NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 28, 2005

Proponents of early education programs argue that prekindergarten education improves lifelong learning abilities. While this may be true, researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) find there are also some associated costs.

Using government survey data, the authors accounted for many factors that affect children, including family background and neighborhood characteristics. They found:

  • Disadvantaged children -- in poor families or families where one parent had not completed high school -- get the largest and most lasting academic gains from early education.
  • On average, disadvantaged children scored in the 33rd percentile in reading, whereas those who attended prekindergarten had a score in the 44th percentile.
  • More problematically, these children were in the 69th percentile in terms of problem behaviors.

The authors argue that further expansions of prekindergarten should be mainly focused on children who are disadvantaged or will go on to attend poor quality schools. Extra money can give these children an early experience that is likely to improve their life-long academic skills.

Source: David R. Francis, "Does Prekindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance," NBER Digest, March 2005; based upon: Katherine Magnuson, Christopher Ruhm, and Jane Waldfogel, "Does Prekindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance?" National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 10452, April 2004.

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