Some time ago, back in 2013, in fact, I linked to a report on a free preschool program in Tennessee. The program was targeted at low-income families and had waiting lists, and children were admitted on a randomized basis, rather than first-come, first-served, so that a comparison of participating vs. not-participating families made for a good way of measuring the effectiveness of preschool without any confounding variables.
The study was a disappointment to pro-free-preschool advocates, because it did not show the gains in academic success its promoters hoped for.
Now there’s a new study out, that studies children all the way up to third grade. (Actually it’s not new, published in April, but I’m just now seeing it on my twitter feed.) The outcome?
- Positive achievement effects at the end of pre-k reversed and began favoring the control children by 2nd and 3rd grade.
- VPK participants had more disciplinary infractions and special education placements by 3rd grade than control children.
- No effects of VPK were found on attendance or retention in the later grades.
What does this mean about preschool? Back in my original blog post, I had said that the push to free preschool was just as much about providing free daycare as improving educational outcomes for children, and I had observed that the very academic nature of American preschools, in which children do seatwork, was quite different than European preschools’ greater focus on children’s social and emotional development.
There’s a lot that we don’t know, so this again remains a caution, that we shouldn’t jump too quickly into a norm of center-based care for everyone.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUS_Navy_050114-N-3659B-050_he_Morale_Welfare_and_Recreation_Child_Development_Center_on_board_Naval_Support_Activity_Mid-South_in_Millington%2C_Tenn.%2C_provides_daycare_services.jpg; By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Joseph M. Buliavac [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons