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Indicator: Access to quality public pre-K


Children have access to a high-quality public pre-K program.


Percentage of public pre-K programs that meet Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) state benchmarks of quality

Data Source(s)

Administrative data; classroom observations

Why it matters

A high-quality pre-K program can meaningfully enhance children’s early learning and development, thereby producing long-term improvements in school success and generating benefits to both individuals and society that far exceed the costs. The positive effects of access to quality pre-K on children’s math and reading achievement are even larger in districts with a majority of Black students.  Although Black children enroll in pre-K at rates roughly similar to their White peers (and have higher rates of enrollment in publicly funded programs), the quality of their experiences differ. On average, Black children attend programs rated as lower quality than White children. For instance, a study of New York City’s universal pre-K program found that Black children attended programs with quality scores about 0.5 standard deviations lower than White children; put differently, more than two-thirds of Black children attended pre-K programs of lower quality than White children.

What to know about measurement

QRIS has been implemented in all or part of 38 states and is based on quality standards determined by each state. Each state uses QRIS to collect data on the quality of pre-K program sites. Because states may use some of the same QRIS indicators and measure them in the same ways, it is possible to compare ratings across most states. Framework users can consult the QRIS Compendium to examine which indicators and metrics used to define quality align across states. QRIS capture mandatory requirements that must be met to legally operate, funding standards to be eligible for specific funding sources, and voluntary quality standards and best practices. Many of the elements—particularly mandatory requirements and funding standards—captured in these systems are the minimal standards that support pre-K program quality. QRIS data are also limited in that most states do not include additional criteria for effectively serving children with disabilities, although some states are working on or considering inclusion in their QRIS designs.  The measurement tools often used in QRIS currently (such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales) may not fully capture whether programs are meeting the needs of all students.

To measure the quality of state pre-K policies, National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) publishes the State of Preschool Yearbook, which annually tracks states’ minimum policies in place to support public pre-K quality according to a set of quality standards. Information on the quality of states’ pre-K policies can supplement the program-level quality data provided by QRIS.

Source frameworks

Eleven source frameworks reviewed for this report include a measure of access to Pre-K. Our approach to measuring quality using QRIS benchmarks aligns with recommendations put forth by the Center on Enhancing Early Learning outcomes (CEELO) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

This website was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.