Pre-K just won’t improve education like its proponents say it will

Supporters of “early childhood” programs (with the largest portion dedicated to Pre-K) would love to have New Mexicans believe that their plan HJR 1 will solve all of our State’s problems.

The reality is far different once you actually study the data and talk to experts. Take Grover “Russ”Whitehurst of the center/left Brookings Institute. He studied pension reforms for decades and wrote the following in “Does Pre-K Improve Children’s Achievement” a paper released in July of 2018.

The strongest evidence on elementary school impacts of state pre-K would come in the form of randomized trials of scaled-up state pre-K programs with follow-up of children in the treatment and controls groups as they progress through elementary school. There is only one such study: Children of parents seeking enrollment of their children in the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program (TVPK) were randomly assigned to be admitted to the program or not. Outcomes have been tracked through third grade. The

findings as described by the authors in their peer-reviewed report of the study are that:

  • positive achievement effects at the end of pre-K reversed and began favoring the control children by 2nd and 3rd grade;

  • TVPK participants had more disciplinary infractions and special education placements by 3rd grade than control children; and

  • no effects of VPK were found on attendance or retention in the later grades.

Whitehurst concludes his paper with the following quote, “Putting nearly all our eggs in the same basket — enhancing access to state pre-K for four-year-olds – shows little evidence to date of having a substantive payoff in later school achievement. It is time for enthusiasts for increased investments in state pre-K to confront the evidence that it does not enhance student achievement meaningfully. They need to temper their enthusiasm for more of the same and, instead, support testing of other approaches that appear promising.”