Does Pre-K Hurt Academic Achievement?

Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey with Vanderbilt University are authors of a study of Tennesse’s voluntary Pre-K program. They found that academic gains achieved by students in Tennessee pre-K classrooms began to fade out by first grade and vanished by third grade.

This study was highlighted in Straight Talk on Evidence with some new third-grade findings:

At the end of third grade, the study found statistically-significant adverse effects on student math and science achievement. In math, the VPK (voluntary pre-K) group scored 0.12 standard deviations lower than the control group, which equates to roughly 13 percent less growth in math achievement than would be expected in the third grade year. In science, the VPK group scored 0.09 standard deviations lower than the control group, which equates to roughly 23 percent less growth in science achievement than would be expected in the third grade year.

The study found no significant effects on reading achievement in third grade, or on school attendance, grade retention, or disciplinary infractions measured from kindergarten through third grade. The study found that VPK students were identified as needing special education services for speech/language impairment or learning/intellectual disabilities at a slightly higher rate than control group students (13.3 percent versus 10.6 percent in the third grade year).

I found the study authors’ comment on the initial reaction to their study remarkable:

Our initial results supported the immediate effectiveness of pre-k; children in the program performed better at the end of pre-k than control children, most of whom had stayed home.  The press, the public, and our colleagues relished these findings.  But ours was a longitudinal study and the third grade results told a different story.  Not only was there fade out, but the pre-k children scored below the controls on the state achievement tests.  Moreover, they had more disciplinary offenses and none of the positive effects on retention and special education that were anticipated.

Those findings were not welcome.  So much so that it has been difficult to get the results published.  Our first attempt was reviewed by pre-k advocates who had disparaged our findings when they first came out in a working paper – we know that because their reviews repeated word-for-word criticisms made in their prior blogs and commentary….

…It is, of course, understandable that people are skeptical of results that do not confirm the prevailing wisdom, but the vitriol with which our work has been greeted is beyond mere scientific concern.  Social science research can only be helpful to policy makers if it presents findings openly and objectively, even when unwelcome.

If an echo chamber exists among educrats, this certainly points to it.

3 thoughts on “Does Pre-K Hurt Academic Achievement?

  1. Herein lies the problem with pre-K being done in a school setting and being monitored for it’s “effectiveness”. PreK is not supposed to be helicoptered by the adults in charge and it certainly should never have data garnered from it. This is what you get when you take children who learn through play and try to sit them at desks and teach them “things” that don’t matter to them. PreK and even kindergarten is meant for play and for children to learn how to interact with each other under adult supervision. The children in this study will likely wind up hating school and it certainly won’t make them better human beings in the long run.

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