 2018-19 school year.