President Obama’s proposal for federal support for moving to universal pre-K for 4-year-olds will no doubt be fleshed out in the near future. As always, the devil is in the details.
However, I want to respond to one idea that seems to persist among many pundits/bloggers/commenters. This is the idea that we have no research evidence on scaling up quality preschool. I saw this in a blog post by Matt Yglesias at Slate. And a tweet by Mike Petrilli (Thomas B. Fordham Institute) also expressed similar sentiments.
I have commented on this extensively in several previous blog posts, because this idea has been around for a while. This idea that we have no experience in scaling up quality pre-K simply isn’t true. First, we have evidence from the Chicago Child-Parent Center program, which was a large scale program run by Chicago Public Schools, that this program has large long-run effects on former participants when they are in their late 20s. Second, we have extensive research evidence from many states with large scale pre-K programs that these programs are highly effective in increasing kindergarten readiness. Third, for Oklahoma, the state that is the poster child for universal pre-K, we have good research evidence from several studies that this program helps improve kindergarten readiness, not only for low-income children, but also for middle-class children.
I suppose someone could argue that these state programs’ effects on kindergarten readiness do not prove long-run effects. But these early effects are often of similar size to those achieved in the CPC program, and many of these state programs are similar in design to the CPC program. Therefore, it is a reasonable inference that these large-scale state programs will have long-run effects.
I’m a researcher. I would always like to see more research evidence. But in the case of preschool, we really do have a great deal of evidence already that large-scale programs can work.