It’s generally agreed upon that pre-kindergarten education is beneficial. However, a new study out of Tennessee showed a generally more negative outcome for students who participated in a specific pre-k program. While that can easily cause concern for parents seeking the best educational results for their children, it shouldn’t cause any panic. In this episode, we discuss whether the research on the effectiveness of pre-k should influence your decision for your child’s education.
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First, here’s some context on the Tennessee study’s results. Vanderbilt University conducted a randomized control study that followed 3,000 students who attended the state’s public pre-k program during the 2009 to 2010 and 2010 to 2011 school years. There were clear benefits reported at the end of students’ time in the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program. But by the sixth grade, those same students had lower test scores, higher disciplinary infractions, and more special education placements than peers not selected for the public program.
Notable Differences In Outcomes
It’s a quality study that warrants the evaluation of how best to design pre-k programs. However, while the outcomes were negative, it’s not a comprehensive evaluation of pre-k’s effectiveness in general.
Of note is that the differences in educational outcomes were considered small rather than a dramatic contrast. Since the study, the state’s public program has undergone improvements, meaning the classroom environments students from 2009 to 2011 wouldn’t be the same as today. The study also didn’t consider what students experience from pre-k on through sixth grade that could influence their academic performance.
Research consistently reveals the benefits of pre-k to a student’s educational preparedness. A similar study to Vanderbilt’s was conducted in Boston, and the students who participated in the public pre-k program had positive outcomes later on. They were less likely to be suspended from high school, go to juvenile detention, and more likely to enroll and attend college after graduation. So while the Tennessee study does raise questions, it can’t counteract the countless studies and reports showing clear benefits of pre-k to children’s short and long-term success.
How to Use this Information
What it offers parents in deciding whether or not to send their child to pre-k is a tool for critical decision-making. Studies almost consistently prove pre-k does improve kindergarten readiness for children. The long-term benefits of attending preschool can be a factor, enhancing their chances of academic achievement and positive outcomes.
However, it’s important to raise the question of the program’s quality. More comprehensive and intensive pre-k environments have been shown to have the greatest benefit for a student’s positive academic performance. Not all programs will yield those results, making it important to weigh each option carefully.
It’s also important to remember that one year at pre-k isn’t a safeguard from every educational challenge your child could face throughout their years at school. But it is clear that quality preschool education can, at the very least, give them a solid foundation for kindergarten. At best, it can be the footing they need to be well-equipped for academic achievement and success.
While it can feel like a significant decision you want to get right as a parent, there’s no wrong choice. Evaluate your options, weigh the benefits each study lays out, and decide what best suits you and your child’s needs.