Sara Mead, a senior associate at Bellwether Education Partners, takes a look at the research on the effectiveness of early education in a recent posting — Five Common Myths on Pre-K Evidence — on her Education Week blog:
- To the “myth” that all the positive evidence on the impact of high-quality early education comes from “’boutique’ programs that were small, expensive and can’t be replicated,” Mead says, “Not true.” Solid research from other, larger programs – such as programs in Chicago, New Jersey and Oklahoma – also find substantial positive results.
- To the “myth” that pre-kindergarten only works with children from low-income families, Mead points to research from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that finds benefits for children from middle-class families, too.
- To the “myth” that all pre-kindergarten delivers positive results, Mead cautions that quality matters. “The evidence on the positive impacts of pre-k,” she writes, “is among the strongest body of evidence we have supporting any educational intervention or program. But that doesn’t mean that pre-k always works, or that it works equally well in all circumstances.”
- To the “myth” that pre-k benefits fade out, Mead notes the “complicated debate over evidence of Head Start fade-out, and some very modest evidence of long-term effects.” She points to studies of the Chicago Parent-Child Center program and state studies that find lasting benefits. “All that suggests that pre-k results by no means have to ‘fade out.’” she writes.
- To the “myth” that pre-k pays for itself, Mead points out that many of the substantial economic benefits of high-quality pre-k are long-term. “Governments that want to expand pre-k access need to find ways to pay for those programs now, before any returns are in hand,” she writes.
“An incredibly robust body of research indicates that quality pre-k can have positive impacts on children’s learning and lives, for kids at all income levels but particularly poor and at-risk children,” Mead concludes. “At the same time, this research shows that all preschool is not created equal–implementation and design choices make a difference in the results produced for kids and the return on investment. And there are no free rides–if we want to provide kids with pre-k, we need to make the hard choices to find ways to pay for it. That means that any effort to expand children’s access to quality pre-k in the U.S. has incredibly hard work ahead — but it’s work that’s well worth doing and has a deep evidence base to support it, not just about the benefits of pre-k, but also about how to do it well to get results.”