News Release

*FREE* The effectiveness of early childhood education programs is scientifically uncertain

Reports and Proceedings

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Early care and education (ECE) programs – like Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) and Head Start – are widely regarded as effective public investments for reducing income- and race-based achievement gaps and helping children succeed in school with impacts extending well into adulthood. However, in a Policy Forum, Margaret Burchinal and colleagues present recent evidence suggesting that preschool impacts are not unequivocally positive and the science on the overall outcomes of these programs remains unsettled. According to Burchinal et al., more rigorous research is needed to understand how to design early education programs that produce long-term positive outcomes, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. “We urge both the policy and research communities to take seriously the most rigorous evidence, regardless of the valence of the findings, to advance our models of development and intervention,” write the authors. Here, Burchinal et al. provide a review of recent, rigorous randomized controlled studies that evaluated Head Start and local public Pre-K programs. One study, which assessed the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program (TNVPK) – a large state-funded pre-k program that enrolls roughly 25% of the state’s 4-year-olds – revealed negative impacts on academic and behavioral outcomes during elementary and middle school. Another, the Head Start Impact Study, provided discouraging long-term results, finding almost no evidence of above-chance advantages for student attendees. Although the authors note that there is evidence of the potential for today’s ECE programs to accomplish their goals, the review indicates that some of today’s publicly funded ECE programs do not showing lasting positive effects for the students who participate in them, a conclusion that contrasts with the assumption that these programs always provide positive and beneficial outcomes. Burchinal et al. provide insight into why earlier ECE programs appeared to be more successful than today’s and highlight critical gaps in our understanding that must be addressed in order to develop programs and interventions that produce long-term positive outcomes for today’s children.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.