New report throws cold water on calls for universal pre-K

A new study of Tennessee’s pre-K program has some uncomfortable results for advocates of pouring more taxpayer money into expensive new pre-K programs. The study, described as: “The first large randomly-controlled trial of a state-funded pre-k program and one of only two such studies ever conducted of a public preschool program in the United States. As such, it provides uniquely credible evidence in the area of early childhood education” should contribute greatly to the debate over spending ever-growing amounts of money on pre-K programs.

In New Mexico that “debate” such as it is, has been between those like Gov. Martinez who want to spend more money on pre-K via the General Fund and those like gubernatorial hopeful Michelle Lujan-Grisham who want to spend more money by tapping the Permanent Fund.  Oh, and you’re a racist if you oppose pre-K.

So, what did the study find? While the study found positive short-term effects on child achievement (at the end of the pre-k year), these effects dissipated as children entered elementary school and turned modestly negative by third grade. At the third-grade follow-up, the control group scored significantly higher in math and science achievement than the pre-k group.

Importantly, the authors noted the shortcomings of the research in the field saying, “Other studies of public or private preschool programs have had weaknesses that limit the reliability of their findings, such as lack of random assignment (e.g., Oklahoma universal pre-k, Chicago Child-Parent Centers) or small samples and imperfect randomization (e.g., Perry Preschool Project, Abecedarian Project).”

In other words, this new study, because it is randomly-controlled, is superior to the research that advocates have been relying on to justify pre-K for so long.

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