- Eighth graders who attended Oklahoma’s universal pre-K program as 4-year-olds had higher math scores, were more likely to enroll in honors classes, and were less likely to repeat a grade than those who didn’t attend, according to new research from Georgetown University.
- The first to measure the impact of public pre-K on students in the middle school, the study shows that the findings held up after several “robustness checks.” The researchers, however, did not find lasting positive effects on students’ reading scores, letter grades, special education placement, gifted designation, absenteeism or suspension.
- The researchers tracked 3,045 students from the original sample of 4,033, which included those who attended pre-K in Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), Head Start or neither. Results on Head Start students, which also carry into 8th grade, are not included in the study. But the researchers wrote that a strong Head Start program allows more 3-year-olds to arrive in pre-K with stronger skills. A strong Head Start program “makes it easier for elementary school teachers to cover more advanced material if they choose to do so,” the authors wrote.
William T. Gormley Jr., a professor of public policy and the lead author of the study, has been following Oklahoma’s pre-K program, particularly that of TPS, almost since it began in 1998. In a 2013 article, he wrote that in kindergarten, students who attended the program were nine months ahead in reading, seven months ahead in writing and five months ahead in math. The gains are especially strong among English-language learners.
People on both sides of the pre-K debate can use this study to back up their arguments. Those who say that with the right components, early-childhood education has lasting benefits, can point to the findings regarding math scores, advanced classes and retention. Those who maintain that the effects fade after the early grades can point to the reading scores and other areas where no advantages were found. That latter argument grew stronger after a recent study on Tennessee’s pre-K program showed that children who participated actually ended up trailing behind those in the control group.
The Georgetown University researchers said the length of Oklahoma’s pre-K program might have something to do with the stronger results. “In general, a more mature pre-K program has had more time to learn from experience and improve, by refining curriculum and professional development, recruiting talented teachers, and increasing participation,” they wrote.