There is no silver bullet for fixing public education. But reformers are convinced that quality pre-K is the closest thing to a silver bullet that currently exists.

Research indicates that what happens between birth and age 5 is crucial for brain development. If 5-year-olds are behind when they start kindergarten, studies show that they have a hard time catching up with their peers. By the time they reach third-grade, if they’re not reading at grade level, catching up will be harder and take longer because by third-grade, students should be done learning to read and need to be reading to learn.

One solution? Start earlier rather than trying (and failing) to catch students up later. A years-long push spanning both the Mike Miles and Mike Hinojosa administrations is working to enroll as many impoverished 4-year-olds and even 3-year-olds as possible into DISD pre-K programs.

Enrollment alone is not enough. Experts stress that “quality” pre-K is essential to preparing young minds, and Southern Methodist University’s Center on Research and Evaluation is studying DISD’s process to help ensure this.

Is pre-K working? Yes, says Derek Little, DISD’s assistant superintendent of early childhood.

“Pre-K puts students on a much stronger path. In Dallas ISD, we see that pre-K students consistently outperform their peers in third-grade reading,” Little says. “Roughly 2,000 more students met third-grade level standards last year because of pre-K.”


Low-income students enroll in DISD pre-K programs in 2013


Low-income 3- and 4-year-olds enroll in DISD pre-K in 2014, after Supt. Mike Miles hires Alan Cohen to fill a new position: executive director of Dallas ISD early childhood and community partnerships. (Derek Little is Cohen’s successor.)


Percent of eligible 4-year-olds enroll in DISD pre-K in 2016, up from 62 percent in 2013.


Times more likely that a DISD student will be reading at grade level four years later, in third-grade, if they are ready for kindergarten.


Times more likely that a student will be ready for kindergarten if they enroll in DISD pre-K.


Low-income 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in DISD pre-K this year.

Sources: The Commit! Partnership, Dallas ISD’s “The Hub,” Alan Cohen, Derek Little