A Mixed Report on Pre-K

Three researchers studied the effects of Pre-Kindergarten programs on subsequent academic and performance and behavior, and reached some surprising conclusions.  Mark W. Lipsey, Dale C. Farran and Kelley Durkin* conducted a randomized trial involving nearly 3,000 children in a Tennessee pre-kindergarten program.  These children were 4-year-olds who qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch.  The students’ subsequent progress was tracked through 3rd grade by use of standardized achievement tests and various behavioral measures.
As could be anticipated (and consistent with earlier studies), the pre-K participants performed better than the control group at the start of the kindergarten year.  However, the study’s findings then took an unexpected turn:
During the kindergarten year and thereafter, the control children caught up with the pre-K participants on those [achievement] tests, and generally surpassed them….  [Furthermore,] the pre-K group had lower retention rates in kindergarten, and higher rates of school violations in later years.
This points to the need for further research, to determine a means to close the long term performance gap.  Parents and taxpayers will need to reset their expectations of what can be achieved in a pre-K program.  In addition, there are important policy implications, calling for a re-examination of which government interventions might be justified expenditures of public funds.
*”Effects of the Tennessee Prekindergarten Program on children’s achievement and behavior through third grade,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly (April 2018).

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