Research News

Study finds Madison’s 4-year-old kindergarten expands educational equity

October 03, 2017
by Wisconsin Center for Education Research communications

Since the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) began 4-year-old kindergarten (4K) in 2011, more than two-thirds of its kindergarten students have started in its 4K programs. The district offers three-hour, play-based 4K sessions in the morning and afternoon. Now, with six full years of operational data on 4K, a new research-practice partnership between MMSD and UW–Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) is taking a close look at the district’s 4K enrollments.

In the first research brief released by the Madison Education Partnership (MEP), researchers compare 4K enrollments by year, race and ethnicity, income, English language proficiency and disability. The authors also look at who enrolls in the district’s school and community-based sites, who attends morning or afternoon sessions and how MMSD 4K enrollment patterns compare to those of 4K programs in similar Wisconsin districts.

4K report
In its first report, MEP takes a close look at the first six
years of 4K offered by Madison's public schools.
“MMSD’s 4K program appears to be broadening educational equity in the district,” says Jaymes Pyne, a researcher at the partnership and a UW–Madison doctoral candidate in sociology. “We know the 4K program is enrolling a greater share of minority students, youngsters from low-income households and children with special needs than we see entering kindergarten. The district is adding to the learning opportunities of children from historically disadvantaged groups before they enter kindergarten.”

Over its six years of operation, MMSD’s 4K participation rate has risen from 67 to 72 percent of the district’s entering kindergarteners, and is five to ten percent higher among African American and Latino students, low-income students and English language learners. 

“The district believes 4K can be a strategy to accelerate equity in MMSD, and this brief confirms that the program reaches students who need it most,” states Beth Vaade, co-director of the partnership and MMSD qualitative research supervisor. “It’s fantastic to see the partnership in action. MEP will be a key partner in helping the district understand and innovate moving forward.”

The researchers found that in comparing the 4K sites based in 24 MMSD schools to the 29 community-based sites that are part of the district’s program, the school-based sites serve a slightly more diverse student population. Parents with higher incomes and levels of education more often enroll their children in afternoon sessions, though this trend is more noticeable in community sites than school-based sites.

Not all 4K students continue in the district for kindergarten. MEP found that about one in five students enrolls elsewhere for kindergarten. White and Asian students were slightly less likely to continue their education in the district than English language learners, students with disabilities or children from families with low incomes.

The researchers used data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to compare 4K enrollments in Madison with eight other urban districts in the state. They found that rates of African American and Latino enrollment in Madison are similar to those in the other districts. However, white children were more likely to enroll in MMSD by five percentage points over Asian students; whereas Asian students were more likely than white students to enroll in the comparison districts.

Students from low-income families across all nine districts were seven to eight percentage points more likely to enroll in 4K than their more economically advantaged peers. Finally, while English language learners were less likely to enroll in 4K elsewhere, these students were more likely to enroll in MMSD’s 4K program.