The benefits of Tennessee’s pre-K program for at-risk children disappeared by the end of kindergarten, concludes the TN-VPK Effectiveness Study. By the end of second grade, children who attended TN-VPK did worse on many achievement measures compared to the control group, Vanderbilt researchers found. The pre-K group did no better on non-academic measures.
All the children came from low-income families. The control group was made up of children whose parents applied for pre-K but didn’t get a slot.
Many of the pre-K grads and the controls attended low-performing schools. Most fell behind in reading and math in the early grades, the study found.
Tennessee rolled out pre-K quickly, said Dale Farran, co-principal investigator. Quality varies. “What might you get from the same pre-K program if you had a common vision and could push the quality up?”
On paper — if not in reality –TN-VPK is a high-quality program, writes Abbie Lieberman on EdCentral.
TN-VPK meets nine out of 10 of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) quality benchmarks. The state requires teachers to have a bachelor’s degree with specialized training in pre-K, classes are small and have low student-teacher ratios, and the state has comprehensive early learning standards in place.
However, Tennessee spends only $5,895 per pre-K student. Oklahoma’s pre-K program, which spends $7,8678, “has been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement.”
Effective preschool programs don’t come cheap, writes David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, in the New York Times.
Consider what’s happening in Boston. A randomized study showed that prekindergartners there gained between four and seven months’ progress in reading and math, and those gains persisted: 27 percent more of Boston’s preschool children scored “proficient” or better on the state’s rigorous third-grade exams.
Boston spends $10,000 for each preschooler, according to Kirp. “You get what you pay for,” he concludes.
The kind of early childhood education that changes disadvantaged children’s learning trajectories is intensive and expensive. We might be able to afford it for the neediest kids, the ones who are not developing language skills and a base of knowledge at home. But, if it’s not going to be done well, why do it at all?