Research on High Effects of High Quality Early Childhood Ed

by Mary Barrosse Schwartz, Executive Director, Pre-K VT

Research on the Effects of High Quality Early Education on At-Risk Children and from Middle Income Backgrounds

Three U.S. longitudinal studies show long and short-term positive effect for children. These programs were of varying intensity and served mainly at-risk children. These studies include the Abecedarian study in North Carolina, Perry High Scope in Michigan, and the Chicago Child-Parent Center in Illinois. All show consistent benefits that persist for many years following the program.

While the strongest evidence suggests that economically disadvantaged children reap long-term benefits from preschool, children from all other socioeconomic backgrounds have been found to benefit as well. Because of the recent development of state-funded pre-k programs, there are still no longitudinal randomized trials of large scale, state-funded pre-K programs. However, recent studies have employed a regression discontinuity design (RDD) that emulates the results of randomized trials under reasonable assumptions.

In “Preschool Education and Its Lasting Effects: Research and Policy Implications”, author W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D., reviews the research regarding the short- and long-term effects of preschool education on young children’s learning and development, showing that public investment in effective preschool education programs for all children can produce substantial educational, social, and economic benefits.

Recent research comes from a rigorous, longitudinal study of Tennessee pre-k was released in late February by the Peabody Institute at Vanderbilt University.   The study finds an 82 percent gain for Tennessee pre-k students over peers.

The Vanderbilt study corroborates a number of similar, high-quality studies that make the case for pre-k.  This growing body of research is summarized in Pre-K Now’s publication, The Case for Pre-K in Education Reform:  A Summary of Program Evaluation Findings.    The Peabody study found that pre-k students demonstrated an average gain of 82 percent more on early literacy and math skills than comparable children who did not attend pre-k.  Other findings included a 98 percent gain in literacy, 145 percent gain in vocabulary, and a 109 percent greater gain in comprehension for the pre-k students over non-pre-k students.

Funded by a $6 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, the Peabody Research Institute study will track pre-k students and evaluate other aspects of Tennessee pre-k though 2014.

A longitudinal study from the United Kingdom found that participation in high-quality pre-k is significantly associated with higher math scores at age 10 – even for middle- and upper-income children.

Research also shows short-term positive effects on children from middle-income backgrounds, including a Connecticut Study – “Preliminary evidence for the impact of mixed-income preschools on low-income children’s language growth,” by researchers Carlota Schechter and Beth Bye. This study compares the receptive language growth of two groups of children from low-income families, one group from economically integrated preschools and the other from programs for low-income families. Language scores of the two groups were not significantly different when they entered the programs in the fall, but the children from low-income families in integrated programs scored significantly higher than the other group in the spring. This finding could reflect the benefits of interacting with peers with different experiences, skills and backgrounds. (Attached)

“The Effects of Universal Pre-K on Cognitive Development”, by William T. Gormley, Jr. is one of the most rigorous studies to date of a state pre-k program that includes a substantial number of middle-income children. This study shows that high-quality pre-k increases all children’s school readiness skills, as measured by early literacy, language, and math assessments, regardless of income level. (attached)

Further exploring benefits to a mixed population of children is the study “Maximizing Returns from Pre-Kindergarten Education”, by Steve Barnett. This brief explains why it makes sense economically to invest in pre-k for all.

In the study “Effects of Five State Prekindergarten Programs on Early Learning”, researcher W. Steven Barnett, et al. found that children attending state-funded pre-K programs in the five states (Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia) gained significantly regardless of ethnic background or economic circumstances. Children from middle-income families did not gain as much as their at-risk peers, but still showed a substantial gain of 75%.

In the 2005 report, “The Universal Pre-K Bandwagon” Georgetown University researcher William T. Gormley Jr. reviews universal pre-k programs in six states — Georgia, New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Florida, and Massachusetts. He states that as interest in pre-k for all nationwide grows, the positive evidence on program impact is encouraging. In Georgia children who attended pre-K made statistically significant gains on four tests of cognitive development. In Oklahoma children from all racial and ethnic groups and diverse socioeconomic backgrounds benefited from pre-K.

“Competent Children at 8: Family, Early Education and Schools” by Cathy Wylie et al, discusses the positive impact of New Zealand early education programs. New Zealand offers programs for children ages 3-5 in a universal kindergarten program. This longitudinal study looked at children’s abilities after early education and again at age 8. They found that early childhood education had enduring and concurrent effects on children’s competency levels.

In Australia, “Child care and early education in Australia – The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children”, published in January 2010, by Linda J. Harrison, et al, The research undertaken is part of a longitudinal study of 10,000 children. Cognitive achievement was noted, with children who did not attend formal pre-k program showing lower scores