The Effects of State Prekindergarten Programs on Young Children's School Readiness in Five States

The National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers University
W. Steven Barnett, Cynthia Lamy, and Kwanghee Jung
December 2005

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.

Eric Osberg is a Vice President and Treasurer at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute