Education Week - November 29, 2017 - 9
New Analyses Boost Claims of Lasting Benefits From Pre-K
Research may pivot
By Christina A. Samuels
Is it time to stop asking if preschool "works?"
Two recent analyses of early-childhood programs suggest that the benefits of high-quality preschool and early
care are clear enough that it's appropriate to shift the research agenda to
new questions of effectiveness.
Both studies were released Nov.
16. One was published in the journal Educational Research, and the
second was released from Rand
Corp., a research organization. New
questions for early-childhood program evaluators might be whether
program effects are stronger on
some groups of children than others,
or how early-program effects can be
sustained across time.
"That's the next generation of
research," said Jill S. Cannon, a
policy researcher at Rand and an
author of one of the recent reports.
"It's now about the implementation
and the quality and getting inside
that 'black box' " to find out just why
some programs work, and how.
Both analyses also note that there
needs to be more research done specifically on early-childhood programs
that are most common today.
While some decades-old earlychildhood programs have shown
benefits reaching well into adulthood, some newer preschool programs have found that the early
positive benefits fade out for program participants by the time they
reach 3rd grade.
Multiple Studies Examined
The analysis published in Educational Researcher examines the
effects of more than 60 studies of
early-childhood programs. In particular, the researchers were looking
for program effects on special education placement, high school graduation rates, and grade retention
They found that participants in
early-childhood programs had an
8.1 percentage-point reduction on
special education placement and an
8.3 percentage-point reduction in
grade retention compared with their
peers. Participants also had an 11.4
percentage-point increase in high
"These results suggest that the
benefits of early-childhood-education programs do, in fact, persist beyond the preschool year," said Dana
Charles McCoy, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School
of Education, in an email. McCoy
was the lead author of the analysis.
"Given how costly retention, special education, and dropout can be
for both individuals and societies,
our results suggest that investments in high-quality early-childhood-education programming are
likely to pay off in the long term,"
But McCoy acknowledged that
several of the studies used in the
analysis are quite different from to
No Early-Childhood Education
An analysis of more than 20 early-childhood
studies shows that children who participate in
high-quality preschool are less likely to be retained
or assigned to special education and more likely
to graduate from high school than peers who were
not enrolled in such programs.
High School Graduation
SOURCE: Impacts of Early Childhood Education on Medium- and Long-Term Educational Outcomes
For example, the researchers
included findings from the Perry
Preschool project conducted in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the 1960s, and
the Abecedarian early-childhood
program conducted in the 1970s
in North Carolina. Both programs
were intensive, had a substantial
focus on parent involvement and
home visiting, and in the case of the
Abecedarian program, started when
participants were infants.
The new study does include some
more up-to-date program evaluations, however, such as newer studies of children attending preschool
in some of New Jersey's poorest
urban districts, and children attending a birth-through-5 program
in Tulsa, Okla.
"With that said, because we are
looking at outcomes that are only
observable years-or even decades-
after children attend preschool, we
can't necessarily make conclusions
about whether the programs that
are being implemented today will
show benefits like the ones we observe in our study," McCoy said.
Areas to Research
And there also needs to be more
examination of different program
impacts. McCoy noted that in the
Perry Preschool study, girls who
were enrolled drove the improvements in graduation rates and
reductions in grade retention. Reductions in criminal activity and
increases in later-life income and
employment were driven by boys
who were enrolled in the program.
With all that said, the early-childhood field is "in agreement that
high-quality early education does
work, both for supporting children
and for supporting working families," McCoy said.
The Rand paper includes a broad
spectrum of early-childhood programs. In addition to preschool, the
researchers looked at home-visiting
programs, which send trained counselors to homes to help vulnerable
families; parent education programs;
and government transfers of cash or
in-kind benefits, such as vouchers for
food, child care or health care, provided directly to families.
Of 115 program evaluations studied, 102 had a positive effect on at
least one child outcome, more benefits than could simply be due to
chance, the authors say.
What's more, the variety of programs studied means that policy-
makers have a choice in where they
might want to invest their efforts,
said Lynn A. Karoly, a senior economist with Rand and one of the coauthors of the analysis.
Karoly also said there's room for
exploring "what's going to work
for what population." For example,
some home-visiting programs use
nurses as the counselors, but re-
search could be conducted to see if
similar results can be achieved with
other types of trained counselors.
For preschool, researchers could dig
more deeply into ratios, the effect of
teacher education levels, or the type
of curriculum used.
"A positive piece of news here is
that people are really interested in
evaluating their programs in a rigorous way," Karoly said.
Dale Farran, a professor at Vanderbilt University, has also researched
early-childhood programs. She was
not involved with the Educational
Researcher or Rand papers, but her
work on Tennessee's state-funded
preschool program found that children who were enrolled in the program were academically indistiguishable from their peers by 3rd grade.
The Educational Researcher and
Rand papers examine very few programs that look like today's staterun programs, Farran cautioned.
"We must determine the operational elements that will lead to better short- and long-term outcomes
for children. The economists who
have done these analyses for the
most part have never actually visited any existing [early-childhood
education] programs, at least for
longer than a nice walk-through,"
she said. "Espousing pre-K in general is not going to serve poor and
vulnerable children very well."
FroM Educ Ation W EEk Pr Ess
Author Gary Marx
EDUCATION WEEK | November 29, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 9