A new study on the effects of pre-kindergarten is casting additional doubt on the efficacy of the program, as students are learning less and misbehaving more.
Shortly after taking office in 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott laid out his legislative priorities to the Texas Legislature during his biennial “state of the state” address. Among the legislation he urged the legislature to give funding to schools to adopt “high quality pre-K programs,” stating, “To improve our schools we must begin by building a strong foundation at the very beginning.”
Abbott lobbied heavily for legislation to do just that and lawmakers ultimately passed a bill that, while small in scope, established the framework for pre-K expansion in schools throughout the state.
But a study out of Tennessee suggests pre-K may not be the answer to building a strong educational foundation after all.
The randomized study of nearly 3,000 children, published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, shows that four-year-olds who attend pre-K learn less than their counterparts. Although the pre-K attendees began kindergarten with better scores on academic assessments, their educational gains were quickly surpassed by the other students in just one year.
Additionally, the study found that those students who attended pre-K had more behavioral problems during instruction, as well as more negative overall feelings about school in first grade.
The Arnold’s Foundation summary of the study noted what most Texas parents have known all along, saying, “One possibility is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, some children may be better off academically if—instead of attending public pre-k—they stay at home at age four.”
According to the authors of the study, the findings were unwelcome to those in the education community, which led to difficulties in publishing the study:
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.
We share with our colleagues a commitment to the goal of providing a better life for poor children. Blind commitment to one avenue for attaining that goal, however, is unnecessarily limiting.
While the implementation of “high quality” pre-K programs across Texas have only begun in the last couple years, as compared to Tennessee where the voluntary programs began in 2005, lawmakers should take note and affirm the importance of parental involvement in children’s education, rather than create even more government schooling during crucial developmental years.