The National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers University
W. Steven Barnett, Cynthia Lamy, and Kwanghee Jung
This short paper examines state-funded preschool programs in five states - Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia. In a nutshell, it finds that these state-funded preschool programs have "statistically significant and meaningful impacts on children's early language, literacy and mathematical development, with some evidence of an enhanced program effect for print awareness skills [understanding the fundamentals of print reading, e.g. words run from left to right] for children in low-income families." (They don't find any significant impact on "phonological awareness," a skill that aids in early reading acquisition.) The authors studied the skills displayed by a sample of kindergarten students, some of whom attended preschool. The study provides evidence that preschool indeed matters - though, as the authors make clear, the programs they evaluated appear to be of unusually high quality. Each requires its teachers to have four-year degrees with certifications in early childhood education. Thus, it's no surprise they find positive effects "at least 2 to 3 times as large" as a recent study of Head Start (see here). The report illustrates that academically-oriented pre-K staffed by well-prepared teachers can make an impact and put young students on an early path toward success. Their paper is available online here.