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By the Numbers: The Landscape of Elementary Education

By the Numbers: The Landscape of Elementary Education

Elementary education is about much more than the basic “3 R’s” of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The pre-K through 6th grade years encompass important foundational and developmental milestones, and they’re getting more and more attention. We’re digging into three important questions related to the elementary landscape today by taking a close look at what the latest facts and statistics say.

What’s the long-term value of early childhood education?

  • In 2015, 70% of four-year-olds attended some type of public or private preschool, while only 42% of three-year-olds did.1
  • As of the 2014-2015 school year, 42 states plus the District of Columbia had public preschool programs.1
  • Head Start, the U.S.’s largest and longest existing public preschool program, serves approximately 10% of 4-year-olds and 8% of 3-year-olds. However, these children represent 40% of all 4- and 3-year-olds from families below the federal poverty level.1
  • Spending on early childhood programs across all major federal and state initiatives in 2015 totaled $36.6 million.1
  • Long and short term studies of preschool programming effectiveness have only been conducted in 10 states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey.1
  • Results gathered by the National Survey of Early Care and Education show that 41% of state and locally-funded programs utilize a “Whole-child” curricula (emphasizing child-centered and active learning), 25% utilize other published early childhood curricula (including math and literacy curricula), and 34% use a self-developed curriculum or no curriculum at all. Amongst Head Start funded programs, 73% follow Whole-child curricula, 20% use other publish curricula, and only 7% use self-developed or no curriculum. In general, the studies conducted have shown clearer evidence that published math and literacy curriculum are most effective at closing literacy and numeracy gaps and improving academic achievement once children reach kindergarten.1
  • Preschool programming varies widely from state to state and between private programs. Children also come into preschool programs with widely varying early experiences at home. Rigorous, methodologically sound studies evaluating long-term program effectiveness have not produced consensus results yet. However, the existing research seems to indicate that economically disadvantaged children and dual language learners see greater improvements in long term academic gains than more advantaged children and those who are English proficient.1

What’s the big deal about reading by the third grade?

  • Third grade marks the transition in students’ education where the focus shifts from learning to read to reading to learn.2
  • 1 in 6 children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time –4 times greater than the rate for proficient readers.3
  • More than $2 billion is spent every year on students who repeat a grade because of reading problems.3
  • Economic disparities play a significant role in literacy gaps. Among students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, 79% tested below proficient in reading, as compared to only 48% of students not receiving free or reduced price lunches.2
  • Reading by the third grade has become a legislative issue. 15 states plus the District of Columbia require grade-retention for students not reading at a proficient level by the end of the third grade (although 14 allow for conditional promotion with “good-cause” exemptions such as for English language learners, participation in intervention programs, or passage of alternative reading assessments). An additional 8 states allow for retention but do not require it.2

What’s the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) in pre-K through 6th grade classrooms?

  • The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified 5 key competencies within SEL, which contribute to meaningful learning and success beyond the classroom: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.4
  • Currently, only 11 states have specified development goals directly related to SEL for elementary students.5
  • Studies have shown that students who receive SEL programming show an 11% gain in academic achievement.5
  • A recent study by researchers at the Columbia University found that for every $1 invested in SEL programming a return of $11 can be expected.6

At Edmentum, we recognize the importance of elementary education to future academic and career success. That’s why we’re proud to offer proven, research based solutions for early learning. Ready to find out more? Learn about our Balanced Approach for Elementary Success Using Exact Path, Study Island, and Reading Eggs!



  1. Brookings: The Current State of Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects
  2. National Conference of State Legislatures: Third Grade Reading Legislation
  3. Edmentum Blog: [Infographic] The Impacts of Literacy for Early Learners
  4. CASEL: SEL Impact
  5. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Social Emotional Learning in Elementary School
  6. Columbia University: The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning's picture
Sarah Cornelius

Sarah Cornelius is an Associate Product Manager at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.