Kristof on pre-K

Really enjoyed this Kristof column summarizing the evidence of what good policy pre-K is.  I especially like that he puts the seemingly disappointing results from Head Start in proper perspective:

Republican critics focus on (and misunderstand) a major, well-designed project called the Head Start Impact Study. It found that Head Start produces educational gains that fade away. By third grade, when the research ended, there was little detectable difference between those assigned to Head Start and those in control groups.

That’s disappointing. And that’s why critics denounce Head Start as a waste of money.

Yet early education has always had an impact not through cognitive gains but through long-term improvements in life outcomes. With Perry, Abecedarian and other programs, educational gains fade, yet, mysteriously, there are often long-term improvements on things that matter even more, such as arrest rates and high school graduation rates. The Head Start Impact Study couldn’t examine those outcomes.

Other researchers have, and their findings are almost unanimous. One rigorous study led by Eliana Garces, then of U.C.L.A., found that Head Start graduates were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers. David Deming of Harvard found that children who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely as young adults to be “idle” — out of a job and out of school.  [emphasis mine]

Jens Ludwig of University of Chicago found that Head Start reduced child mortality in elementary years, apparently because of screening and treatment referrals.

Beyond Head Start, a series of randomized trials of other early education initiatives repeatedly found the same result: Long-term outcomes improve.

I wish this post didn’t have the “political” tag.  I wish that a policy so obviously beneficial and so obviously cost-effective would just have universal support.  This is just so something we have to make happen.  On the one hand, I am encouraged that several states have figured this out.  On the other, it is disheartening that we cannot get anything out of Congress to help make this happen on a national level.  But heck, you’d think if Oklahoma could somehow figure this out, so could another 49 states.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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