A new analysis conducted by a research team at Duke University examines the effects of two North Carolina early-childhood programs on students’ educational outcomes in elementary school.
The first, Smart Start (SS), is a state-funded early-childcare program focused on improving academic, social, and health outcomes from birth to age four. It’s open to all children in the state but, in practice, targets disadvantaged ones. The second, More at Four (MAF), is North Carolina’s state-funded pre-K program for at-risk four-year-olds, and aims to improve Kindergarten readiness.
Researchers analyzed state records and school enrollment data from North Carolina’s Education Research Data Center to estimate the impact of state funding for these programs on student outcomes through the end of elementary school (based on funding per county). Their sample was all children who attended a public school in the state between 1995 and 2012—really impressive in size. They also used a regression analysis and controlled for variables such as race, mother’s level of education, and prior test scores.
Outcomes of interest were math and reading scores based on end-of-grade standardized tests, special-education placements, and grade retention. Key questions were whether the program effects were positive, and whether they persisted or faded out by...