NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Expectations of Sustained Effects from Scaled Up Pre-K

October 27, 2015

An evaluation of a Tennessee full-day pre-kindergarten program for students whose family qualified for free or reduced lunch discovered that children who had participated in the pre-K program had higher achievement scores in literacy, language and mathematics. Kindergarten teachers also rated participating children as better prepared both academically and socially.

  • Both groups of students, participants and non-participants in the pre-K program, started the pre-K year at the same level of academic ability.
  • At the end of the year, children who participated in the pre-K program were significantly ahead of those who had not.
  • However, by the end of first grade, the achievement scores for both groups were again equal and by third grade the scores of children who participated in the pre-K program were lower than those who had not.

 The Tennessee pre-K program is almost identical to other programs implemented in various states across the nation, meeting the majority of benchmarks outlined by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

If the benefits of pre-K programs are eliminated by the end of third grade, why are states continuing to pour money into these programs? Adding another year of school will not remove all of the obstacles that children from low-income families encounter in school. Investment in education should be made not just at the pre-K level but more substantially at the elementary and middle school levels.

Source:  Dale C. Farran and Mark W. Lipsey, "Expectations of Sustained Effects from Scaled Up Pre-K: Challenges from the Tennessee Study," Brookings Institution, October 8, 2015.


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