Untangling the Evidence on Preschool Effectiveness
Bottom Line: This meta-analysis of preschool effectiveness research demonstrates that high-quality preschool leaves children better prepared for school, especially in terms of their academic skill development. There is growing evidence of long-lasting benefits for children’s school progress and behavioral outcomes. Policymakers should turn their attention from whether to invest in pre-k programs to how best to do so.
As early as 9 months of age, the differential experiences of children growing up in low-income households and children from more affluent homes can lead to a gap in their cognitive development. The developmental gaps continue to grow through elementary and secondary school unless other learning opportunities intervene.
Alongside the growth of early learning programs, the availability of research evaluating the effects of publicly funded preschool has expanded exponentially. Yet making sense of this literature, which includes studies that employ various methodologies to examine diverse programs implemented at different points in time, is a complex endeavor.
Yet the results are clear: Children who attend a specific preschool program outperform similar children who did not attend preschool at all on a variety of metrics:
- Researchers found clear benefits for participating children’s early literacy skills in 17 out of 18 where such skills were evaluated.
- Researchers found benefits for children’s early mathematics skills in 14 out of the 16 programs where these skills were assessed.
- Positive effects on children’s literacy or mathematical skills are more readily measured than benefits to children’s language abilities, which are more profoundly affected by the out-of-school environment.
- Emerging evidence suggests that preschool programs can influence children’s social-emotional development as well.
- Of the studies that measured grade retention, most (6 out of 10) found a reduction for participating children in being held back in grade.
- Of the studies in that measured children’s literacy beyond school entry, about half found significant benefits of preschool for children’s reading performance in elementary school—in several cases persisting up to 5th grade.
- Of the 13 studies that examined children’s mathematics performance throughout school, 10 document significant benefits, including some that persist well into middle school.
A substantial body of research on programs that succeed in preparing children for school identifies important elements of quality. These elements include:
- Sufficient learning time and small class sizes with low student–teacher ratios.
- Well-prepared teachers who provide engaging interactions and classroom environments that support learning.
- Ongoing support for teachers, including coaching and mentoring, with program assessments that measure the quality of classroom interactions and provide actionable feedback for teachers to improve instruction.
- Research-based, developmentally appropriate early learning standards and curricula.
- Assessments that consider children’s academic, social-emotional, and physical progress and that contribute to instructional and program planning.
- Meaningful family engagement.
Read the full study HERE.
- Alongside the growth of early learning programs, the availability of research evaluating the effects of publicly funded preschool has expanded exponentially.
- The meta-analysis results of this research are clear: Children who attend a specific preschool program outperform similar children who did not attend preschool at all on a variety of metrics.
- For instance, researchers found clear benefits for participating children’s early literacy skills in 17 out of 18 where such skills were evaluated.
Read the full study HERE.