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After Pre-K, Baltimore City kids more prepared for kindergarten than average MD students

Eight years into the program, Baltimore City Schools’ experiment with full-day Pre-K appears to be working. After Pre-K, Baltimore City children are more prepared for kindergarten than the average Maryland student.

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- Eight years into the program, Baltimore City Schools’ experiment with full-day Pre-K appears to be working. After Pre-K, Baltimore City children are more prepared for kindergarten than the average Maryland student.

But Project Baltimore, Fox45’s long-term investigation into Baltimore Area Schools, found by third grade those same kids have fallen way behind and most never catch up.

A student is considered ready for Kindergarten if they have a certain amount of math, reading and language skills. Pre-K is designed to help develop those skills. But we found the gains students get from pre-k are lost when they enter elementary school in Baltimore City. That has some saying it’s a waste of money.

Project Baltimore took a look at state assessments data and found 48 percent of students in Baltimore City, who start kindergarten, are considered ready to learn. That’s slightly higher than the state average of 46 percent. But we also found those gains are quickly lost. By third grade, those same students have fallen way behind their state peers and most never catch up. Last year, 12 percent of elementary students tested proficient in math, compared to 32 percent statewide. In English, the gap was wider at 14 percent in Baltimore City and 39 percent in the state.

"I know that data you cited and what it's doing is forcing us to look deeply to decide how we prioritize this work,” says Dr. Sonja Santelesis, CEO of Baltimore City Schools. “We have a trajectory of success. We need to continue it.”

But Jeanne Allen, from the Center for Education Reform says “If you actually help students gain the skills that they don't have upon arriving to school, and then you send them to a crappy system, it's not going to help them.”

City Schools spend $32 million a year for about 4,700 students to attend full day pre-k, which is not a mandatory program. The city offers it to help students close the learning gap before kindergarten. But if those gains are lost by thirds grade, critics ask, why spend the money?

"So we're wasting money on Pre-k,” says Allen. “The only way to sustain a gain that you help a student get, the only way to help someone who's already learning, learn more, is to put them in an effective environment.”

With City Schools’ recent $130 million budget gap, Allen favors taking the money and re-investing it elsewhere.

"The longer they stay in a Baltimore school, the worse they do," Allen says.

But since taking over Baltimore City Schools in July, Santelesis has seen the effectiveness of pre-k. She says the answer is not to trim the program to save money, but to find ways to build on the student gains. "What we are doing now is taking a look at what we are not doing in kindergarten, first,” she says.

We looked further into the numbers and found City Schools spends about $6,800 per student in pre-K. Baltimore County spends a third of that, about $2,000 per pre-K student.

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