The fast-moving trains advocating for state-funded pre-K programs in North Carolina and elsewhere lost some steam this week with the release of two reports.
One randomized controlled study (Dale, Farran and Mark Lipsey, 2018) reviewed the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program for low income children. The authors found “positive short-term effects on child achievement (at the end of the pre-K year). These effects dissipated as children entered elementary school and turned modestly negative by third grade. At the third grade follow up, the control group scored significantly higher in math and science achievement than the pre-K group.”
Of particular interest to readers is the comment at the end of the study. The authors tell of the difficulties they faced in publishing the findings since they did not support the or expected — or desired — outcome.
A second article by Grover “Russ” Whitehurst of the Brookings Institute, calls the benefits of government-funded pre-k “overblown.” The article is found on the web site Education Next. Whitehurst, who has written extensively on the subject, has serious reservations about the presence of positive long-term impacts of state-funded pre-K programs. Whitehurst writes:
I have argued elsewhere that the policy path forward for the center-based care and education of young children is muddled. The present analysis reinforces that judgement. Putting nearly all our eggs in the same basket-enhancing access to state pre-K for four-year-old – shows little evidence to date of having a substantive payoff in later school achievement. It is time for enthusiasts for increased investment in state pre-K to confront evidence that it does not enhance student achievement meaningfully. They need to temper their enthusiasm for more of the same and, instead, support testing of other approaches that appear promising.
FYI. Lawmakers added an additional $9.3 million in funding in 2018-19 state budget to expand the NC Pre-K program. As you know the Frank Porter Graham Childhood Development Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been an unabashed and often-criticized advocate for early childhood education. We trust legislators will give these findings honest consideration in the often heated discussions about pre-K education.