Tennessee Ranks in Top 10 Percentile for High-Quality Pre-K Programs

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 | 04:46pm


One of Only Twelve States Across Country to Receive High Ranking


Nashville, TN—Tennessee now meets nine of 10 standards for high-quality pre-K programs, which demonstrates progress over the last several years, according to the 2020 edition of The State of Preschool Yearbook by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers Graduate School of Education. 

Tennessee is one of only 12 states with pre-K programs to have met 9 of 10 of NIEER’s quality standard benchmarks. Additionally, Tennessee is 1 of 14 state programs that met the staff professional development benchmark which remains the most difficult benchmark for pre-K programs to meet. 

This year’s ranking is a result of significant improvements to Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK) between 2016 and 2020 due to unwavering commitment from state leaders and partners, even throughout the ongoing pandemic where funding for the program has been maintained.  

“We are thrilled to see the hard work of improving the quality of pre-K education in Tennessee pay off,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We know providing students with high-quality materials and instruction at every age is critical for long-term success. This ranking is a testament to the hard work and prioritization of early childhood education and literacy across the state.” 

Starting with Tennessee’s Pre-K Quality Act of 2016, improvements to the TN-VPK program have continued through Governor Bill Lee’s administration, including shifting to a competitive VPK grant application process, facilitating an annual training on the pre-K Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), piloting of pre-K coaching, and shifting to research-based sounds first supplement and high-quality instructional materials. 

“The TDOE Early Childhood department supported VPK directors across the state in a variety of ways. Two supports I have really appreciated are the open office hours that allowed us the opportunity to stop by, virtually, twice a week to ask questions about a number of topics, and the training we received on the CLASS observations,” said Melinda Smith, Voluntary Pre-K Director, Clarksville Montgomery County Schools. “Additionally, the training and tool related to CLASS helps directors in supporting pre-K staff to increase the quality of instruction and has led our district to higher scores and performance.” 

“The Lebanon Special School District has seen quality improvement in the Voluntary Pre-K program both qualitatively and quantitatively from the focus on quality materials and instruction through ongoing teacher support and coaching,” said Dr. Penny Thompson, Instructional Coordinator and Pre-K Director, Lebanon Special School District. “This year the Pre-K Coach has worked with teachers to set explicit goals to implement foundational skills in daily lessons and intentionally integrate the foundational skills activities throughout the day in all curricular components.” 

The report is based on NIEER’s annual survey in which department staff respond to questions on the state’s pre-K policies and is the only nationwide source of data on state-funded pre-K programs. 

To find additional information related to Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program, click here. For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact Edu.MediaInquiries@tn.gov.