Pre-K: Tulsa’s Important Role

by Diane M. Horm, Ph.D., and Sherri Castle, M.S., Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI) at OU-Tulsa


Currently, 42 states, including Oklahoma, invest state funds to offer pre-K to 4-year-olds as a strategy to enhance young children’s school readiness and success.  Pre-K enrollments have grown dramatically over the past 20 years from virtually 0% to approximately 32% of the country’s 4-year-olds in 2016.


Oklahoma has been a pioneer and leader in pre-K programing and research.  Oklahoma was one of the first states to offer pre-K programs and is currently one of just three states that serve over 75% of the state’s 4-year-olds through state-funded, universal, but voluntary programs. In addition to the large number of children served, Oklahoma’s pre-K is rated as good quality, meeting or exceeding nine out of ten research-based policy benchmark standards such as requiring teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and limiting class size to no more than 20 children.


Research on Tulsa’s pre-K has helped to inform and shape the growth of pre-K across the U.S.  An early study started in Tulsa in 2001 by Deborah Phillips and Bill Gormley of Georgetown University was ground-breaking and one of the first to contribute to the growing body of research showing that children attending state and school district pre-K programs are more ready for school at the end of their pre-K year than children who do not attend pre-K. Research has documented improvements in academic areas such as early reading and math and in social skills as a result of pre-K attendance.


Research is needed to fill the existing gaps in the literature and support the implementation and maintenance of high quality pre-K.  Additionally, although numerous studies have documented the success of pre-K programs in preparing young children for formal schooling, inconclusive evidence about the sustainability of pre-K benefits as children move through their K-12 years is raising important new questions for scientists, educators, and policymakers. How can states and districts optimize their pre-K programs to provide the boost prior to Kindergarten entry, lay a solid foundation for future learning, and maintain the gains over time? Additionally, how can districts provide instruction in later grades that sustains the boost gained during the pre-K year?


These questions are the focus of a new study that will be conducted in Tulsa starting in August 2017.  The research team includes Deborah Phillips and Anna Johnson of Georgetown University in partnership with Diane Horm and Sherri Castle of OU-Tulsa’s Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI).  The study will involve TPS, CAP-Tulsa, and Educare pre-K classrooms and assess children’s learning and development, observe children’s classroom experiences, and gather information from families.  The research team plans to follow these children through grade 3 and thus once again position Tulsa to contribute findings that inform local, state, and national policies and practices.


Please join us in making this study a success. If your child is selected to be part of our new study, you will be contacted by a member of our OU-Tulsa ECEI staff early in the school year. We will ask for your permission to engage your child in some learning games to assess their academic skills at the beginning and the end of the pre-K year. We will also reach out to you for a little information about your experiences as a parent and to your child’s teacher for information about their perceptions of your child’s classroom experience. If you are an educator who is asked to participate in the study, please do so.  As you know, the results of Tulsa’s first pre-K studies were critical to the growth of pre-K across the U.S., helping millions of young children get a leg up on school success.  With all of our efforts, we can document the exciting learning experiences available to our youngest Tulsans and continue to demonstrate the importance of pre-K to our state and nation.