California Democrats are pushing a bill to require districts to offer pre-K — dubbed “transitional kindergarten” — to all four-year-olds at a cost of more than $1 billion a year, writes Larry Sand in City Journal. Costs won’t be offset by greater academic gains or a reduced need for special education, predicts Sand, a retired teacher, who’s president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network . Two words: Head Start.
The federal government released the last of a three-part longitudinal study of the $8 billion-a-year Great Society-era program in December 2012, and the results offered little cause for celebration. According to the report’s executive summary: “[T]here was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.”
The much-cited Perry and Abcedarian experiments involved “no more than 60 children” 40 years ago, writes Sand.
Russ Whitehurst explains how to evaluate the pre-K research on the Brown Center Chalkboard.
In general, a finding of meaningful long-term outcomes of an early childhood intervention is more likely when the program is old, or small, or a multi-year intervention, and evaluated with something other than a well-implemented RCT (randomized controlled trial). In contrast, as the program being evaluated becomes closer to universal pre-k for four-year-olds and the evaluation design is an RCT, the outcomes beyond the pre-k year diminish to nothing.
He concludes: “The best available evidence raises serious doubts that a large public investment in the expansion of pre-k for four-year-olds will have the long-term effects that advocates tout.”