Pre-K for All: All it Promises?

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Everybody knows the importance of pre-school to long-term educational success. Or do they?Brookings Education policy expert Grover J. Whitehurst dug into the issue in light of President Obama’s February call for Preschool for All and the subsequent November introduction of federally funded preschool legislation.

Everybody knows the importance of pre-school to long-term educational success. Or do they?

Brookings education policy expert Grover J. Whitehurst dug into the issue in light of President Obama’s February call for “Preschool for All” and the subsequent November introduction of federally funded preschool legislation.

The general concern is that low-income families need help preparing their children for long-term success in school. However, it appears that state or federally funded early education does not necessarily remedy the situation. Whitehurst explained that many advocates for these programs base their ideas on old programs with a small reach, as well as on new research with questionable methodology. Meanwhile, they ignore the National Head Start Impact Study that showed no difference in elementary school outcomes for those who did or did not attend the Head Start early childhood program.

He stated:

“But in fact if you’re an advocate of strengthening early childhood programs, as I am, you also need to pay careful attention to the evidence – all of it.  Poor children deserve effective programs, not just programs that are well-intentioned.”

Whitehurst looked at a more recent Tennessee study which compares students who won a lottery to go to the Tennessee Voluntary State Pre-K Program (TN-VPK) with those who lost the lottery. (TN-VPK is a high-quality program comparable to Obama’s Preschool for All.) When evaluated in first grade, the effects of attending the TN-VPK preschool program were insignificant or, often, slightly negative. TN-VPK showed negative outcomes in spelling, letter-word identification, math, behavior, and school preparedness, with slightly positive outcomes in peer relations and social skills.

Whitehurst’s conclusion?

“I see these findings as devastating for advocates of the expansion of state pre-k programs.  This is the first large scale randomized trial of a present-day state pre-k program…. [I]ts results align almost perfectly with those of the Head Start Impact Study, the only other large randomized trial that examines the longitudinal effects of having attended a public pre-k program.  Based on what we have learned from these studies, the most defensible conclusion is that these statewide programs are not working to meaningfully increase the academic achievement or social/emotional skills and dispositions of children from low-income families.  I wish this weren’t so, but facts are stubborn things.  Maybe we should figure out how to deliver effective programs before the federal government funds preschool for all.”

In light of these findings, what does this mean for the state-funded pre-k movement in Mississippi? Is it a wise investment of taxpayer dollars and of the early years of Mississippi’s little ones?

>>Source: Whitehurst, Grover J. “Russ.” “New Evidence Raises Doubts on Obama’s Preschool for All.” The Brown Center Chalkboard. Brookings. 20 Nov. 2013.

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