- Margaret Burchinal
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High-quality preschool programs are heralded as effective policy solutions to promote low-income children’s development and life-long wellbeing. Yet evaluations of recent preschool programs produce puzzling findings, including negative impacts, and divergent, weaker results than demonstration programs implemented in the 1960s and 70s. We provide potential explanations for why modern preschool programs have become less effective, focusing on changes in instructional practices and counterfactual conditions. We also address popular theories that likely do not explain weakening program effectiveness, such as lower preschool quality and low-quality subsequent environments. The field must take seriously the smaller positive, null, and negative impacts from modern programs and strive to understand why effects differ and how to improve program effectiveness through rigorous, longitudinal research.
A systematic review of the literature (1965–2022) and meta-analysis were undertaken to compare the school readiness skills of children participating in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K) or Head Start. Seven quasi-experimental studies met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis and 38 effect sizes were analyzed. Results indicated no reliable meta-analytic effect in relation to children’s school readiness skills overall nor in relation to language, mathematics, or social-behavioral skills specifically. A small, positive meta-analytic effect favoring public pre-K compared to Head Start participation was found in relation to children’s emergent literacy skills (Hedges’ g = 0.17). Strategies are discussed to further equate the benefits of public pre-K and Head Start programming by facilitating greater cross-sector collaboration.
Students’ level of academic skills at school entry are a strong predictor of later academic success, and focusing on improving these skills during the preschool years has been a priority during the past ten years. Evidence from two prior nationally representative studies indicated that incoming kindergarteners’ math and literacy skills were higher in 2010 than 1998, but no national studies have examined trends since 2010. This study examines academic skills at kindergarten entry from 2010 and 2017 using data from over 2 million kindergarten students. Results indicated kindergarteners in 2017 have slightly lower math and reading skills than in 2010, but that inequalities at school entry by race/ethnicity and school poverty level have decreased during this period.