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Preschool may reduce amount of students who need special education

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 06, 2015 10:20 AM

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, between 2011 and 2012, 13 percent of school children between the ages of 3 and 21 were in a special education program. These students, for whatever reason, needed additional help academically in order to thrive. While special education can truly help those who require it, such programs cost states more money than regular programs. In many cases, schools need to hire specialized educators, have smaller class sizes and purchase different curriculum materials. 

In light of that, results from a new study may make school leaders smile. According to a study published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, at-risk students who attend preschool are less likely to require special education programs after third grade than those who don't start school young.

The research
Researchers from Duke University studied two preschools between 1995 and 2010. One school catered to kids from at-risk families (those who had low incomes), and the other program offered health, family and child services. Additionally, the schools invested about $1,110 per student. 

The contribution seemed to be worth the cost, as the programs reduced the special education placement rate by the time students reached third grade - the first school reduced it by 32 percent and the second program by 10 percent. 

The implications
Reducing the likelihood of some children being placed in special education programs creates many benefits. For one, states, districts and schools won't have to spend as much money on special education if fewer children are in it. This can free up some cash flow for other areas of education, from implementing more training and support for the Common Core State Standards to investing in new technology. 

More importantly, students who do not require special education who may have had they not received early education intervention can get more out of their academic journey. The study cited prior research that found students who were in special education were more likely to drop out of school or commit crimes as an adult. If preschool can prevent those things in even a portion of students, the program can be called a success. 

"Significant cognitive and social disadvantages often emerge before children enter kindergarten," Clara G. Muschkin, one of the study's authors, said in a statement. "Our findings provide further evidence that high-quality early childhood intervention provides the best opportunity to reduce preventable cognitive and social disabilities. Access to early education may allow some children to transition early from special education placements. For some children, early intervention and treatment may help them to avoid special education in school altogether."