Initial results from a high-quality study of Tennessee’s government preschool program show its participants scored lower on cognitive tests than peers who did not attend the program. On social skills, preschool participants were statistically no different from non-preschool peers and were actually ranked worse on four of seven outcomes, including behavior problems and feelings about school.
The study, which started in 2009 and will continue, is the first large-scale, randomized research conducted on a present-day government preschool program. Its findings agree with other high-quality research on government preschool, including federal evaluations of Head Start.
“I see these findings as devastating for advocates of the expansion of state pre-k programs,” wrote Russ Whitehurst, director of Brookings Institution education studies, on Brookings’ blog. “Maybe we should figure out how to deliver effective programs before the federal government funds preschool for all.”
Most research showing positive outcomes from government preschool is not high-quality or derives from expensive boutique programs that are 40 or more years old and have never been replicated.
The study is being conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University. It examined 3,000 children from low-income families.
Image by Sean Bonner.